THE Government has been urged to get a grip after The Northern Echo uncovered a hotpotch approach among local councils to the issue of term-time holidays.

While both Middlesbrough and Stockton councils said they will no longer fine parents for youngsters’ unauthorised absences until further notice, councils in Darlington and Hartlepool said their stance is unchanged and they would still issue fines if necessary.

Other councils such as North Yorkshire County Council suggested parents would escape punishment for term-time holidays, but only if their child’s attendance did not fall below the 90 per cent mark – deemed to be persistent truancy.

Last week parent Jon Platt, who was prosecuted after failing to pay a fine from Isle of Wight Council for taking his six-year-old daughter on holiday without permission, had the High Court rule in his favour after judges said there was no evidence she had failed to attend school regularly.

The Government responded by saying it would tighten the law and that children’s attendance at school was “non-negotiable”.

But the Department for Education (DfE) has yet to issue fresh statutory guidance while it waits for the full written judgement from the court.

The Northern Echo understands that since last Friday’s ruling there has been no communication between the DfE and local councils.

Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said: “The Government has created a system where chaos reigns and has got itself into a holy mess.

“What parents, teachers and local authorities need is urgent clarity and guidance from the Department for Education.

“We should trust headteachers and parents to deal with these issues. The system we had up until 2013 was the right one.

“There are occasions when it is in a child’s interests to take them out of school, provided their attendance otherwise is exemplary.”

Mrs Chapman added: “Since the ruling it looks like the legal basis for issuing fines is questionable and it isn’t right that local authorities look like they are now being forced to make things up as they go along.

“Parents may be making decisions on the back of this ruling and in any case will plan holidays months in advance and the fact that different councils are taking different approaches just adds to the confusion.”

Where headteachers previously had discretion over term-time holidays, in 2013 then Education Secretary Michael Gove introduced new rules meaning that children could only be taken out of school in exceptional circumstances.

Councils were given the power to issue £60 fines, doubling to £120 if not paid within 21 days, for unauthorised absences referred to them by headteachers.

In the last academic year more than 2,000 fines have issued to parents in County Durham, Darlington, Middlesbrough and North Yorkshire.

Mike Parker, director of Schools North East, a regional schools network whose board members include headteachers from across the region, said: “It is no great surprise that some local authorities are choosing to stop issuing fines as the court case has created a great amount of confusion.”

Middlesbrough Council said the “temporary hold” on issuing fixed penalty notices would continue until it was in a position to offer more definitive advice.

A spokesman said: “This decision has no impact on any fixed penalty notices which have been paid or court fines which have been issued/paid and regular school attendance remains compulsory.”

A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesman said: “We are awaiting further guidance before considering any amendments to our practice. In the meantime we will continue to issue fines at the request of headteachers.”