MORE than 340 Wirral parents have been hit with fixed penalty notices for allowing their children to take unauthorised school absences.

Fines issued by Wirral Council over a three-year period total more than £19,000 – but less than £5,000 has actually been collected.

Any cash raised from the penalties is reinvested into the Children and Young People’s Department.

The authority says new guidance issued by the Department of Education came into effect from September last year and removed headteachers' discretion to authorise up to ten days’ absence per pupil per school year.

The guidance now states that absences, including those requested for holidays, should only be authorised in exceptional circumstances.

A town hall spokesman said: “When an unauthorised absence is recorded by a school this may be reported to the local authority, who may then issue a fixed penalty notice of £60 if paid within 21 days, or £120 if paid between 22 and 28 days.

“Wirral Council is committed to ensuring that schools can effectively manage attendance within the Government’s guidelines.

“Headteachers across the borough have signed up to a protocol in partnership with the local authority which supports schools to follow a consistent and fair approach to attendance.”

While some of the fines may target persistent truants, debate on the online forum Mumsnet suggests parents are becoming fed up with the strict rules on term time holiday absence.

A thread on the influential website says learning has just as much to do with worldly exposure and experience as it does with academia - and a parent is best placed to make a decision on the needs of their child.

Headteachers are under pressure, it says, to refuse applications for holiday - so parents who 'do the right thing' and apply for absence rather than phone their child in sick are more often than not refused permission.

“With 50% of parents prepared to risk the fines, and 30% being served penalty notices, this issue will only perpetuate.

“Within reasonable limitations (maximum of ten days and not during exams) it should be a parent’s right to take their children on holiday."

The Wirral fines are revealed on the "What do they know" website in response to a Freedom of Information request from Leasowe councillor Ian Lewis, who said: "I would hope schools use their discretion and that there is no pressure from the town hall for this to become another 'nice little earner'.

"The irony is that, next week, there will be thousands of children taking unauthorised absence as union strike action forces children to miss a day's schooling and many parents will have to pay out for childcare and make alternative arrangements."

Wirral South MP Alison McGovern backed calls from more than 200,000 parents who wish to have a say on changes to school holiday rules.

More than 20 MPs spoke during a debate in parliament in February and urged the Government to listen to those who have signed up to the ‘Parents Want A Say’ campaign, which is battling to overturn amendments to the term-time family holiday rules.