MORE than 200 south Essex parents have been fined for taking their children out of school during term time.

In total, 137 fines have been issued in Basildon since Essex County Council introduced tougher guidelines in September – the highest figure in the county. Castle Point had 56 and Rochford had 23.

Schools have been told they can only grant leave in exceptional circumstances when prior permission has been sought.

Across Essex, the council has collected £28,150 in fines, including £6,060 from Basildon parents.

Many mums and dads claim taking their children out of school during term time is the only chance they have of affording a family holiday.

Parent Fae Gregory, from Langdon Hills, said she saved her family £690 on flights by booking to depart three days before the start of the summer holidays.

She said: “If you look at any holiday brochure for the six-week summer break, the prices are doubled.

“People have no choice now. If they want a holiday and can save by going a few days earlier or later then people are going to do it, it’s human nature.

“Holidays are important for children.

They learn life skills and get a taste of the real world.”

Mum Lisa Chegwidden, from Basildon, is planning to take her two children out of school in November to take them on holiday.

She said: “They are infant age, so they only do 30 minutes of actual learning a day.

“I see a holiday as a life experience for my children and I’m quite willing to pay the fine as its cheaper than going away in the school holidays.

“I think it’s really up to the parents to choose as it’s their children not anyone else’s.”

In 2012/13, before tougher guidelines were brought in, the council collected £26,650 in fines.

An Essex County Council spokesman said: “Parents have a legal duty to ensure regular school attendance for their children who are registered at a school.

“The council is committed to ensuring children receive a suitable education and issues penalty notices and uses legal processes where appropriate to achieve this aim.

“Where there is concern for a child’s attendance, schools will work with the family to address the cause of the absence.”

“If this is not successful and the absences are not authorised by the school, the matter may be referred to the council’s education welfare service which will arrange a meeting between the school and family.”

If the situation does not improve, the Education Welfare Service will consider issuing a penalty notice, prosecution or a supervision order.

Prosecution will be sought if a penalty notice is not paid within 28 days.

The spokesman said: “The increase in penalty notices issued reflects the firm stance this authority takes on parents’ responsibility to ensure regular school attendance.”