HUNDREDS of North-East parents have been fined for pulling their children out of school for a family holiday, an investigation by The Northern Echo has found.

More than 850 families in the region have been issued with fixed penalty notices since September when new rules were introduced clamping down on term-time breaks.

Although it is understood the majority of parents have paid the fine, others are refusing to pay and are facing court action.

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For taking their child out of school without authorisation each parent faces a £60 fine per child, with the penalty notices rising to £120 per parent per child if not paid within 21 days.

If parents refuse to pay, magistrates have the power to impose a three-month prison sentence and a fine of up to £2,000.

The Echo investigation revealed wide discrepancies across the region with some authorities issuing hundreds of penalty notices and others not handing out any.

In Darlington, 48 fixed penalty notices have been issued since September.

So far, 22 parents have paid up, but 12 have not paid and are facing prosecution at the town's magistrates court.

North Yorkshire County Council has issued 328 penalty notices for unauthorised absence during the current school year, while Durham County Council has issued 110.

Elsewhere in the region, Stockton Council issued 130 notices between September and the end of June.

Up until July 1, Middlesbrough Council had issued 111 penalty notices - 49 for unauthorised absence and 62 for unauthorised leave of absence taken in term time.

Redcar and Cleveland Council has issued 135 penalty notices for attendance issues since September.

Of these, 127 were in respect of unauthorised leave of absence for holidays.

Sunderland Council said it had not issued any fixed penalty notices, however 81 fines had been handed out by Sunderland magistrates for unauthorised absence

Councillor Pat Smith, portfolio holder for children's services, said: "We use a range of measures working alongside schools to improve pupil attendance which includes the enforcement options available to all local authorities.

"Attendance figures in our schools continue to rise as a result of our partnership approach with families and parents and no fixed penalty notices were issued last year."

Sharon and Ronald Temple, from Darlington, were fined £120 under the old rules after taking their children Kaitlyn and Emily out of West Park Academy for a family holiday in Florida in 2012.

Undeterred, they are planning another term-time holiday in the US this year.

Mrs Temple, 43, said parents could not always get the time off work to fit in with school holidays and they should be allowed to take their own children out of school if they wanted.

She added: "We believe that quality time with your family is much more important than missing five days of school.

"The fine is now per child, per parent but even if we are fined £240 it's better than paying an extra £2,500 to go in the holidays.

"Last time we filled in the form but they refused permission so we went anyway."

Head teachers previously had the discretion to allow up to ten days off every school year in special circumstances.

However, parents can now only take their children out of school in exceptional circumstances.

The policy has proved unpopular with families who have been prevented from taking advantage of cheaper holidays during school term time.

Vince Allen, principal officer for the Northern region at the National Union of Teachers, said the rules had been introduced without any proper consultation with teachers or education professionals.

He added: "It's an unwieldy and unnecessary piece of legislation.

"Schools are completely capable of taking proper decisions and executing their discretion - that discretion has been taken away from them."

But the Department for Education said the policy was helping to reduce absenteeism.

A spokeswoman added: "Evidence shows allowing pupils to regularly miss school can be hugely detrimental to a child’s education.

"The most recent full-year figures show we are making progress, with 130,000 fewer pupils regularly missing school under this government.

“We recognise that many parents struggle with high holiday costs. We are giving all schools the freedom to set their own term dates so they can set holidays outside of peak times. Parents can urge schools to make use of this new freedom."