Posted in Uncategorized

Sorry kids, you’re not allowed out!

The current ban on taking children out of school during term-time has led to long-running battles between schools and families, and one which has left thousands of parents being left out-of-pocket.

The legislation, brought into action by the DfE in September 2013, placed restrictions on parents being granted authorised absence for taking their children out of school during term-time, unless for “exceptional circumstances”.

Not only does this legislation prohibit term-time absences, it also dishes out expensive fines for parents who choose to flout this rule. Parents face fines of £60 each, doubling to £120 if not paid within three weeks. It doesn’t end there, though; those failing to pay could face prosecution and, if convicted, a fine of up to £2,500, or up to three months in prison.[1]

Despite the expense, it has been revealed that the number of parents fined for their children missing school has trebled in the last two years. Figures show that “in the last academic year alone, at least 50,414 penalty notices were issued due to children being taken out of lessons for trips”.[2] It would appear that, even the risk of a penalty notice and a criminal record is not enough to outweigh the cheaper flights and an opportunity for a suntan during term-time.

Most recently, a father was fined for taking his six-year-old daughter out of school to go on holiday to Florida, even though the school had rejected the absence request. After refusing to pay the £120 fine, he was summoned to court where he attempted to argue his case. Jon Platt rightly argued that: “The law only required children to attend school regularly.”[3] Since his daughter had an attendance of 93.8 percent in the last academic year, and common sense would argue this is regular attendance, Mr Platt has successfully had his fine overturned.

The media attention centred on this particular case is certainly going to encourage other parents throughout the UK to challenge their fines, and ask for clarification of “regular attendance” by the High Court. If a child has an attendance of above 90 percent, are they classed as having regular attendance? Should their parents still be fined for a one-week holiday or a family celebration, in comparison to a child with below 60 percent attendance? What, exactly, is regular attendance?

Persistent questioning has led to this policy being branded “uncertain” and now, the appeal courts must lay down binding ruling as to the correct interpretation of the law.

This policy states that headteachers must only grant authorised absence in “exceptional circumstances”, though we must also ask ourselves, what is an exceptional circumstance?

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There will be times when children have to miss school because of family problems and emergencies.

“Schools are very sympathetic in these instances and will help children catch up with work. However, term-time holidays are not a valid reason to miss school.” (Javier Espinoza, para.15)

Of course, holidays are not the sole reason for taking children out of school, but should parents only be allowed to take their children out of school for illness, family problems or emergencies? Many people, including MP Steve Double, believe that it should be up to parents to decide as and when they take their children out of school, regardless of what for.

Mr Double argued that: “Every child is unique and it should be up to parents to decide what is right and best for the child.” (Natalie Paris, para.16) If a parent wants to take their child to a museum when they should be learning how to use adjectives, that’s their decision, right?

However, what we must not forget is that this legislation has been implemented for the benefit of children, rather than simply wanting to prosecute parents. Yes, parents will receive a fine for taking their children out of school during term-time, but the only reason they will is because it is so important for children to be in education regularly. Of this, a DfE spokesman has said: “It is a myth that missing school for even a short time is harmless to a child’s education.” (Javier Espinoza, para.16)

The real question is: just how important is family life in comparison to education? Many MPs are in agreement that: “The ban on term-time holidays…is ‘blatantly unfair’ and is undermining the importance of family life.” [4] Arguably, family life is just as important as education when it comes to child development. Not only do children continue their education outside of the classroom, but they also form and develop important relationships, which surely are as important as knowing your times tables. It would be possible to argue therefore, that it is a myth that missing family life is harmless to a child’s education.

The recent debate surrounding this issue has resulted in a petition from the organisation Parents Want A Say, which calls for the legislation to be scrapped. Craig Langman, founder of the organisation, has commented: “Many mums and dads believe they are being made to feel like criminals.

“The current system does not always favour families, especially those that are struggling to meet the demands of modern life, or have unconventional work commitments.” (Javier Espinoza, para.10)

With nearly 230,000 signatures and endless support from Tory MPs, it could soon be the case that deciding if and when parents can take their children out of schools, and for what reason, will no longer be a decision of the state. Either that, or parents should be prepared to add the term-time fines onto their holiday fund.

Maybe, kids, you will be allowed out after all.

[1] Natalie Paris (2015) ‘Majority of teachers ‘don’t understand ban on termtime holidays’’, para.4 <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/familyholidays/11958577/Majority-of-teachers-dont-understand-ban-on-term-time-holidays.html> [Accessed: 5 November 2015]

[2] Javier Espinoza (2015) ‘Thousands of parents fined for taking their children on holiday during term time, figures show’, para.2 <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11943386/Thousands-of-parents-fined-for-taking-their-children-on-holiday-during-term-time-figures-show.html> [Accessed: 5 November 2015]

[3] BBC News (2015) ‘Term time holidays: Isle of Wight Council appeals after case rejected’, para.2 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-34683128> [Accessed: 5 November 2015]

[4] Sally Weale (2015) ‘Ban on term-time holidays is ‘blatantly unfair’, says Tory MP’, para.1 <http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/oct/26/ban-on-term-time-holidays-is-blatantly-unfair-says-tory-mp> [Accessed: 5 November 2015]

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