Cheap breaks no excuse for absence

Published: Sunday 26th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Cheaper holidays “don’t fit the bill” as a reason for taking children out of school, the leader of the headteachers’ union has said, announcing new guidance on absences.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the body would be issuing new guidelines for heads on what constitutes “exceptional circumstances” in which children can be allowed time off.

The crackdown on pupil absences by then education secretary Michael Gove last year has proved controversial with parents, with some even facing court action for unauthorised absences.

Mr Hobby, writing in the Sunday Times, said the current system had caused confusion among heads and the guidance would allow for absences for funerals, weddings, religious events and even for seeing parents returning from duty with the Armed Forces.

He added that while there had been 60,000 fines handed out to parents removing children without approval, not all were holidaymakers.

“The trouble is, we have no consistent definition of an “exceptional circumstance”. This has led to confusion and a sense of unfairness. Two-thirds of the heads we surveyed found this guidance problematic,” he said.

But he said while family events were often beyond control, children should not be given “extended leave” and cut-price holidays were out of the question.

He added: “So what about allowing holidays in term time simply because of the cost? I’m afraid these just don’t fit the bill. It’s not a good enough reason to damage an education. You cannot easily make up the lost learning at home, and falling behind in class can put children at a permanent disadvantage.

“Those who work in schools share your pain. Many are parents themselves and pay these prices, too. We must tackle this. The Government should work with the holiday industry to find a way through.”

Mr Hobby’s guidance will also include allowing time off for children with disabilities or special needs or who are suffering a family crisis.

Last week the Local Government Association gave parents a glimmer of hope as it called for the rules to be overturned, pointing out parents looking to go abroad during school holidays could find that costs were double that of travelling during term time.

Under the current system, parents who take children out of school without permission could face a £60 fine per child, rising to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days.

Those who fail to pay can face prosecution, with a maximum fine, if convicted, of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

But the rules have cut the number of days pupils were absent across England, as figures released this month showed primary and secondary pupils missed 35.7 million days of school in the autumn and spring terms of 2013/14 – down around 4.2 million from the same two terms the year before.

Published: Sunday 26th October 2014 by The News Editor

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