Peterborough mum hits out at £60 fine after daughter ‘with sickness bug’ misses six days of school

Angel and Julie Darcy EMN-160513-191058009
Angel and Julie Darcy EMN-160513-191058009
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A furious mother has hit out a £60 fine which she says was issued for her daughter missing school while she was at home ill.

Julie Darcy believes the penalty notice issued by Peterborough City Council is unjust as daughter Angel (8) was vomiting from a sickness bug at the time.

Miss Darcy (27) of Grove Street, Woodston, is adamant that her daughter only missed six days at St Augustine’s C of E Junior School because she was being looked after at home.

And she feels she has been penalised due to the council believing she had gone on holiday, a claim she says she can disprove.

The dispute comes amid a backlash against penalty notices which have risen dramatically recently, with 1,510 issued to 900 parents in Peterborough during the 2014/15 academic year.

This is a rise from 582 penalty notices issued to 471 parents in 2012/13 with the government tightening the rules on unauthorised absences in September 2013.

Miss Darcy said: “The thing that makes me mad is when you get the fine letter, it gives you the penalty and says children need to attend school regularly and she does.

“When she generally is sick she goes into school. She does not like missing school.

“They said they wanted to see a medical notice, but I did not take her to the doctors as there’s nothing they can do and it’s wasting their time.

“If she had been that seriously bad and dehydrated, she would have gone to the hospital.”

Miss Darcy said she has not been on holiday for two years but enquired about taking Angel out of school for a few days later this year which may have prompted the penalty notice.

And despite claiming she could prove she had remained in Peterborough between March 14 and March 21, when she said Angel was off school, the council has refused to budge.

She said: “I said I could show bank statements, work rotas and ring my boss.

“I enquired about holidays but did not give dates. I wanted to get some time in November when Angel’s birthday is. I wanted to take her to Butlins.

“The school said to me they do not let children have time off except when it’s exceptional circumstances.

“If we had gone away then that’s fair enough, you can give me the fine. But I’ve not been on holiday so why grant me the fine?

“I only have a certain amount of money in my account and this will leave me pretty much skint.

“I do not get paid until the end of the month.”

Miss Darcy, a care worker with Hales Health & Social Care, claims she left a message with St Augustine’s every day Angel was absent but that “during that time I had no phone calls from the school.”

This is disputed by the school’s headteacher, Nicola Pierce, who said: “Our policy is every day your child is ill we contact you. Every day she was rang.”

Asked if Miss Darcy would have been told about the rules regarding unauthorised absences, she replied: “Absolutely.”

She added: “I was just following guidelines from the authority. I referred this to the council. She spoke to the attendance service and they explained these are the rules. We are legally obliged to follow that.

“We contact the council and they issue the notice.”

Penalty notices can be issued if a pupil has been absent for three consecutive days without permission or a pupil’s attendance is at 90 per cent or below.

The issue of unauthorised absences was front page news last week after the High Court ruled that a dad had no case to answer for taking his daughter on holiday during term time because she had attended school regularly overall.

And a petition lodged with Parliament to allow parents to take children out of school during term time has attracted 167,873 signatures, with more Peterborough residents (995) signing it than anywhere else in the country.

A spokesperson for NHS England said GPs do not issue notes for minors if they have been ill.

However, Peterborough City Council said Miss Darcy had been given plenty of opportunities to prove her daughter had been unwell or that she had been at work during the six days Angel was off.

Gary Perkins, head of school improvement for the council, said: “We issued a penalty notice to the parent following an unauthorised leave of absence when her daughter was not at school for six days.

“The law is clear that children can only take time off school in exceptional circumstances.

“As is usual practice, the parent was given every opportunity to provide evidence that her daughter had been too unwell to attend school, but this has not materialised.

“For example, we suggested a GP appointment card or prescription as the child would have been unwell for at least eight days, including the weekend.

“The week before the absence took place, the parent requested a term-time holiday form where the consequences of taking unauthorised leave were explained. The form was not returned.

“We were also willing to accept evidence that the parent had been at work while her daughter had been absent from school, as the parent had originally stated.

“However, this has also not materialised.

“To continue to improve attainment and deliver the best opportunities for our children we will continue to issue penalty notices if considered appropriate under government guidelines.”