A public apology or resignation is being demanded by Plaid Cymru over the crackdown ordered by Rhondda Cynon Taf council on parents that took their children out of school during term time.
Councillor Pauline Jarman, leader of the Plaid Cymru group, said that the Cabinet Member for Education and Lifelong Learning, Councillor Eugine Hanagan should issue an apology to parents, headteachers and governing bodies for badly advising them over the issuing of fines to parents or else consider her position.
The zero tolerance approach of the Labour controlled authority in issuing fixed penalties has been discredited by statements from the Welsh Education Minister. The Minister made it clear in January that parents can take their children out of school during term time with head teachers’ permission.
A Freedom of Information request by Plaid Cymru revealed that 1,500 fixed penalty notices had been issued. The £75,880 raised so far with a further 282 Fixed Penalty Notices amounting to £17,000 yet to be collected. But the council refused to release details of the legal advice given to the council which led to governing bodies/head-teachers being asked to implement a zero tolerance policy. They said it was not in the public interest to release the information.
But Councillor Pauline Jarman, leader of the Plaid Cymru group, said: "For the council to claim that the wider public interest is best served by not revealing the legal advice is a pitiful excuse.
"For a council to issue 1500 Fixed Penalty Notices on the back of a scheme that has been discredited by the Education Minister is a matter of grave concern to all of those schools that adopted the policy in good faith, based on the advice of the Council's Education and Lifelong Directorate. Councillor Hanagan needs to take responsibility for this debacle."
The £75,880 raised so far with a further 282 Fixed Penalty Notices amounting to £17,000 yet to be collected will all go into the council's coffers raising some £92,800 on the back of advice that has proven to be flawed."
Leanne Wood AM, who lives in the Rhondda, said: "The council’s zero tolerance policy was an over the top response to this issue that penalised parents unfairly. I hope in future the council show some commonsense instead of alienating parents unnecessarily. The council should refund all parents for payments made."
Councillor Jarman added: "In a report in the autumn term of 2014 from the Education Directorate, following a decision by the Labour Cabinet to approve a zero tolerance approach from September 2014, governing bodies were asked to amend and ratify their school attendance policies by the end of the autumn term 2014. This was supposed to reflect the introduction of this zero tolerance approach to holidays in term time.
"Since the Education Minister's intervention in a recent report the council's Education and Lifelong Learning Directorate has told all schools to remove any reference to "zero tolerance" in their holidays in term time policy.
In that same report they claim that technically the Cabinet's approach was never a "zero tolerance" approach. Why does this Council finds it very difficult to say 'Sorry, we were wrong'? This is quite frankly a cop out and an insult to the intelligence of all of those governors who introduced it into their school policies in good faith.
"It is well known in the council and on the governing bodies I serve on that I was always of the view that this zero tolerance approach was ill advised as long as there was a legislation allowing headteachers to exercise their discretion on authorising up to 10 days holiday a year.
"Schools acted in good faith based on the advice from the Education Directorate. My understanding is in those cases that the Council is culpable."
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