Holidays in Term Time
In September 2013, new rules came into force that meant that local education authorities must fine parents whose children have unauthorised absences from school, apart from in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Until then, head teachers had discretion to authorise up to 10 days’ absence in ‘special circumstances’ but now school attendance is being enforced more strictly.
While the decision to authorise term time absences still lies with the school head, the change has been keenly felt by parents seeking approval for term time holidays and it has sparked a lot of debate over the past year among professionals, union representatives and parents at the school gates.
There is still some confusion over what constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’, but the system for penalising those parents whose children miss school without permission is straightforward and clear. An automatic penalty of £60 per child is triggered by an unauthorised absence, which rises to £120 after 21 days’ non-payment. Failure to pay can lead to prosecution and a fine of up to £2,500 or three months in prison.
However, many parents are willing to risk incurring the initial £60 penalty in order to make huge savings on family holidays compared with travelling at peak times. An off-peak term time holiday can be anything up to four times cheaper than booking to travel during the school holidays, and for many parents this is a trade-off they are more than happy to make, particularly if they have younger children who will not yet sit exams. They may feel that the holiday experience has just as much educational value for their child as a week in school, or they may simply be looking for a way to make their money go a bit further. Either way, the cost of the fine is not always enough to dissuade determined holidaymakers. But does this mean that the penalty charge should be increased or would this be more fuel for the fire?
Of course, holiday timing is beyond the control of some families, and this brings a further sense of injustice into the debate. It may be that one or both parents have limited annual leave and are only able to take time off that coincides with the school term, or that holidays may need to be scheduled to coincide with overseas family events, reunions or special celebrations.
This kind of issue may be what comes up for discussion under the ‘exceptional circumstances’ banner. However, each head teacher will undoubtedly see things a little differently and the problem is that there are no hard and fast rules about what is or is not allowed. What is generally agreed upon, though, is that the cost saving of a holiday is not a good enough reason in itself to remove a child from school in term time, even though this is the number one consideration for many parents, especially as the cost of living continues to rise.
Recent debate in the news has been about a renewed call from the Local Government Association to stop the ban on term time holidays and revert to a more relaxed system of head teachers being able to authorise absences at their discretion. This would allow common sense and individual circumstances to be considered. Meanwhile, the Department for Education states that it does not plan to change the current policy, but as the debate continues to rage, and as parents continue to vent their feelings when their plans are spoiled, or to take their children out of school in the face of the current penalty system, one wonders if something will eventually have to give.
Here at REESON Education, we want to hear your views. Do you agree with current rulings or do you feel you should be able to take your own children on holiday during term time?