If you remember back in February, I wrote about some parents trying desperately to get their own way with taking family holidays during term times. It was the latest in a few posts we’ve done on the subject as we sit here, bashing our heads against the wall, wondering where priorities lie in the heads of a small group of parents.
Since September 2013, Headteachers are only allowed to authorise absence during term time due to ‘exceptional circumstances’, such as illness or the attendance of a funeral. This is entirely at the headteacher’s discretion. The regulations changed last year to tighten up the language, previously heads could authorise up to 10 days of leave under ‘special circumstances.’Parents have a legal responsibility to ensure their child regularly attends school, under Section 444 of the Education Act of 1996.
This law doesn’t apply if you have elected to home-school your child. Presently, fines can be levied on parents who take their child out of education without authorisation, currently known as ‘unauthorised absence’. If it get serious enough, parents can be taken to court, if their Local Education Authority feels it’s serious enough.
The new definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ has been a source of irritation for some parents, since the circumstances in which leave can be approved is rather limited and down to the interpretation of the headteacher. There is also a concern that parents with a less-than-favourable relationship with a headteacher might be unfairly assessed on their application.
Easily the biggest source of ire with some parents is that family holidays are less expensive to take during term time, meaning that some feel compelled to take their kids out of school to beat the queues and the extra expense.
What some parents have failed to realise is that taking a family holiday is not a parental right. In my view, if your summer holiday timing is so important because you can’t afford to go in the summer than I fear you might be looking in the wrong place. I’ve always been a keen advocate of seeing great parts of the UK for example, making trips to the rest of the world somewhat more expensive. I mean, why not get out and see Britain? If those two weeks in Spain are too expensive in the Summer holidays when your kids need a break from the pressure of schools, then why not look closer to home? Simple really.
Of course, the business sector waded in a bit, arguing that the restrictions mean that they face staff shortages in the summer because they’ll all be off. Arguably this is a fair point, but any business that has a decent plan in its HR Department should be able to plan ahead and think about what it can do to help. If you can’t get that planned properly to ensure minimum disruption to your business, I suspect the lack of available staff will be the least of your worries.
Of course, there is an alternative to moaning and complaining and this is what some other parents have taken to doing. That is, not get permission in the first place (or stick two fingers up to the headteacher, tell her you’re going away anyway) and jet off with your kids in tow.
How utterly, ironically, childish.
The damage that taking a holiday in term time takes is without doubt. The amount of catching up that has to be done really should be obvious to be parents. If parents start taking holidays during the spring months, that is even worse – the time for exams is drawing closer and so a lack of revision or proper preparation cannot be ignored.
But it’s OK, because you managed to save a few hundred quid by going when you shouldn’t have. It doesn’t matter that the kids have missed out on critical revision time, because they have a tan and your wallet is a little heavier. Excellent.
Except… your wallet won’t be heavier because the BBC recently reported that the amount of fines given out for unauthorised absence has soared, according to research. In fact, according to the 34 councils who worked with the BBC, the number of fines levied was 70% higher – up to nearly 5,300.
One of the hotspots for this was Liverpool, where the Liverpool City Council reported that between the Autumn terms of 2012 and 2013, the number of fines increased from 97 to 250.
Worse of all, the survey of the councils looked at holiday absence only – if you added the other reasons why they might have taken time off, then the figure is surely going to be far higher.
The government is looking at this with a rather soft attitude, considering staggering term dates in order to spread demand out for holidays so that the cost will even out over time.
Seriously, the government is considering buckling. I personally find this exceptionally annoying. The government should be taking the uncompromising stance with this, making it clear that disruption to education shouldn’t happen, and it definitely shouldn’t be because parents want to save a few pounds on a cheap deal. I almost find myself applauding the fact that the rules have changed so that parents have less time to pay these fines and the possibility of just ending up in court is that much higher. The priority lies with your child’s education, surely.
For some reason, I think that staggering term dates might not work. Imagine if you’ve got one kid in secondary school and one in a junior school. What happens if their holidays are different? Do you take one kid out of school at term time and take the fine for one child?
Parents need to learn that holidays are nice and great time to spend together, but it is not a family right. Even if parents consider it a given right, they should consider their priorities – location is of course important but if it comes at too greater cost then looking somewhere else is the next thing to do. Even then, it should never come at the cost of a child’s education.