Mum’s anger at £60 fine in school holiday furore

Mum Michelle Smith the letter from Blackpool Council notifying her of the decision to fine her �60
Mum Michelle Smith the letter from Blackpool Council notifying her of the decision to fine her �60

A mum has hit out after different school holiday dates for her children landed her with a £60 fine.

Michelle Smith, 34, says she had little choice but to pull her 10-year-old daughter, Amelia, out of Norbreck Primary Academy for seven days because the youngster had different holiday dates than the rest of the family’s four children over Easter.

Out of principle I will not pay this fine. I want my day in court

Miss Smith, of Thornton Gate, Cleveleys, says the current situation caused by different holidays for different schools is to blame.

State schools were last year given the power to relax term times but the situation has been exacerbated by the creation of independently-run school academies which can set their own holidays – often out of sync with others – making it increasingly difficult for parents to find the same week to take off when children attend different schools.

But the mum believes Norbreck, which asked for the fine to be issued, could have adopted a different approach, given that Amelia’s attendance record has been so good.

Miss Smith has vowed not to pay the fine and says she will fight it in court.

She said: “It is not my fault that my daughter Amelia’s school, Norbreck, has different holidays than the children’s schools.

“It is a ridiculous situation.

“But we could have decided to take the other four out of school and allowed Amelia not to miss school, which would have been worse.

“I was trying to make the most of an awkward situation by taking just one child away. We couldn’t leave her behind and we didn’t want to cancel the trip.

“I would never take one of my children out of school lightly, this situation has never arisen before.”

The problem started when Miss Smith, her partner Rick Lake and the family’s five children took an Easter holiday to Ibiza for nine days from Tuesday March 29, with four of the youngsters already having broken up almost a week before.

However, her youngest child Amelia didn’t break up until Friday April 8, two weeks later.

Miss Smith says she took in a letter to Norbreck about her plans and said the school seemed sympathetic to her dilemma, although a generic letter was sent advising she took the decision at her own risk.

Despite going to different schools, all the other children’s holidays coincided with each other.

Miss Smith has two children who attend Hodgson Academy in Poulton, Taylor, 16, and Courtney, 14, who broke up for Easter on Thursday March 24.

A third child, 12-year-old Lenny, who is the son of her partner Rick, attends Cardinal Allen in Fleetwood and broke up on Wednesday March 23.

Miss Smith sends her 12-year-old son Shai to another high school, Montgomery High School in Bispham, because she felt it was more suited to his particular needs.

That school broke up on Thursday March 24.

Last week she was stunned to receive the fine via Blackpool Council, the local authority which has certain administration roles for schools within its boundaries.

The document stated: “If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at school fails to attend regularly at the school the parent is guilty of an offence.”

Parents have no right to appeal.

But Miss Smith added: “Amelia’s attendance at Norbreck has been excellent – 93 per cent since September and just two authorised absences for doctor’s appointments – and I thought that would be taken into account.

“The system isn’t fair and it is putting families under unfair pressure.

“I can’t understand why there are different dates anyway – it makes life so much harder. If I don’t pay the fine within 14 days I’ve been told it will go up to £120 and from there it gets even worse.

“Out of principle I will not pay this fine.

“I want to have my day in court.”

A Blackpool Council spokesman said: “It is up to individual schools and headteachers to set their own policies on fines for absence and if those policies are breached then it falls on the council to process the payment.

“Academies can choose their own term dates away from the regular school holidays if they wish.”

School explains why it decided to fine mum over holiday decision

Karen McCarter, Headteacher at Norbreck Primary Academy said: “It’s important that a child’s education is supported by a strong bond between the home and the school but school holidays can sometimes be moments when what the school wants and what a parent wants are different.

“When Norbreck Primary converted to an academy in 2012, to minimise potential difficulties for parents we decided we would not exercise our academy freedom to set our own holiday dates.

“Instead we follow the core holiday dates used throughout Blackpool and Lancashire. 18 out of the 40 schools in this area have followed these core dates on this occasion.

“This works well for the majority of families.

“In this instance, the parent has three other children at nearby secondary academies which set their own, different holiday dates.

“We understand that this is a difficult situation for the family but the government only permits schools to authorise absence in very exceptional circumstances such as bereavement or funerals.

“Although it may seem harsh, term-time absence for holidays are not allowed.

“ The government expects that schools maintain the highest levels of attendance, pointing out that even one day’s school missed can adversely affect a child’s grades.

“If an unauthorised absence lasts longer than five days we are required to issue a fine.

“The decision we’ve taken in this case complies with the expectations placed on the school by the government.

“In following the same holiday dates as the majority of schools in this area, Norbreck Primary Academy is being as fair and reasonable to all children as possible while maintaining the highest standards of attendance and attainment that we can.”