Could it be that the controversial decision to fine parents who take children out of English schools during term-time is at breaking point?
Last week, we reported that dad Jon Platt had won his case in court when he refused to pay a fine for taking his 7-year-old daughter out of school for 8 days during term.
Now the Local Government Authority (LGA) has boldly taken up the issue, calling for head teachers to be able to make ‘common-sense’ decisions on individual cases.
The LGA says it wholly supports the Government’s stance that children should be in school every day, but argues that there needs to be an element of flexibility that’s left down to the individual school. Hallelujah! Did someone say common sense?
Why things need to change
Just this week, The Daily Telegraph revealed that a mum with breast cancer was refused authorisation to take her son on holiday – because her break from 6 months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment was not an ‘exceptional circumstance’.
Since 2013, when stricter regulations were introduced, head teachers are no longer able to class a holiday as an ‘exceptional circumstance’.
Nearly 90,000 fines last year
It’s this lack of flexibility for families’ individual circumstances that has caused so much upset and 86,010 fines to be issued in 2014/15. This is nearly three times as many compared with 32,512 fines in 2012-13.
“The current rules tie families to set holiday periods. They make no allowances for what a family would class as a special occasion or takes into account a parent’s work life,” says Cllr Roy Perry, Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board.
“Families where parents work unsocial shift patterns, in the emergency services or whose jobs are tied to calendar commitments, can find that they are unable to take family holidays during school holiday periods.
“As such these families, some of whom have parents that provide a valuable service to society, are unjustly penalised or find they are unable to have a holiday at all for fear of prosecution.
Time off shouldn’t just be for sad things
“It shouldn’t be that a tragedy has to befall a family for a child to get leave during term-time. There are many more joyous and positive occasions in life when consideration should be given to granting leave requests, such as a wedding or perhaps a sporting event involving a family member.”
“These can be a positive influence on young people. And there are just times when a family should be able to come together to celebrate without worrying about prosecution or being fined.”
What the Department of Education says
Not surprisingly, the Department of Education is sticking firmly to its strict rules. Earlier this year, it issued a report stating that taking one week’s holiday a year out of term time can significantly damage your child’s GCSE results.
The report continued that missing 14 school days in total between the ages of 7 and 11 could not only affect a child’s GCSE results but “have a lasting effect on a pupil’s life chances”. Yes, you heard it right. That works out to just 3 days out of the classroom each school year.
Here at MFM, we’re a bit perplexed by this. What if your child gets sick quite a lot and takes more than 7 days off due to illness? Are they inevitably doomed to lower GCSE results?
In addition, some schools have shorter terms than others: will their pupils do worse in life than their counterparts?
What about days taken off for outings, school trips abroad and sports events? What about children who miss classes each week to do music lessons – at the school? That would easily tally up to 2-3 days out of lessons each year.
We know some ‘number crunching’ has apparently been done but we’re not quite sure how the Government has managed to make such a direct link between GCSE results and days taken off and we are, quite frankly, rather baffled.
The bottom line
Clearly it’s important that children should be at school each day – but we’re with the LGA on this one, let’s give the discretion about term-time leave back to the headteachers.