Taking Children Out of School for Holidays in Term Time

Posted in : Cassidy's Comments on 18 February 2020
Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL

The thorny problem of children being taken on holiday during term time is presenting itself to head teachers this year as never before and is now even being debated on daytime television and in the press. Martin Lewis has entered the conversation with his celebrated money saving website, offering both sensible legal advice and the different views on this fiercely disputed topic. The website points out that some see holidays as an educational experience and argue that parents are criticised for not spending time with their children as they are growing up, yet are sometimes only able to get time off from work during term time. Many call for a better balance between education and family life.

On the other side of the fence though, there are claims that even one day off can be disruptive, and that term-time holidays can have a lasting detrimental impact on learning and academic success.

Either way head teachers often have to make the difficult call to either refuse permission to honour attendance policies or allow children out of school in perhaps compelling exceptional circumstances, risking setting new precedents.

So, are there any educational consequences for taking my children out of school during term time? The Department for Education is adamant there are. It says: "High-quality education and pastoral care will make a real difference to children's life chances, and that's particularly important for those who are most vulnerable, but clearly key initiatives will only work if children are present."

Yet others argue if a pupil's attendance is very good and they're thriving at school it's unfair to stop them and their family taking a holiday they might not otherwise be able to go on. This can be particularly true for lower income households who need to take advantage of cheaper off-peak package deals.

Martin Lewis’s website holds that dire warnings about the effect on children's education should be taken with a pinch of salt, given that many pupils miss time at school due to illness. Even the Local Government Association, whose members enforce these rules, has previously called for head teachers to be allowed to take a common-sense approach to term-time holidays on a case-by-case basis, without parents being hit with an automatic fine.

In the website’s poll of April 2017 poll 59% of parents with school-age children said they should be able to take term-time holidays if booked in advance, for a strict number of days and not at a crucial time. So they argue that this is a law that's clearly unpopular, but one that is unlikely to change.

The Sun newspaper reported on the issue recently as it hit the tabloid headlines in August last following the court case of Jon Platt, a father who was taken to court by Isle of Wight Council who fined him £120 for taking his daughter, aged 7, on a family trip to Florida in 2015. Although the Isle of Wight magistrates and the High Court eventually both ruled in his favour, the Department for Education requested the case be taken to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled against Platt in the landmark case.

The Sun summarised the legal reality that parents who take their children out of school will be served with a £60 fine which rises to £120 if it's not paid within 21 days. 50,414 of these fines were issued to parents between 2014 and 2015. In the worst case scenario parents could be prosecuted and given a £2,500 fine, get a community order and be jailed for three months.

A BBC investigation showed that, some councils are issuing penalties at rates five times higher than average - with parents across England and Wales being fined approximately £24million over the past three years.

In spite of these obstacles The Telegraph reported in January 2020 that:  

“The number of children taken out of school for term-time holidays has hit a new high as parents increasingly choose to flout the law. More than one in 10 children were taken out of school in the last academic year as families opt to avoid vastly inflated travel costs during school holidays. Government's figures show that in the autumn term of 2018 and the spring term of 2019, more than 630,000 pupils in England had one or more sessions (half a day) of unauthorised absence due to family holiday.”

The report summarises the trend as one that is definitely on the increase.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers rightly points out that is important that children miss as little time at school as possible: 

“The cumulative effect of missed days, he says can be harmful to children's education. The best way to ensure children are learning and progressing is for them to attend school during term time and that this means that requests for time off during term time can only be authorised in exceptional circumstances, which does not normally include holidays.

“He accurately stresses that the real problem is holiday pricing. Neither parents nor schools set the prices of holidays and he argues that they will both continue to be caught between a rock and hard place without some sensible government intervention.”

The Campaign for Real Education argues that fines should only be used a "last resort", but its chairman, retired head teacher Chris McGovern, says that taking a child out of school for a "cheap holiday" could be a "remarkably selfish action". Term time holidays are disruptive to the absent student and the rest of the class and makes the work of the teacher more difficult, as it distracts them from their regular teaching by having to help the absentees to catch up. He added that term time holidays were mostly "for the benefit of the parents, rather than the children".

In Northern Ireland the position is slightly different as there are no fines as in England and Wales. However, if a pupil's attendance falls below 85% of all days over a period of time, their parents or guardians can be referred to the Education Welfare Service. Parents who come before the courts for absenteeism are those who have allowed their children to truant over a long period and they can face fines of up to £1,000.

While term-time holidays appear to be less of a problem in post-primary schools in Northern Ireland than in the primary sector, accounting for slightly more than 3% of absences, schools in Northern Ireland have higher rates of unauthorised absence than those in England and Wales, based on figures in 2017-18. It seems therefore that this is a problem which is set to increase for us in the years ahead.

   

This article is correct at 18/02/2020
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Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL

The main content of this article was provided by Frank Cassidy. Email frankcassidy63@outlook.com

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