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Headmasters Blog – Fines for unauthorised school leave?

February 24, 2012

The Education Secretary is recommending that Maintained Schools fine parents for taking children off on holidays during term time. Michael Gove is anxious to stress the importance of curriculum time and wants parents to appreciate this, too. Holidays are second only to sickness as a reason given for pupil absence and families are naturally keen to take advantage of cheaper flights and holiday packages by going outside of peak times. Headteachers across the UK in Maintained Schools can currently sanction up to two weeks a year of ‘authorised absence’ during term-time to cover illness, bad weather and bereavements but many come under pressure to include holidays in this list. At present parents who allow their children to truant can be fined £100 and the Government is now considering tougher sanctions to cut down on absenteeism.

In an independent school such as Ballard, we have longer school holidays (in lieu of the extended school day / week during term-time). This usually permits parents to go on vacation within the normal holiday periods but at times when prices are cheaper and thus obviate the need to take children out of school early. Early leaves do, of course, happen and we insist on advance notice, a holiday request form and, usually, make provision for the child to catch up on work missed. These holidays, many of which are overseas, can be a great learning experience for children and we seek to make a virtue out of the necessity by asking for illustrated diary reports and projects on the places visited. Most parents warm to this idea as it can give a focus to a child who might become bored too easily on a long trip away from home. Just this last week I saw three of our younger children who had fashioned splendid diaries, complete with photographs and maps, of a recent holiday in the Mediterranean which had necessitated an additional day off school. They were very pleased to receive their ‘Headmaster’s tokens’ for their efforts!

Thus, while I applaud Mr Gove’s efforts to cut down on unauthorised absence from school – and we are not immune from some of these pressures – I would also urge a proactive approach to the legitimate request for leave by setting manageable and enjoyable holiday tasks. Unauthorised leave may lead to a firm letter home and even a request to see parents in school on their return but I hope that in the main this can be avoided by a recognition from both the parents and the school that such leave can be disruptive to a child’s progress and must be minimised.

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