A father who was prosecuted before a court for taking his teenage son out of school for a family holiday today said he would never have booked the trip had he known the consequences.
Lee Griffin is one of the first parents in Blackpool to be brought before a court after he took his sons to Turkey during term time – having booked the trip in a bid to save thousands from the price of a peak time break.
School bosses across Lancashire are taking a zero tolerance policy against parents who take children out of school following the introduction of new Government legislation.
In June last year the 40-year-old took his sons Louis, 16, and Max, 15, on a week’s break to Antalya in Turkey, to celebrate the end of Louis’ GCSEs. The holiday meant taking Max, then 14 and in Year Nine, out of classes at Lytham St Annes High School for five days.
Mr Griffin, of Peel Road, Blackpool, was fined £35 by the court, and ordered to pay £60 costs and £20 victims surcharge after admitting failing to ensure his child’s attendance.
But the businessman, who runs a Blackpool Promenade cafe reliant on tourist trade in the peak season, said taking a holiday during the summer break simply was n0t an option.
He said: “I had no idea this would happen. If I had know I wouldn’t have taken him out.
“The holiday was half the price though and I have a seasonal business. I can’t take them on holiday that often because of the business and it was a getaway after Louis’s exams. I couldn’t have left Max behind and he didn’t have any exams.”
The prosecution by Lancashire County Council is one of the first in a raft of cases.
New Government legislation states that children can only be removed from classes in “exceptional” circumstances.
Prosecuting for Lancashire County Council, Tony Didsbury told Blackpool Magistrates Court: “From September 1 last year matters changed for the headteachers from discretionary to virtually no choice at all.
“Leave of absence can be granted but only in exceptional circumstances but no one has said what those circumstances are. This has caused havoc, absolute havoc.”
He said that as a result the head of Lytham St Annes High School had adopted a no tolerance policy which is also being followed elsewhere, leading to Mr Griffin’s case.
The father said his son had an otherwise near perfect attendance record at the Worsley Road secondary.
He added: “I wouldn’t have done if I’d known I’d be pulled into court. If I’d have taken him out during exams or I was a bad parent then yes, I’d deserve it but I didn’t.”
Under the policy, families who remove children during term time are being hit with an immediate fixed penalty notice from their schools. If they fail to pay, they will be taken to court.
The threshold for penalty notices is 10 half-day sessions of unauthorised absence in one term, or 20 in two consecutive terms. The fine is £60, if paid within 21 days, increasing to £120 if paid within 28 days.
And the number of fines is soaring. Between September and December 2012, 204 were issues across Lancashire. That increased to 972 in the same period in 2013. County Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for schools, said: “It must be remembered that these are national changes, not local, and schools have to work within the regulations.
“We are here to support and advise schools, but in the end each case has to be considered individually by the school.
“Our aim throughout is not to punish parents but to ensure that children attend school and receive a good education. Taking parents to court over non-attendance at school is a serious matter which we always consider carefully.”
Another Fylde coast parent was also in court as part of the no tolerance policy.
Janine Bibby, 31, of Brookfield Road, Thornton, also admitted failing to ensure her two children’s attendance at primary school. Their only absences were family holidays.
She admitted the charge and told magistrates: “I told the head my mother had just been told she had been given the all clear from cancer and we needed a break after a nightmare year. The application was turned down but we went away.”
She did not pay the fixed penalty and was fined the same as Mr Griffin and told to pay the same costs.