PARENTS are increasingly taking their children out of school for term-time holidays - but Oxfordshire remains lenient when it comes to dishing out fines.

Although the number of fines issued to Oxfordshire truants has more than doubled in the last academic year, the county still issued the fewest number of fines in the South East, new figures show.

ALSO READ: Which Oxfordshire schools saw the most term-time holidays? 

Children aged five to 15 in Oxfordshire state schools missed 50,268 school days in 2017-18 to go on holiday, Department for Education statistics have revealed, up from 48,107 the previous year.

In the same period Oxfordshire County Council fined 176 parents for unauthorised absence - a huge spike from 78 in 2016-17, but still the lowest number in the region.

UPDATE: Parents defend their decision to take family holidays during term time

A council spokesman said: "Incidents of unauthorised holidays during term time are unfortunately increasing.

"Despite opinions to the contrary, absence of any kind, let alone avoidable absence, has a detrimental impact on children’s learning which in turn damages their enjoyment of school."

The council only issues fines at the request of headteachers, many of whom favour parental contracts - written agreements in which parents pledge to improve a pupil's attendance.

This has failed to deter rule-breakers, however, as the number of days missed due to unauthorised holidays has consistently climbed higher in the past five years.

Parents can be slapped with a £60 fine for truancy, doubling to £120 after 21 days, but some parents see this as a bargain compared to the cost of booking a holiday in peak season.

Failing to pay the fine can lead to a prosecution in court with fines of up to £2,500 or even a three-month prison sentence.

In Oxfordshire, 28 parents were prosecuted in 2017-18 for failure to pay the penalty.

Oxford Mail:

At a county council meeting last week, councillor Michael Waine discussed schools' preferences on absence punishments.

The former Bicester headteacher said: "One school wished for a more rapid process to take parents to court.

"Most others supported the county process that, if you move straight to court orders, it's like pushing a bulldozer straight through any relationship [with parents].

"We are one of the few authorities that adopt a warning letter prior to penalty notices."

Before a law change in 2013, heads could authorise up to 10 days per year per child for absences due to holidays.

Though many are still sympathetic of parents' viewpoint, they can now only authorise absence in 'exceptional circumstances.'

Darrell Wood, headteacher of Five Acres Primary School near Bicester, wrote on the school's website: "There are many reasons why holidays in term time may be an attractive option for parents and carers.

"I would expect that some families will continue to take holidays in term time for a number of reasons.

"These absences will simply be marked as unauthorised. It is not the policy of this school to seek penalty notices regarding holidays."

ALSO READ: Heads explain why unauthorised absences have skyrocketed

Nationally the number of truancy fines has increased by 75 per cent, from 149,300 in 2016-17 to 260,877 in 2017-18.

This rise followed the case of Jon Platt in the Isle of Wight, who fought a fine for taking his daughter on a term-time holiday.

His high-profile battle ended in April 2017, with the Supreme Court ruling that no child should be taken out of school without good reason.

The Department for Education's data analysis stated: "[We] contacted a small sample of local authorities with large changes about the increase in 2017/18.

"All six that responded cited that the Supreme Court judgement had an effect on the number of penalty notices issued."

Last year a mother told the Oxford Mail she had saved £2,500 by taking her family to Spain during term time, and said travelling and experiencing different cultures was educational in itself.

Compared to the rest of the South East, Oxfordshire parents saw the fewest truancy fines of all authorities in 2017-18.

Neighbouring Berkshire dished out 1,592, while Hampshire topped the region's list with 8,694.