The number of fines issued to parents for children missing school in Darlington has increased sharply. 

Figures from the Department for Education show student absence is on the rise, with nearly 200 more fines issued. 

In 2021/22, the council issued 752 fines for truancy. In 2022/23, it increased by 24 per cent to 932. 

Unauthorised family holiday absence was listed as the main reason behind the penalty notices, which start at £60 and rise to £120.

The reason for the fines in 2023 were: 

Holidays - 855 

Late - 1 

Other - 76

The number of cases taken to court in 2021/22 was 84 but dropped to 82 in 2022/23. 

Across two days last week, 13 fines were handed out to Darlington parents at Peterlee Magistrates’ Court after their children “failed to attend regularly”.

The prosecutions, brought by Darlington Borough Council, ordered parents to pay fines ranging from £206 to £766. 

A council spokesman said: “Individual schools and academies are responsible for deciding whether or not fines should be charged. The council is responsible for collecting fines on their behalf. The current rate is £60 within 21 days or £120 within 28 days – this is set nationally.”

The latest data comes as the government has been urged to toughen its stance on the issue of school absences among children. 

Analysis shows 299 children in Darlington are set to miss half their time at school by 2026 if rates of children skipping school continue.

Between 2016 and 2022, the number of children missing half their lessons increased by 95% in Darlington, and is set to continue rising unless urgent action is taken.

In total, 7,197 pupils across the North East were classed as severely absent in 2022/23, more than double the 3,245 recorded in 2018/19.

Darlington’s Conservative MP Peter Gibson warned children missing school could impact their future life opportunities. 

He said: “The best place for kids to learn and have the best chance in life is to be in school. I regularly meet with our local head teachers and hear the challenges of absent children whose education is damaged by not being at school, which damages their education, their prospects and future life chances. 

“It is shocking to see that schools have to use valuable resources to employ staff just to get kids to turn up at school. It really is the duty and responsibility of every parent to see their child gets to school, and I hope that the work being done has the desired impact showing that playing truant, even with the blessing of Mam and Dad, doesn't pay.”

Labour's candidate for Darlington ahead of the General Election, Lola McEvoy, said: "I know the value of a great education. I went to George Dent Nursery, St Augustine's Primary and Carmel College and it gave me stability and the secure start that we all expect from the education system. It is of grave concern that more and more children are failing to attend school. If we don't tackle this now we'll have a lost generation.”

The Labour hopeful backed her party’s plan to reform the system to ensure more is done to crackdown on children missing school. 

“We can reverse these trends, but we need a fresh team with fresh ideas to do it,” she added. 

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“Our plan for free breakfast clubs for every primary pupil will help get our children learning again. Labour is ready to serve the country with a plan that will help Children here. We can't change things without a change of government."

The plan follows on from a Government announcement to create 18 new “attendance hubs” to help tackle the problem of persistent absentees. 

The DfE said that the hubs, of which there are now 32 nationally, are run by schools with excellent attendance rates and share practical ideas with other primary, secondary, alternative provision and special schools that need help.