More fines were issued to Hampshire parents after their children missed school last year than almost anywhere else in England, figures have revealed.

The area issued more fines than almost any other local authority in the country – accounting for 2 per cent of all penalty notices handed out across England.

Of the fines last year, 814 (86 per cent) were for unauthorised family holidays, while 24 (3 per cent) were for being late.

Department for Education data shows that 946 penalty notices were issued to Hampshire parents for a child’s poor attendance in 2020-21 – though measures did not apply for two months when schools were not open to all pupils.

Though no figures were available for 2019-20 because of the pandemic, the number of fines last year was down 89 per cent from 8,946 in 2018-19.

Responding to the news, Hampshire County Council’s executive lead member for children’s services, Cllr Roz Chadd, told that Hampshire has extremely high school attendance, and only uses penalty notices as a “last resort”.

She said: “The rate of issuing penalty notices during the 2020/21 academic year was lower in Hampshire at 0.56 per cent, compared to the average across England of 0.65 per cent.

“As the third largest shire county, with a large population, Hampshire has around 180,000 school aged pupils attending some 526 schools. Hampshire has historically seen very high levels of attendance in schools and the last published figure was 95.4 per cent attendance. Hampshire has continued to benefit from relatively high levels of attendance during the pandemic.

“Schools have worked hard with parents to reassure them of the mitigation strategies they have put in place to reduce the likelihood of Covid transmission during the pandemic. Penalty notices have only been issued as a last resort after all other measures have been exhausted.”

Across England, the number of notices issued fell from 333,400 to just 45,800 over the same period – a fall of 86 per cent, and the lowest number since 2011-12.

Fines for school absences dropped significantly across England during the coronavirus pandemic – which the National Association of Headteachers described as unsurprising, as the crisis "fundamentally changed" the education landscape.

Their use varied greatly in different parts of the country, with 15 local authorities issuing 10 or fewer.

Meanwhile, just a dozen areas were responsible for over a third of all fines nationally last year.

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Fines have always been a blunt instrument when it comes to managing persistent absenteeism, and even more so if the reasons are related to the pandemic.

"Schools will be working closely with families where persistent absenteeism is an issue to provide the necessary support to help get pupils back into school.

"The reality is that if a parent is concerned enough about their child’s safety to keep them off school, the threat of a fine is unlikely to change their minds.”

Penalty notices are £60 if paid within 21 days of being issued, but rise to £120 if paid between 22 and 28 days.

If the penalty is still outstanding, the council must either prosecute for the original offence or withdraw the notice.

There were almost 5,000 prosecutions for non-payment nationally last year – 47 in Hampshire.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It’s important that all children are in school during term time, particularly as most will have missed out on extended periods of face-to-face education over the last two years, and many continue to face ongoing disruption as a result of Covid.

“Headteachers have discretion over whether to classify an absence as authorised or unauthorised, and local authorities over whether to issue penalty notices.

"All involved will be mindful of the difficult circumstances of the last two years when making those decisions.”

A DfE spokeswoman said fines are available to local authorities when there is no lawful reason for a child's absence, but other support to boost attendance can also be offered where appropriate.