ALMOST 4,500 fines were handed out to parents whose children were absent from Wiltshire Schools over the past five years.

A freedom of information request revealed that Wiltshire Council issued almost six fixed penalty notices for every school day during that period.

Fines totalling more than a quarter of a million were dished out to mums and dads whose children skipped school without good reason.

And of those cases, 318 went to court. There were 140 convictions for unauthorised absence over the past three years, but the council did not hold any conviction data from before 2014.

There are currently around 67,000 pupils in schools across Wiltshire.

Schools can issue parents with on-the-spot penalty notices of £60 per child, rising to £120 if unpaid after three weeks, if their child has an unauthorised absence.

But Mike Harrison, secretary for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) Wiltshire, said unauthorised absences and truanting would be “better tackled by dealing with the cause, rather than imposing fines or imprisonment on families who may already face significant difficulties”.

He said truanting arose from “complex problems”, including “the oppressive testing regime and narrowing of the curriculum which alienates many working class pupils and reduces their interest in school”.

He said: “A good school attendance record is central to enabling each child to reach their full potential, developing necessary personal and social skills as well as progressing in their formal education.

“Some families are only able to take holidays together during term time due to working patterns or the hike in prices during the school holiday period.”

Mr Harrison added: “It is important that head teachers are able to consider the circumstances of each family in order to make the right decisions for the children at their school.

“Fining parents for taking their children out of school has caused great anger amongst parents, is not supported by the majority of teachers and creates unnecessary tensions between schools and families.”

Figures from the Department for Education show that unauthorised absence in Wiltshire is at 0.8 per cent, lower than the average for the South West (1 per cent) and the national average of 1.1 per cent.

A spokesman for Wiltshire Council said that, although Wiltshire ranks well for unauthorised absence, the council is “not complacent” and has “a range of measures” to improve overall attendances.

He said: “Schools can request us to issue penalty notices or may ask us to provide supportive measures for the pupil.”