During the last few weeks of term, there is the risk that parents may be tempted to take a family holiday because it is affordable compared to the peak Summer holidays period. Although the Supreme Court has ruled on this, Head Teachers and Governors need to understand the reasoning of the Court and check that their school’s policy is clear.
Uncertainty Created by the Decisions of Lower Courts
When deciding whether a school/local authority had the right to seek a fine on ra parent for taking their child out of school in term time, the Supreme Court noted, that using the test of ‘sufficiently frequently’ was too uncertain for parents to know whether they were in the right or wrong. Instead, the Court held that the key was whether the parents had complied with the school policy.
Review the Clarity of Your School’s Absence/Holiday Policy
In the light of the above, you should check that your policy is clear and will be interpreted by parents that absence for holidays duing term time is a breach of the school’s rules and expectations of parents regarding the child’s or student’s attendance.
A reminder each year in January to parents/guaridans may be advisable as that is often when parents start to think about their main holiday.
Some schools may be in communities in which there are a high number of, for example, parents who are hospital doctors. They are often obliged to take their holidays at the end of their contract and before their next role. In such cases, the Head and Governors may wish to have some flexibility regarding holidays but that will need careful thought.
The Court’s Core Reasoning re Attendance at School
The Supreme Court noted that education statutes had regard to the importance of a child’s regular attendance for the sake of his/her education. A fine and possibly a conviction could arise but a conviction can be avoided if the penalty is paid on time. That may have influenced the decision of the Court to take this firm stance.
The Balancing Skills of the Head Teacher and Governors
As noted above, the Head Teacher should ensure that:
- the school’s policy is clear on the issue of taking holidays in school term times;
- the consistency of any exceptions permitted.
In addition, the school will need to consider its policy on:
- issuing penalty notices for breaches of its rules/policy. Currently, the law permits a penalty notice of £60 to be issued. If that is not paid within 21 days, the penalty increases to £120;
- requesting prosecution of a parent who breaches the school rules/policy.
The reality is that some parents will feel that the benefit of a family holiday in term time with the cost of a fine is worthwhile compared to the cost of a holiday in the Summer holidays.
Are There Other Solutions?
i) Should local authorities and academies etc. be given greater freedom to set staggered holiday times across the country to encourage holiday firms to lower their prices?
ii) In June and July, many schools arrange school trips/holidays for educational purposes. Should those periods be approved instead as flexiible school holiday weeks in which families can take a holiday Schools could help to ensure that such holidays with parents are educational by providing ideas to help children/students observe and discover during their holiday experiences – that does not necessarily mean having to visit expensive ‘tourist attractions’.
iii) Should tourist boards become more pro-active in advertising affordable holiday packages, during school holidays, as it is alleged that guest houses etc. struggle due to the competitive holiday market.
The above will raise logistical issues for schools but those could be reduced if relaxations were made on a county wide basis. On the other hand, perhaps the taking of holidays in term time is not a big issue for schools. Do you have a view on this issue – if so leave a polite comment below.
Isle of Wight Council v Platt  UKSC 28
© 2017 HR Management Dimensions Ltd.