Family wins their case against fine for holiday absence
09:00 30 December 2016
A family fined for taking their children on holiday during term time has won their case against Suffolk County Council in the second victory in just a few weeks.
The case now leaves schools with the dilemma of how strictly to enforce the rules – and parents wondering whether they should gamble on escaping a fine.
Dean and Lorraine Pierpoint took nine-year-old Preston and seven-year-old Riley out of Pakefield Primary School in May to attend their wedding in Florida.
The couple, who also have a two-year-old daughter, Lola, won their case at Great Yarmouth, when magistrates decided there was no case to answer.
They were represented by a solicitor funded by Isle of Wight campaigner Jon Platt, who won a High Court case against a fine imposed by Isle of Wight council. The High Court ruled he did not have to pay a £120 fine because his daughter had attended school “regularly”.
Mr Pierpoint said: “Why is Suffolk County Council trying to give parents criminal records, which can impact on their livelihoods?
“What they talk about in the courtroom is statistics of your child’s attendance.
“They don’t hear about the support you give them after school or the money you pay into the school for trips.
“None of that is taken into account.”
Another family – Hannah and Richard Smith from Lowestoft – had the case against them withdrawn outside the courtroom but Mr Pierpoint said the solicitor acting for the county council had pushed for the Pierpoints to go through the trial.
Mr Pierpoint said their own solicitor argued there was no legal definition of regular attendance and moved for the case to be dismissed.
He added: “There are still fines being issued. It is a case of people being strong enough to go through this process. It is hard but the principle of what they are doing is wrong.”
In the case of unauthorised absences, each parent is fined £60 for each absent child, which doubles if unpaid for 21 days.
How other councils deal with unauthorised absences
Following Mr and Mrs Pierpoint’s case, a Suffolk County Council spokesman said it was up to each headteacher to decide whether to authorise an absence or not.
The spokesman added: “The fixed penalty notices were issued as a result of a referral from their children’s school in line with the attendance policy of that school and it is Suffolk County Council’s policy to support schools.”
In light of Mr Platt’s High Court victory, Norfolk County Council relaxed its stance on fines, deciding not to punish parents who took their children out of school for holidays without permission, if their overall attendance was good. Instead, fines are only issued for holiday absences where there are other unauthorised absences which take the attendance percentage below 90pc in a 12-week period.
A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: “Making sure students in Norfolk get an excellent education is a priority for the council and being at school is absolutely vital if our young people are to reach their potential, as there is a clear link between school attendance and performance.”
Cambridgeshire County Council does not issue parents with a penalty notice for a first unauthorised absence. Penalty notices are only issued for subsequent unauthorised absences which take a child’s attendance below 90pc.
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