SCHOOLS in Herefordshire have clamped down on parents whose children miss school, often to go on family holiday, figures from the Department for Education have shown.

Local authorities handed out over 40 per cent more fines to parents in Herefordshire for their children's unauthorised absence from school in 2016/17 than in the previous year. The number of persistently absent children increased by 5 per cent, to 2,028.

In total, 517 penalty notices were issued last year, an increase of 44 per cent on 2015/16.

The local authority raised £22,860 through 379 fines paid by parents.

Local authorities impose their own rules on when parents can be given penalty notices over their children's absence from school. Fines are £60 if paid within 21 days, and £120 within 28 days.

Councils can prosecute parents if penalty notices remain unpaid after 28 days. Last year, nine cases were taken to court in Herefordshire for non-payment.

Parents can receive a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence of up to three months if prosecuted.

The local authority withdrew 36 cases, 7 per cent of all the penalty notices issued, following non-payment of fines.

Herefordshire has a higher rate of fines than the national average, with 25 notices issued for every 1,000 pupils, compared to 22 for England.

Across England, 149,321 penalty notices were issued to parents in 2016/17, a 5 per cent drop on the previous year, and the first decrease since data started being collected in 2009/10. Collectively, local authorities raised over £6.4m in fines across the academic year.

The highest rate of penalty notices was in Luton, where 3,244 were issued last year, at over four times the national rate.

In a high-profile case in April 2017, Isle of Wight father Jon Platt lost an appeal in the Supreme Court against his £120 fine for taking his daughter on an unauthorised trip to Disney World Florida during term time. The Department for Education suggested that the drop in fines nationally could have been caused by local authorities waiting to see the outcome of the case.

Darren Northcott, the national official for education at the teachers' union NASUWT, said that the robust defence provided by the Department for Education for schools' right to fine parents in the case showed that the structure was in place to encourage parents to get their children into school.

He said: "We have always been clear: absences during term time should only occur in very exceptional circumstances, such as illness and family emergencies.

"Every day in school counts, and every lesson counts. Fines are an absolute last resort, and only given if families have had the support they need to try and improve their absence rates."

Mr Northcott added that he could sympathise with parents taking children out of school for term-time holidays, and that the increase of package holiday prices during school holidays should be investigated.