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24.10.14

LGA proposals to scrap ‘ban’ on term-time holidays rejected

Proposals by the Local Government Association (LGA) to relax the rules that prevent parents from taking children out of school in term-time and give more discretion back to headteachers have been rejected by those in the education sector and the government. 

The LGA, represents councils in England and Wales, wants headteachers to be allowed to follow a ‘common sense’ approach to letting parents take children out of school during term-time without being hit with an automatic fine – which is issued by their council. 

However, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that it “thoroughly understood the concerns expressed by the LGA” but “head teachers already have discretion over the granting of absence during term-time”. 

Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT, said that headteachers rightly prioritise learning over holidays. 

“They are able to – and do – authorise absence in exceptional circumstances,” he said. “Part of the challenge is that there is no consistent definition of 'exceptional'. Following consultation, NAHT will be issuing guidelines to all members next week to help promote consistency.” 

According to a recent NAHT survey, the most common criteria for currently granting absences are: bereavement, serious illness of a family member, wedding within immediate family and service personnel returning from long tours of duty. 

The LGA stated, though, that under the current rules, hard-pressed parents looking to go abroad during school holidays can find themselves hit with costs that are sometimes more than double that of travelling during term-time. 

It argues that block bans can also be particularly hard on workers in key professions such as  those working in the NHS, police force and the military as they are often unable to request leave during busy school holiday periods. 

Currently, if an absence is not authorised, local authorities have an obligation to instigate a fine and enforce legal proceedings on behalf of schools. This means parents who take children out of school during term-time can receive a penalty notice of £60 per child per parent that rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Those who fail to pay could face prosecution and a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months. 

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Ensuring every child has a good school attendance is of paramount concern for everyone working with children. However, common-sense must prevail in cases when mums and dads ask to take their child out of school during term-time if there is a legitimate reason. 

“An outright ban is too simplistic, and doesn't recognise that family life and circumstances aren't always so black and white.” 

But Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, argued that the problem isn’t with the current system, but holiday companies. 

“The problem lies with the holiday companies and airlines and if this issue is to be addressed sensibly then there should be pressure put on them, not schools,” she said. “Many teachers are parents and we entirely sympathise with the dilemma caused by price hikes for breaks during the school holidays. It remains the case that pupils can be granted time off in exceptional circumstances.” 

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education added that the department has been clear that all headteachers are free to grant pupils leave in exceptional circumstances. 

“It is up to them to decide whether to grant time off, and how much to grant. This appears to be exactly what the LGA is calling for,” she said. 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opininon@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

Pete Allen   27/10/2014 at 15:09

What about Deep Sea seamen or fishermen who are often away from home for many weeks or in the case of merchant navy, months. When they come home they have have a limited leave allowence and then go away again. Some M N crews are away for as long as 9 to 12 months

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