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Dilemma of term-time holidays

By Sophie Watson9 March, 2015

You may have read a bit about the controversial issue of term-time holidays, which has received a steady stream of media attention in the past year, particularly in England. For those of you who are not aware of the issue, parents across England are now being faced with expensive fines for taking their children out of school during term time.

So, what’s changed? Prior to 1st September 2013, head teachers had the discretion to allow up to 10 days’ authorised absence from school. Now, head teachers are only allowed to grant leave during ‘exceptional circumstances’, although the Government hasn’t actually defined what this means.

As a result, due to the changes to term-time absences, if a child is taken out of school on an unauthorised basis each parent may be fined £60 per child, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Furthermore, if the fine is unpaid after 28 days, court proceedings can be initiated with a fine of up to £2,500 and a possible jail sentence of up to three months.

Some 63,837 penalties were issued to parents in the academic year to July 2014 in England, compared with 37,650 fines throughout the previous 12 months.

Let’s be clear – there are many reasons why families would want to take their child out of school. Yes, a big issue is the rising cost of domestic and foreign travel during the school holidays, compared to prices during term time.

But the issue isn’t simply about saving a few bucks on a trip away. What about the families who spend a lot of time apart due to work commitments? What about the families who do shift work and have to work during the school holidays? What if there is a big family event: can parents really not take their child out of school for it? What about soldiers coming home on leave?

There are a whole host of reasons as to why parents would want to take their child out of school. Some cases that have received particular attention in the Press involve children attending family weddings, funerals and special occasions with parents returning home to fines issued by the Local Education Authorities.

Hard-working families might not be able to afford the high prices charged by travel companies during the school holidays; the current policy is inevitably creating an economic division between families, and soon only rich kids would be able to go on holidays.

The rules on term-time holidays were changed at the suggestion of the Government’s Expert Adviser on Behaviour,

Charlie Taylor. Mr Taylor’s review on attendance primarily looked into the issues around serious and persistent absence. It was based on conversations with a range of people but not parents or pupils. It contains no references to any sources or academic research.

With no causal link between absenteeism and attainment, has the Government made this decision without really considering the effect this has on families?

Interestingly, many parents are complaining about the way in which this change to term time holidays is damaging their relationship with their child’s school. With many parents having to lie to their son or daughter’s teachers, it appears as though there is a growing lack of transparency and cooperation between parents and schools. In some cases pupils themselves are being penalised, for instance receiving detention or extra homework as a result of their parents taking them out of school for a day or two.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a sentiment, particularly among parents, that the Government isn’t giving parents what they want

Last week YouGov published a year-long poll which showed that 60 per cent of the public and 51 per cent of teachers believe that schools should not issue fines to parents who take their children on holiday during term time.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a sentiment, particularly among parents, that the Government isn’t giving parents what they want. With the current ruling in place, parents are being criminalised for taking their child out of school. Surely, a child’s education would suffer more if their parents where in prison rather than a much-needed holiday?

It was recently reported that from September 2015, head teachers will be able to set term dates, meaning that school holidays will be staggered according to the region.

Yes, this will certainly help parents out as far as cheaper holidays are concerned, but will it really solve the problem? It is becoming apparent that a one-size-fits-all situation simply isn’t working. While universal term dates clearly doesn’t work for everyone, will staggering the dates really suit every family and their specific needs?

The point is that the issue is more complex than that. Parents will continue to be criminalised if they take their child out of school during term time, even after term dates have been changed.

Instead of recognising this, or allowing schools to work closely with parents in order to accommodate each family’s need, does this just add another layer to the issue?

This is inherently a political issue at its core, and we need to ask ourselves if it’s right for the Government to intervene in the family dynamics in this way. Is this “one-size-fits-all” approach really appropriate?

Surely parents should have their say when it comes to their own children? Schools, parents, and top-level decision-makers need to communicate with one another.