Special report: Term-time holiday fines

Lisa Grimes with her children Jakob, nine, Sam, 13, and Libby-Rose, five
Lisa Grimes with her children Jakob, nine, Sam, 13, and Libby-Rose, five

Parents can now be fined £60 each per child for taking their children on holiday during term time.

A mother is thrilled after finding out she will be allowed to take her autistic son out of school for a much-needed respite break during term time, but fears other parents might not be sure of the new rules.

Lisa Grimes applied to the Papworth Trust and her family was chosen from scores across the country to have a break in Wales paid for by the disability charity.

Not only will the break help her 13-year-old son Sam, who has severe autism, but it will also provide support for Lisa, her nine-year-old son Jakob, who has mild autism, daughter Libby-Rose, five, and Lisa’s partner Wayne Kelcher.

However, the dates given to them were for a week during term time in February.

Miss Grimes contacted Friars School in Wellingborough for permission to take Sam away for five days.

Following the introduction of new Government guidelines came into force in September saying parents cannot take children on holiday during term time, Miss Grimes was initially told Sam couldn’t have the time off and any absence would be unauthorised.

The Telegraph contacted the school and the headteacher said she was not aware of the circumstances for the holiday.

But after looking into it, the school has agreed that there are exceptional circumstances and Sam will be granted the time off.

Miss Grimes, of Minerva Way, Wellingborough, said: “Sam will be delighted.

“He won’t think I’m going to prison now. He will be made up, he really wanted to go.”

Despite the good news, Miss Grimes has spent the past week worrying that she could be fined for taking her son out of school during term time.

She said: “I never assumed the school wouldn’t allow it. It’s not a family holiday, it’s a respite break.”

As well as speaking to the school, she contacted the Telegraph and MP for Wellingborough and Rushden Peter Bone for help.

She said: “I am studying for a degree at the moment but most of my time has been spent on the phone sorting this out.

“I have been a governor at one of my other children’s school so I am not a wallflower, but I have been at a point where I have been dreading picking Sam up from school because of this.

“It’s been awful, I felt like a criminal. When you have children with special needs, you don’t need that.

“But I wasn’t going to give up. When it comes to the children, I fight tooth and nail, the boys can’t speak up for themselves.”

Miss Grimes said it had been a stressful few days, and she fears other families could find themselves in a similar situation if they don’t understand the new guidelines which are aimed at improving attendance.

She said: “I didn’t know where I stood. I could have taken this lying down, but this would have been on Sam’s record.

“It needs to be clarified where people stand and what the exceptions are. I talked to some of the mums at school and none of them seemed to know what exceptional circumstances means.”

Peter Bone MP told the Telegraph this is not the first time parents in his constituency have got in touch about this.

He said: “What it is designed to do is to stop taking children out of school when there’s no reason, but this is a prime example of when the exception is used.”

Miss Grimes and her family are now looking forward to their break aimed at helping families who have a disabled family member to enjoy quality time together without worrying about daily stresses or caring issues.

They will get to try out new things and have a holiday where they can be parents to the whole family and not just carers.

Miss Grimes said: “It will be of total benefit for Sam. There will be someone there for him who understands him.

“We can go on holiday but there are always people there who are going to judge him.

“We have to be careful where we go, we have to go to quiet places. This break is tailored for him.”

Her partner Wayne said: “Sam deserves it.

“He’s a four-year-old trapped in a 13-year-old’s body, he is like a toddler.

“It’s to see if his quality of life can be improved by one-to-one time. At the end of the day, he is going to be a man in a few years’ time and we need to know what he is capable of doing.”

What the law changes mean

Changes to the legislation regarding absence during term time were made by the Department for Education and came into force on September 1.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “Government legislation has changed, giving no entitlement to parents to take their child on holiday during term time.

“Any application for leave must only be in exceptional circumstances and the headteacher must be satisfied that the circumstances are exceptional and warrant the granting of leave.

“Headteachers would not be expected to class any term time holiday as exceptional. Parents who take a child on holiday during term time without consent of the school can be fined.”

A fixed penalty notice of £60 can be issued to each parent for each child if taken on holiday during term time without the school’s consent.

An example of this is a two-parent family with two children would be fined £240.

In the academic year 2011-2012, 9.7 per cent of all absences in England were due to parents taking their children out of school during term time.

For more information about the guidelines visit www.northamptonshire.gov.uk or www.education.gov.uk.