Recent rule changes have made it harder for parents to get a school’s permission to take their children out of class
Why is taking family holidays in term time in the news?
Recent rule changes by the Department for Education have made it harder for parents to get a school’s permission to take their children out of class during term time, and so to avoid higher prices in peak season.
What was the change?
Since September 2013, headteachers in England have no longer had the discretion to approve absences of up to 10 days a year for family holidays in “special circumstances”. The new rules introduced tougher criteria of “exceptional circumstances”, restricting it to absences for events such as funerals of family members.
What’s the legal position?
Parents and carers are legally responsible for ensuring their children attend school (other than home schooling). Failure to do so is an offence under section 444 of the Education Act 1996. Parents have no legal right to take their children out of school during term time for holidays.
What is the Department for Education’s position?
“Poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect, and children who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent.”
What happens to parents who break the rules?
Parents who do not have the school’s permission for their child’s absence face a maximum fine of £60 per pupil, per parent. That rises to £120 if not paid within seven days. Those who refuse to pay can face court action and, if prosecuted, a fine of up to £2,500 and a possible jail sentence of up to three months.
How many parents have paid the fine?
Although the new rules have been in place for only a few months, a survey by the schools advisers The Key found that a quarter of primary school headteachers in England reported imposing fines on parents for unauthorised absences. In one case that went to court this month, a couple from Telford paid nearly £1,000 for taking their three children on an unauthorised holiday to Greece.
Why is it a problem for families?
Peak holiday demand drives up prices for flights and accommodation, and some families argue that term-time holidays are the only way they can afford to take their children on enriching overseas trips.
Why is it a problem for schools?
Pupil absences put up absentee rates – monitored by the DfE and Ofsted – and deprive pupils of valuable classroom teaching time. League tables and competition means schools need their pupils to do their best in exams and at key stages.
Is it really that big a problem?
Yes. According to Bradford metropolitan council, between September 2012 and Easter 2013 more than 41,000 days of education were lost owing to parents in the city taking their children out of school for holidays during term time. “Children who miss a significant period of time in school miss out on important teaching and learning and this absence can seriously harm the children’s progress and attainment,” the council said.
Does a week make that much difference?
A child who takes a week’s extra holiday each year at school will have missed at least 70 days – or the equivalent of more than three months of teaching – by the end of their time at school.
Is there an answer?
Local authorities and schools could vary the timing of their holidays, so that separate parts of the country were off at different times, and the problem would be alleviated.
Would forcing holiday firms and airlines to lower their peak prices make any difference?
A rant on the subject on Facebook has highlighted the possibility of legislation or controls to stop holiday price-gouging. But such an effort would probably backfire if it meant fewer holidays on offer overall. Also, August and Christmas are fixed points in the year, and there is no changing that.
Any long-term solutions?
Parents could accept that their child’s classroom education is far more important than a week in Europe, no matter how many museums they visit. That’s especially true for young children: the evidence is unanimous that early-years education is vital for future attainment.