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Duncan Ranton on Term-Time Absences

Should children be allowed to miss time from school so they can go on a family holiday?  This is a perennial debate, given that the price of holidays skyrocket during busy periods (i.e., school holidays).  Along with the increasing demands on the spare time that Children and young people have, for many families a holiday together simply will not happen unless it can overlap with the school term.  The difficulties of managing costs and juggling time competing commitments are all the more acute where parents are Separated.All Parents have a legal (alongside a moral) obligation to ensure their children receive what is described as a “suitable full-time education”.  A child must be educated between the ages of 5 and 16.  Parents are required to register children for school (or make arrangements for home-schooling).  Once registered, parents are legally responsible for making sure children attend school regularly.  The school and local education authority will provide support to address truancy.  If that support does not address a problem, then there are more punitive measures that can be deployed against parents:  a School Attendance Order, an Education Supervision Order; a Penalty Notice or a court prosecution.A child registered can only legally miss school in very limited circumstances, such as due to illness or where the school has authorised the absence in advance.  Parents considering taking a child out of school to go on a family holiday must seek permission beforehand.  The permission should be sought before any booking is made and before any money is paid.  Where parents are separated, any request for an authorised absence from school should be discussed between them first. Whether permission is given is down to the individual school and headteacher.  The decision will depend on the child’s age, the duration of the proposed absence, the nature of the holiday and what the child might miss at school.  But parents should take heart from the approach many schools seem to be taking to these requests.  Statistics show that in Spring 2012, 25,525 half-days in primary school were missed due to authorised holidays.  In secondary schools, the figure was 7,521 half-days for the same period.  The Oxford Mail ran a story earlier this week suggesting that there is a real degree of pragmatism and the reality is at work in deciding whether to authorise absences.  Melinda Tilley, Oxfordshire County Council Education Cabinet Minister was quoted as saying whether headteachers approve term-time holidays “… totally depends on what they’re doing with those days that they aren’t at school.“If a child is going with its (sic) mum and dad to see his or her grandparents, that’s educational in a way and certainly something that’s good for the child.  It is so much cheaper to go on holiday during term time and I think we should be tackling it from the other end because holidays, flights and everything else are way overpriced in school holidays.”In a similar vein, Lynn Knapp, headteacher at Windmill Primary School (Headington) said:  “If they want two to three days and it means they can get a family holiday together, I will authorise that because Family time and holidays are important to children too”.So parents take heart:  in Oxfordshire (and I expect elsewhere), requests to authorise short periods of term-time absence to enable a family to take a holiday together are likely to be treated sympathetically and sensibly.  But parents must ask in advance and ask early to ensure that holiday plans are not derailed if an eleventh-hour request to approve a holiday is declined.

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