SPIRALLING numbers of Barnsley children missing school - which has resulted in some parents being slapped with fines totalling £800 - will see more action being taken by education bosses to stop the trend after almost 3,000 were caught breaking the law in a year.

A flurry of cases have made their way through Barnsley Magistrates’ Court in recent weeks following proceedings brought about by the council’s education welfare service.

Unauthorised absence rates in the town’s state-funded primaries stood at 1.8 per cent of all children last month, placing Barnsley among the worst-hit local authorities in the country, however the figures don’t include academies or secondary schools.

Department for Education (DfE) figures show the local authority handed out 3,137 penalties to parents and guardians for their child’s persistent absence in the last academic year.

Of them, 2,862 - 91 per cent - were issued due to pupils being taken out of school for holidays.

It is up from 1,677 the year and much higher than before the pandemic when 881 penalty notices were issued for unauthorised holidays.

DfE bosses recently announced a series of measures as part of its drive to boost attendance including increasing fines for parents taking children out of school without a headteacher’s consent.

School absence fines for unauthorised absences now start at £80 if paid within 21 days - a £20 hike on previous charges - and this rises to £160 if paid after up to 28 days.

A DfE spokesperson said: “In the case of repeated fines, if a parent receives a second fine for the same child within any three-year period, this will be charged at the higher rate of £160.

“Fines per parent will be capped to two fines within any three-year period.

“Once this limit has been reached, other action like a parenting order or prosecution will be considered.

“If you’re prosecuted and attend court because your child hasn’t been attending school, you could get a fine of up to £2,500.

“Money raised via fines is only used by the local authority to cover the costs of administering the system, and to fund attendance support.

“Any extra money is returned to the government.

“For most pupils, the best place to be during term-time in is school, surrounded by the support of their friends and teachers.

“This is important not just for your child’s learning, but also for their overall wellbeing, wider development and their mental health.

“We’ll continue to work with schools and local councils to improve attendance.”

The parents’ cases were taken to court following non-payment of penalty notices issued due to their children’s irregular school attendance.

It follows a Barnsley mother narrowly avoiding a custodial sentence last year for not sending her child to school regularly.

Nina Sleight, service director for education, early start and prevention at the council, said: “We know families want their children and young people to have the right skills and qualifications to access better education, employment or training.

“Regular school attendance from an early age is crucial to this and we know there is a strong link between good school attendance and achieving good results.

“The Department for Education has worked in partnership with local authorities to develop new guidance for working together to improve school attendance.

“This will become statutory in September 2024 and the focus of this guidance and our work with schools and families is to provide early support to improve attendance.

“It is only when this fails to bring a sustained improvement that we consider the use of legal intervention.

“We will continue to work with our partners in schools to make sure attendance is a high priority so every child can reach their full potential.

“We work together through the Barnsley Schools Alliance to highlight the importance of regular school attendance and to reduce the number of children who regularly miss school.”

School leaders’ union NAHT said absence rates are still significantly higher than before Covid and ‘much more’ needs to be done to bring them down.

“Education plays an essential role in shaping a child’s future and parental involvement in maintaining consistent attendance is vital to achieving this goal.

“These fines and costs are not meant to punish parents, but rather act as a reminder of the shared responsibility we have in ensuring our children’s education.

“While we acknowledge that families want to keep holiday costs down, term-time holidays can create gaps in learning that are difficult to bridge, potentially leading to academic setbacks and challenges that could have been avoided through consistent attendance.”