SOMERSET County Council earned nearly £69,000 last year from fining parents because of their child being absent from school.

A freedom of information request to the council has revealed the amount it earns in such fines has more than tripled over a two-year period.

The council has said the increase has been driven by parents taking children out of school for family holidays without the school’s agreement.

It has also said the money it earns from the fines goes on the administration of the fining process, rather than being spent on other services or paying for staff.

In 2016/17, the amount the council earned from term time holiday penalty notices was £19,560.

By 2017/18 this had climbed sharply to £53,280, and reached £68,940 in the last financial year (2018/19).

As of 2018 – the most recent year for which figures are available – 112 schools in Somerset had issued penalty notices to parents, which just under half (45 per cent) of those being primary schools.

When specialist schools and pupil referral units are discounted, upper schools in Somerset have the highest absence rate (9.74 per cent), with primary schools having the lowest (4.27 per cent).

The council has said these attendance levels are broadly in line with the figures for the south west, and the rise had been driven by families taking children out of school for holidays.

A spokeswoman said: “Somerset school pupils’ absence levels stood at 5.2 per cent on average in 2018, fractionally more than the south west average of five per cent. Dorset reported a similar figure of 5.2 per cent, while Cornwall reported a higher figure of 5.3 per cent.

“There is statutory guidance for school attendance, but all schools will have a policy around attendance and absence.

“All the revenue resulting from fines is used to fund the administration and legal costs associated with issuing them.

“We have seen a steady increase in fines – known as term time holiday penalty notices –  due to a rise in absence as a result of family holidays not agreed with the child’s school.”