Before September 2013, schools were able to authorise up to 10 days leave from school. The new law states that requests for leave can only be granted by the Head Teacher in exceptional circumstances. Family holidays do not fall into this category. There are fines which can be issued to parents who take their children out of school during term time without permission. Reasons for absence are mostly illness, holidays, medical appointments and religious holidays. It would seem that medical reasons count as exceptional, but perhaps not a routine dental check.
Some assessments of attendance rates linked to performance have been made by the National Audit Office, Ofsted and the Department of Education. The Government and local authorities do not like absence, and they particularly do not like pupils being taken out of school for holidays, hence their efforts to stop this. The key comments which come from reports produced by these three organisations are as follows,
“Pupils with higher levels of attendance tended to have higher GCSE scores (5 A*-C grades).”
“Potentially higher achieving pupils were more likely to have high attendance and therefore good GCSE scores.”
“It is self-evident that pupils who regularly fail to attend school reduce their chances of fulfilling their academic potential, and research has demonstrated that high rates of absence are associated with low academic achievement.”
Statistics published by the DFE have also illustrated that persistent truants are much more likely than non-truants and occasional truants to leave school with few or no qualifications. (It should be noted that unauthorised absence is classed as truancy).
Given the Government’s attitude to absence you would think there would be statistics that showed quite clearly that pupil absence from school for holidays had a measurable impact on those pupils performance, but this is not the case. The statistical information and the surveys that have been carried out are about the effect of persistent truancy on pupil behaviour and performance. Persistent absence is not about holidays, rather it is usually a lack of desire to go to school which is linked to poor parental attitudes, i.e. parents who do not value education and therefore do not make sure their child attends, which is usually linked to specific social groups and factors like long-term unemployment.
There are some individual school statistics which show a tail off in performance when absences greater than 6.5% of the school year occur, which is almost 13 school days. From these statistics we might treasonably conclude that 10 days holiday is not detrimental to performance provided there isn’t much other absence as well. The rest is hearsay.
Children are not owned by the State or the Government and therefore parents and guardians have prime responsibility. If circumstances mean that a holiday in term time is the best option, or if a religious festival occurs which requires time off to attend, then it is a parental choice to make, not the State’s and not the Head teacher’s.
Parents have the right to home school their children. This effectively means 192 days absence from state education each year plus holidays. Therefore home schooling has greater potential for flexibility than school and so the necessary education time can be designed around other ‘legal’ family activities much more easily.
Andrew Bateson is 57 years old and initially trained as a Geologist. He has been a secondary school teacher for 22 years teaching Chemistry and Science to 11 to 18 year olds. Previously he worked in the Ceramic industry in research and development and then management. He has experience of both the independent and state sectors, teaching in single sex and mixed sex schools. As a Union Rep., he followed educational policy closely throughout his teaching career. He has retired from teaching to continue working with OOL and to retrain as a Psychotherapist.