A TORQUAY headteacher has hit back at criticism after taking a foreign trip during term time.
Dr Colin Kirkman (pictured), headteacher at Westlands School, extended his leave by four days for a trip to South Africa beyond the two-week autumn half-term holiday.
Parents face £50 fines for taking children out of school for more than a week during term time.
But Dr Kirkman has defended his decision which meant that he missed the school's prizegiving ceremony on the last day of school.
He said he sought permission from the chairman of governors for unpaid leave either side of the fortnight for the trip that was due to personal reasons but which also included a day's break on safari.
A letter from a group calling themselves 'The Westlands Whistleblowers' is among anonymous criticisms about Dr Kirkman's absence.
The 'Whistleblowers' say they are 'seriously disheartened members of school staff'.
They ask: "Is this the correct behaviour for one of the highest-paid head teachers in Torbay who will in turn be handing out penalties to parents who take their children out of school for holidays?"
Dr Kirkman said: "I think it's unfortunate that people are making judgements without understanding the circumstances behind it.
"I do not think that the staff understand the background but that is because I have not shared those personal circumstances with them. The proper permissions were sought and there were very good personal reasons."
He said that the timing was not to take advantage of cheap flights but because of flight availability.
He said that the first part of the holiday was to attend to personal circumstances but he also confirmed he went on safari while in South Africa.
Dr Kirkman has close links with the country. He spent some of his childhood living in Zambia where his father worked. Westlands is also twinned with two schools in Uganda.
He said: "There were personal reasons that required us to fly out to South Africa.
"The only flights we could get were just outside of the half-term break so I phoned the chairman of governors and asked whether he would allow me to go.
"Having listened to the case, he agreed that under the circumstances that he was happy for me to do so. I sought permission and it was unpaid, and despite that, I worked on the unpaid days. The school is in credit in terms of my time."
Mr Kirkman said that in light of the criticism, he would talk to staff to 'help them understand the reasons' for the trip. Chairman of governors Martin Stentiford could not be contacted.
A Torbay Council Spokesman said that attendance officers monitor and it is down to individual head teachers to decide where to issue penalty notices and fines to parents if children miss school.
The spokesman said: "In Torbay, each head teacher has the responsibility to consider the appropriateness of the issuing of a penalty notice in each individual case and they will instruct Torbay Council to issue a penalty notice."