More parents given fines for taking children out of school for holidays
09:25 25 July 2014
The number of parents being fined for taking their children out of school in term-time is on the rise, with 119 more fixed penalty notices issued across the region than last year.
The headteacher’s view
Rob Anthony, deputy headteacher at The Hewett School in Norwich:
“We have started making use of fining parents where we felt they were taking children out of school unnecessarily.
“You try and persuade parents as much as possible that the best place for children is in school and learning, but parents are taking children out of school for a number of reasons and we will only authorise it if it’s exceptional.
“The problem is, there is no legal definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’, it’s down to each individual school or headteacher to make a decision on that. But it does mean that in about 95pc of cases you are saying no. The school used to be able to authorise up to 10 days a year, which used to cover most holidays, but taking a child on holiday is not exceptional. I think the line is drawn too harshly, it should be down to headteachers and I think it should be is it reasonable, not exceptional.”
Clare Fletcher, executive headteacher at North Walsham Infant, Junior and Nursery Federation:
“I think the number of requests to take children out of school in term-time has remained static. What’s changed is not the number of requests, but if they have been granted.
The school governors made note of the government policy that came into force last November and said I was not to authorise any term-time holiday except for exceptional family reasons. If a couple were going to get married on a Wednesday and they wanted their son to be a page boy, that’s an exceptional reason.
But if a family said they wanted to go to Disneyland in term-time because it’s cheaper, I wouldn’t authorise it. I would be sympathetic.
“If I child has already had a lot of absence, I won’t authorise more time off and if the child’s attendance is below 90pc, the county’s Attendance Service will decide about whether to fine the parents or not.
“Staff who work in schools cannot take their children out of school in term-time and a lot of them are on low pay.”
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the number of parents fined in Norfolk has risen from 98 last year to 145 this year, from 28 to 99 in Cambridgeshire and from 215 to 216 in Suffolk.
Nationally, a study has revealed a 70% increase in fines.
The number of parents prosecuted for not paying these fines has also increased, from 24 to 36 in Norfolk, one to 13 in Cambridgeshire and 53 to 58 and counting in Suffolk.
Money made by the councils in fines this year totals £6,780 in Suffolk, £5,760 in Norfolk and £5,420 in Cambridgeshire.
“I feel it’s a breach of your human rights”
Father of three Gary MacDonald, from Lowestoft, cannot choose when he takes annual leave from work.
This year, his holiday falls in August, but he is adamant that if it turns out to be during term-time next year, he will take his children out of school and face the fines. “I feel it’s a breach of your human rights not to be able to spend time as a family,” said Mr MacDonald.
“Children can learn a lot on their holidays. I have always asked their schools for homework to do while we are away as well. But this has ruined any time off. We are given our holiday and the only way we could change it is to swap with someone else at work – but that is never guaranteed and many of my colleagues have school-aged children too. I am quite fortunate that my holiday has fallen in August this year, but we are having to holiday in this country because of the expense of going abroad at that time of year. I have said to the school I will take the children out if my holiday is during term-time next year. The most damage it will do is to the attendance records of the school. It won’t do my children any harm at all. There should be more flexibility and schools should be allowed to use their own discretion.”
Parents in the region have hit back at the fines, saying it is unfair for people who work and are often unable to take time off during the school holidays.
And others say they are prepared to pay the fines because they are cheaper than the cost of a holiday in peak season.
Parent Joanna Gorringe said: “I took all three of mine out for a family holiday at the beginning of June. All unauthorised. But it was £3,500 cheaper to go when we did than it would have been if we went the week before, which was May half-term.
“They lived a different culture for the week and that in itself is a lesson the schools cannot ever teach them. I am awaiting the fine for all three.”
But some were keen to point out the blame should not lie with teachers or schools.
Mother Nerys Wakely said: “I don’t agree with fining parents for taking their children out of school during term-time to have invaluable family time, but we must remember that the blame does not lie at the teachers’ door. We should be looking at the government, which implemented this rule in the first place.
“I am sure the headteachers and teachers of every school in the country know the importance of family time, as they themselves have to take their holidays in the school holidays too, therefore facing the same restrictions as us parents.”
Parents in England and Wales have a legal reponsibility to make sure their child goes to school, unless they are home educating them. Failure to do so means they are committing an offence under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996.
Previously, headteachers were able to grant up to 10 days of leave each year for family holidays in special circumstances, but they are now unable to grant any absence in term time, except under exceptional circumstances.
Val Creasy, attendance and exclusions strategy manager at Norfolk County Council said: “There’s a link between attendance at school and attainment. Research has shown that often children do not catch up on work that they miss when they are away and this can have serious consequences for their learning and improvement.
“The government is very clear that all schools must aim to have the highest attendance possible for all their pupils in order for them to achieve their maximum potential.”
But the National Union of Teachers said fining parents was not the solution.
“Children do need to be in school during term time,” said a union spokesman.
“We do, however, sympathise with parents and carers about the increased costs of breaks during school holiday periods. However, fining parents is not the solution.
“Rather than encouraging parents to take their children out of school it would be more helpful for companies not to increase their costs during the school holiday period.”
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