THE number of fines given to North-East parents who take their children out of school during term time has almost doubled in four years.

Since 2014, 1,775 parents have been fined by Darlington Borough Council for their child’s unauthorised absence, according to a Freedom of Information request by The Northern Echo.

This has seen the council collect £75,660 in fines, with the amount of penalties handed out increasing from 315 in 2014 to 629 in 2017.

The amount of money taken in by the council since 2014 has gone from £13,320 to £26,460 in 2017 – but the figures reveal the majority of the penalties go unpaid.

Only 187 parents out of 315 which received a fine through their letterbox in 2014 chose to pay.

The following year, 265 out of 411 parents paid the £60 fine – boosting the council’s coffers by £19,020 – while in 2016, 259 Darlington parents paid out the 420 fined. This earned the council £16,860.

Twelve months later, 629 were fined and 427 decided to pay, earning the council £26,460 – almost £10,000 more than it collected in 2016.

According to the Education Act 1996, “parents are responsible for ensuring their child receives efficient full time education that is suitable to the child’s age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs the child may have”.

Critics of the system argue that holidays are much cheaper when they are taken outside of the school’s designated time off, but others say children’s learning can be disrupted by missing class work.

Ian Murch, a regional spokesman for the National Union of Teachers, said: “Initially people were scared of the fine and many have been deterred by it, but many people who can afford a holiday look at the fine and think the holiday will be cheaper during term time.

“The company they work for may only allow them time off at a certain time and that may not be when their children are off.

“It has become a price people pay in order to go on holiday.”

“You don’t want children to miss any lessons, but it might come down to the fact that families will not go on holiday if they do not go during the term.”

A Darlington Borough Council spokesman said the issue is a top priority, adding: “The council takes school attendance very seriously and would encourage parents to think very carefully before taking their children out of school during term time. It is a matter for individual schools whether or not to issue a fine in cases such as this.”

The picture is similar across the North-East, with the number of fines increasing in Durham, Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside.

Freedom of Information requests found Durham County Council has earned £135,000 since 2014 from fines.

However, out of the 2,904 parents fined, 749 declined to pay up.

A total of 256 parents decided not to pay their fines in Sunderland, where the council earned £24,570.

Meanwhile, in Gateshead, the council has collected £12,360 from 162 parents. Since 2014, 184 parents have not paid their fines.

Ian Shanks, Durham County Council’s pupil placement and education safeguarding manager, said: “We strive wherever possible to work with families to help them overcome issues which may be contributing to a child’s absence, putting them in touch with our support services and those of our partners.

“In recent years we have changed the threshold at which we will issue a fixed penalty in line with changes in government policy. Reducing it from ten to seven days of unauthorised absence has meant more penalties being issued.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman added: “No child should be taken out of school without good reason – children only get one chance at an education and evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs.

“The rules on term-time absences are clear and we have put schools back in control by supporting them – and local authorities – to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”