Mary Hennessy Jones, retiring from Pear Tree Primary, hits out at fines for parents

A Nantwich headteacher has hit out at the use of “punitive” fines for parents who take their children out of school for holidays.

Mary Hennessy Jones, head at Pear Tree Primary in Stapeley, spoke after a High Court ruling backed Isle of Wight parent Jon Platt for refusing to pay a £120 fine after he took his daughter out last year.

Magistrates ruled in his favour as his daughter attended school regularly, and the High Court upheld this against the local authority’s challenge.

Mrs Hennessy Jones, a teacher for 39 years, revealed she has never issued a fixed penalty notice.

“I’ve never felt the need to go as far as issuing a fine,” she told Nantwichnews.

“Our parents are sensible about it and mostly able to afford a fine as it would still be cheaper than going in holiday time.

“I always prefer to use persuasion than punitive measures.

“If a child’s attendance is low, each case is individual and I would and do speak with the family about why and what we can do together to improve the attendance and consequently the achievement.

“The reasons for persistent absenteeism is rarely holidays, in my experience.”

After the High Court ruling, Government Ministers said they would consider making alterations to the law.

Mrs Hennessy Jones, who retires this summer after 13 years leading Pear Tree, said she did not condone any child being kept out of school.

“I very, very rarely authorise holidays, but I understand the contexts in which they are requested,” she added.

“In my experience, all parents want their children to do well.

“No parent takes a child on holiday to ruin their life chances or spoil their chances of success.

“They just want a holiday they can afford, enjoy and remember as a family.

“The fact the same holiday can double in price from a Thursday in a school week to the Saturday of half term is a problem that needs exploring.

“That’s why parents take children out of school – it’s a matter of finance.

“I wonder if that could be thought of as exploitative of families. Whilst I understand the concept of supply and demand it just doesn’t seem fair to me.

“I am passionate about every child’s right to a great education and want every child to be in school having a super time every day.

“I expect our children at Pear Tree to have at least 95% attendance and we have a very high proportion with 100%.

“But there are sometimes events in life that are actually more important than school. Children do not only learn in school.

“They learn masses of skills and knowledge and attitudes from their families and friends and experiences that have no link at all to schools.

“Some families have the resources to give their children experiences that schools can’t.

“If I had my time again, I would welcome the chance to take my daughter out of school and travel the world and I’d be a better person for it.”

Andrew Cliffe, head at Brine Leas School on Audlem Road, said they would still use the “exceptional circumstances” judgement.

He told parents: “Following the recent High Court ruling, if parents request a leave of absence we will ascertain whether an exceptional circumstance exists or not and will authorise, or not, accordingly.”

According to Mr Cliffe, Cheshire East Council is “reviewing its practice with regards to the issuing of penalty notices for term time holiday absence as a matter of priority and is seeking urgent guidance from the DfE”.

“The council is taking urgent legal advice on the implications, (including fines already imposed), of the ruling.”

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