Term-time holidays: Mother slams system that sees her fined after ex-husband took their son to Florida
A PARENT who was fined after her ex-husband took her son away on holiday has criticised the stringent system which she feels unfairly punishes single parents.
Christina McGilligan-Fell has spoken out against fines for parents who take their children out of school for holidays after the Grimsby Telegraph revealed that 359 were handed out in the 2011-2012 academic year for absences – including unauthorised holidays in term-time.
Ms McGilligan-Fell, who is also a North East Lincolnshire councillor, but was speaking as a parent, told the Telegraph how her son Dominic was refused permission to go on holiday to Florida in September 2011 with her ex-husband – who now lives in London and rarely gets to spend quality time with Dominic.
She claims that not only did Tollbar Academy refuse permission at the very beginning of the school year but it fined both parents – who split long ago – £50 each.
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Ms McGilligan-Fell felt the fine was unfair as she was powerless to stop the holiday, risking alienating her son if she told her he could not go on a holiday of a lifetime – which she could never afford – with the father he wishes he saw more of.
She said: "I don't have the money to take my children on holiday and if I had told my son that he couldn't go on the most amazing holiday to Florida with his father, he would have hated me for it – any mother will tell you that.
"When you have a family with a father who doesn't live locally, it can be very hard to manage that relationship and I couldn't tell my son that he couldn't spend time with his father.
"Personally, I would have preferred he went away in the holidays and my ex-husband could afford to take him, but he will not listen to his ex-wife.
"I told him he would have to pay the fine and he agreed, but then I found out I got fined, too, but there was nothing I could do – I was totally helpless."
The £50 fines are issued by North East Lincolnshire Council (NELC) but they say it is done entirely on the direction of the school or academy.
A spokesman for Tollbar Academy said: "The Department For Education issues guidelines for all school absences but it's up to the individual school or academy to make that decision.
"Our policy is not to allow absences within term time, unless in exceptional circumstances, but each case is assessed on its own merit.
"In years 9, 10 and 11, there are regular controlled assessments, which count towards their overall GCSE grades and they can't go back and take them again so missing school can have a serious impact on a student's achievement.
"When recommending fines, we always recommend the parents with custody, but would recommend fines for both parents if that custody is joint."