Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Term-Time Family Holidays


Every working parent knows this story.  Holiday prices skyrocket during high season – in other words, the school holidays!  Flights and accommodation can be up to twice as expensive as during the school term.  So, the very time when children are most able to go on a family holiday is the time one is least affordable.  Many parents find themselves having to overlap the family holiday with part of the school term.  Otherwise, there would be no prospect of a family holiday at all.  And the issue is all the more profound for children of separated parents, already under financial strain to run two homes and fund two family holidays, instead of one.

A survey of 2,000 parents conducted by a travel insurance firm in 2012 revealed the following about term-time holidays:

·                  55% of respondents had taken a child on holiday during the school-term;
·                  20% had sought permission for a term-time absence, which had been refused;
·                  12% had lied to take their child out of school for a term-time holiday.  The most common excuses deployed were illness, visiting sick relatives and attending a family wedding;
·                  57% of respondents took their children out of school for a term-time holiday because it was cheaper;
·                  32% were unable to afford a family vacation during the school holidays;
·                  26% said they, or their partner, could not get time off work during school holidays;
·                  43% would take their child out of class for a week for a term-time holiday.

The Legal Framework

What is the legal position?  Well, parents have a legal obligation to ensure their children receive what is described as a “suitable full-time education”.  A child must be educated when he or she is of “compulsory school age”.  This means between the ages of 5 and 17.  From 2015, compulsory school age will be expanded to include children between 5 and 18 (under the Education and Skills Act 2008).

Parents of a child of compulsory school age must register him or her for school (or else make arrangements for home-schooling).  Once registered, the parents have a legal responsibility to make sure the child actually attends school.  If there are truancy issues, the school and the Education Welfare Service (EWS) will provide support initially to address those. 

If truancy continues, the approach may become more punitive.  Parents may be issued with a Penalty Notice for unauthorised absences.  A Penalty Notice may be issued by the headteacher, the police or the Local Authority.  The fine is presently £60 if paid within 28 days, and £120 if paid within 42 days.  Parents who do not pay in time may be prosecuted. 

Other more serious measures include a School Attendance Order, an Education Supervision Order; and / or court prosecution.  The Department for Education (DfE) has published guidance on the support and sanctions available to reinforce the parental obligation to ensure school attendance.   

Authorised Absences

Headteachers are entitled to authorise pupils to be absent for up to ten days each year (and in rare situations, for longer periods).  This is intended to cover life’s unexpected eventualities that may result in a child being away:  illness, bereavement or inability to get to school due to bad weather.

However, many headteachers were and are approving absences under this power so that children could go on a family holiday.  This so incensed the Education Secretary that, last February, he announced a proposal to abolish the right of headteachers to authorise absences at all.  A spokesperson at the DfE was quoted as thus:

Any time out of school has the potential to damage a child’s education.  That is why the government will end the distinction between authorised and unauthorised absence.  This is part of the government’s wider commitment to bring down truancy levels in our schools.  There will be stricter penalties for parents and schools.”

The DfE’s stance appears in the meantime to have mellowed.  It maintains that headteachers are not entitled to authorise absences for holidays during term-time.   However, there are no current plans to introduce a blanket-ban on headteachers approving term-time absences. 

The Schools’ Approach

Despite the government’s hard-line approach, it seems that some headteachers are adopting a more pragmatic and realistic stance.  This is borne out by the anecdotal experiences of our clients, by statistics and by local policies on term-time holidays.
Looking at the statistics, in Spring 2012, 25,525 half-days in primary school were missed due to authorised holidays (11.5% of all primary absences).  In secondary schools, the figure was 7,521 half-days for the same period (3.2% of all secondary absences). 

Exact polices differ from region-to-region, and from school-to-school.  Some examples of this variance include the following: 

·                   Melinda Tilley, Oxfordshire County Council Education Cabinet Minister (quoted in September 2012 in the Oxford Mail), says 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.”

·                   the EWS for Shropshire Council has produced a leaflet highlighting the impact on a child’s education of absences during the school term.  It is clearly intended to discourage parents from arranging holidays during term-time. 

·                   Devon County Council has produced a form for parents designed to request a leave of absence during the school term, to include for a term-time holiday;

·                   Cambridgeshire County Council’s policy discourages parents from arranging family holidays during term-time.  It says absences will be authorised only in exceptional circumstances.  A holiday that is a unique, one-off never-to-be-repeated occasion which can only take place at the time requested might be exceptional.  Permission is likely to be refused if the reason given is that the holiday is cheaper in term-time.

These are just a random selection of guidelines from around the country.  Many are available online.  The common themes emerging are these:  term-time absences are generally discouraged; ultimately, the headteacher is entitled to exercise discretion to approve an absence of up to ten days; factors a headteacher might take into account when considering whether to approve a term-time absence include: 

o                    the child’s previous attendance history;
o                    the child’s age;
o                    the stage of the child’s education
o                    the time of year (does it clash with SATS, exams, etc?), and
o                    the nature of the trip (how is it exception?).

School Work and Catching-Up

There is no legal obligation on schools to set work for children absent during term-time.  The approach to this issue, as with authorising absences in the first place, varies from region-to-region.

For example, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council puts the obligation firmly on parents in its policy.  It is the parents who must, if term-time absence is authorised, ensure their child catches up on any missed school work. 

Milton Keynes Council has produced workbooks for children who will be away from school for extended holidays.  The focus is on making the holiday itself an educationally rewarding experience.  Parents are expected to help children complete the workbook during the vacation.

Term-Time Holiday Top Tips for Parents

1.                Find out now, well in advance of it becoming an issue, what your child’s school’s policy is on term-time holidays.

2.                If you are considering arranging a holiday during the school term, seek permission early, and before any booking is made and before any money changes hands.   

3.                Where parents are separated, any request for an authorised absence from school should be discussed (and ideally agreed) before the school is approached.

4.                If permission is given, be prepared to help your child catch-up on any school work missed.  Most schools, even though there is no positive obligation, will help with this.

5.                Consider whether and how the holiday can help further your child’s education and imagination.  The Milton Keynes’ workbooks provide some excellent pointers for how this can be done.

6.                Timing is everything:  important activities tend to congregate around end of term – exams, school plays and concerts, etc.  Have the school calendar very much in mind when considering when you might take a term-time holiday.

7.                Children get jet lag in the same way adults do.  If the holiday is a long-haul one, make sure you take into account the time it will take for your child to readjust on his or her return home.  Allow for a couple of days so that body clocks can recalibrate before returning to school.

8.                Be honest with your child’s headteacher.  If the holiday is planned to allow your child to be part of a family event – a wedding, an anniversary, or an important birthday – then say so.  This may prove the difference between an absence being authorised or not. 

9.                If permission for a term-time holiday is not given, consider the following to make a vacation during the school holidays more affordable: 
(a)               look for all-inclusive packages - with the cost of food, drink and entertainment included, costs will be relatively capped and there should be few surprises;
(b)               investigate less popular destinations – these may have all of the features and activities of more popular ones, but at a fraction of the cost;
(c)               compare air travel prices from all UK airports - driving or taking the train to a different airport might be significantly cheaper than flying from the nearest one to home. 
(d)               if in self-catering accommodation, go native!  Follow the locals’ lead, and shop at local markets and stores to help keep costs down. 

The closing message for parents is to ask your child’s headteacher for permission early.  This will ensure holiday plans are not ruined if an eleventh-hour request to approve a holiday is refused. 

No comments:

Post a Comment