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Bury St Edmunds parent says fine for Howard Community Academy daughter missing school ‘is a joke’ and is prepared to go to court

A mother is facing prosecution over taking her daughter out of school for four days so the family could go on a cheap holiday.

The Bury St Edmunds parent, who asked not to be named, is refusing to pay the fine and is ‘fully prepared’ to go to court over the unauthorised absence for her daughter, a pupil at Howard Community Academy in the town.

The single parent and her daughter went on a £99 caravan holiday to Skegness with her parents the week after the Easter break, but two weeks after they returned she had received a fine.

A Howard Community Academy parent is facing prosecution over a fine for taking their child on holiday in term time
A Howard Community Academy parent is facing prosecution over a fine for taking their child on holiday in term time

The parent, 31, who works in catering at a local secondary school, said she had filled in a holiday request form and returned it to the school office, but claims she hadn’t received a decline so went away believing there was no issue.

The penalty notice was initially for £60, which went up to £120, the parent said.

In the post she has recently received a final notice from Suffolk County Council, dated June 1, that the county council will begin legal proceedings against her. She has replied to the local authority detailing her mitigating circumstances.

“I have had the final notice saying if I don’t pay it I will go to court, which I’m fully prepared to do because I didn’t get my decline,” she said. “Had I known I would have more than likely not taken her.”

The school’s attendance policy, dated October 2022, says requests for holidays during term time have increased and it is important that parents are aware that these will be refused unless there are really exceptional circumstances.

“I’m aware it’s very expensive to take a child on holiday during half term and summer holidays. You can see it goes up day by day, but when a child’s attendance is so high, it’s really bad they are fining parents,” said the mum, who added that her daughter’s school attendance is ‘amazing’.

The parent, who feels she has been unfairly treated by the school, described being fined as ‘a bit of a joke to be honest’, and she knows some people go on holiday and just call in sick instead of handing in a holiday form.

She said the fine ‘was a lot of money’ and even if the courts order she pays a small amount every week ‘that’s money I need for gas, electric and food for my daughter’. “Money is tight,” she added.

The holiday to Skegness, which the parent said had been ‘lovely’, had been booked by her mum, who now feels ‘really bad’ because of the penalty notice.

Howard Community Academy headteacher Alison Weir
Howard Community Academy headteacher Alison Weir

Alison Weir, headteacher of Howard Community Academy, said: “While we understand the importance of family holidays for our pupils’ wellbeing, good attendance is absolutely fundamental to a successful and fulfilling school experience, particularly given the recent loss of time in school during to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Regular attendance at school maximises progress in learning and helps our pupils to reach their full potential.

“Like all schools, we are required to adhere to national attendance regulations and the laws state that headteachers are unable to grant any leave of absence during term time unless there are exceptional circumstances.

“The Government is clear that applications for holiday or leave during term time cannot be authorised and to avoid difficulty or disappointment, we ask our parents to refrain from making such requests.

“Working with Education Welfare Officers, we share requests for unauthorised absence with Suffolk County Council, who are responsible for issuing fines and communication to parents.”

SuffolkNews reported in January that the number of fines issued to parents and carers for children's unauthorised absence from school in Suffolk has been rising following a huge fall during the years of coronavirus lockdowns.

Last year, SuffolkNews reported that a number of Suffolk schools had been contacting parents and carers to highlight attendance rules, while new Government guidance to improve attendance levels applied from September 2022.

Visit the Suffolk County Council website for more information about school attendance and penalty notices.