After the recent revelation that schools have fined parents a total of £24 million for taking their children out of school during term-time, debates have resurfaced about whether it is acceptable for parents to take their children out of school for term-time “holidays”.
In the county of Essex, 4742 fines have been issued in the last two years alone to parents who have failed to send their children to school.
So, what are the rules? According to the 2006 Education Regulations, head teachers are allowed to grant a leave of absence lasting up to ten days for a family holiday during what they called “special circumstances”, and this time can be extended if the circumstances are “exceptional”. However, in September 2013, these laws changed.
Heads are no longer allowed to grant any leave of absence, unless the circumstances are deemed “exceptional”.
In the 2006 guidelines, parents could be fined £60 for an “unauthorised” absence, with the fine being raised to £120 if the period in which it was due to be paid extended into the range of 29-42 days.
Under the 2013 guidelines, however, the timescale was reduced from 28 to 21 days. Over 21 days, and the fine is raised to £120.
These changes to the law have proved controversial, with many claiming it is wrong for any fine at all to be placed on families who decide to take their children out of school during term. The idea that an additional cost could be incurred on top of the high cost of a family holiday is seen by some members of the public as irrational.
We decided to question those most affected by these laws: students and teachers.
A poll of 50 people conducted at CCHSG concluded that most are in favour of parents being allowed to take their children out of school for legitimate reasons.
Here are the questions that were posed to students and teachers:
1. Do you think parents should be allowed to take their children out of school during term time for family affairs such as weddings or funerals?
2. Do you think parents should be allowed to take their children out of school for a single day before or after an allocated school holiday due to issues of flight times or jetlag?
3. Have you personally ever been taken out of school by your parents during term time?
The results were varied, but the majority are in favour parents being able to take their children out of school for extenuating circumstances.
In total, 94% of those polled said absence should be permitted for family affairs, such as weddings, and 80% thought a single day should be allowed around a pre-established holiday.
However, teachers’ views did not agree with those of students.
Head of Year 9 Mr Holdsworth said: “I’m not allowed to take a day off to get a cheaper flight before the holidays, so neither should students be.”
Many other teachers seemed to share this sentiment, saying that, as teachers, they are not legally allowed to take days off in term time situations, therefore students should not be allowed to either.
Responses from students show a very different point of view, with one student saying, “People shouldn’t be fined just for missing a few days of school.”
CCHSG students’ views correspond with the wider view expressed by the nation. The National Union of Teachers suggests that there are “important cultural and social benefits to going on holiday”, which is backed up by the Local Government Association, who called the law “not really practical.”
Although the debate over school-time absences is likely to remain a hot topic, it is clear a divide in opinion exists not only between the Government and the people, but also teachers and pupils.