Without doubt one of the biggest issues for parents with school age children is the issue of holiday costs and fines for taking children out of class during the term. Since the new laws came into force in 2013, thousands of families have been fined or worse yet nothing has been done to combat the cost increases seen in holidays around the world. So now a new campaign has been started to get the government to reverse the law and stop the fines.
Background to the law
Since September 2013, parents and carers no longer have the right to take their children out of school during the term for any reason. Previously, head teachers could approve absences of up to ten days each year for holidays when special circumstances were given. However under the new rules, these criteria have changed to exceptional circumstances and the acceptable reasons have reduced dramatically, with events such as family member funerals being one of the few considered acceptable.
Failure to gain this authorisation for an absence sees a parent committing an offence under section 444 of the Education Act of 1996. Parents who break this law can face a maximum fine of £60 per pupil, per parent – so two children with two parents removed from school for three days would face a fine of £360. This amount rises to £120 a time if not paid within seven days and those who don’t pay this can face court action. This can result in an increased fine of up to £2,500 and up to three months in prison.
According to the Department of Education, the reason for this hardening of policy is due to the amount of absences for holidays taken during school term and the negative effect that these absences have on a child’s education. Their figures state that children who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve good GSCE results in five or more subjects than those who are regularly absent.
According to one example, Bradford metropolitan council, from September 2012 to Easter 2013, more than 41,000 education days were lost due to parents removing their kids for holidays during the term. These absences, the DfE say deprive students of valuable classroom time. They also have a negative effect on the school’s position in league tables due to absence rates but also due to success in exams.
They also add that while a single week may not seem much, one extra week each year will mean that children will have missed some 70 days’ worth of teaching, around three months, by the time they leave school.
About the Campaign
The top reason that parents cite for being forced to take their children on holiday during term time is the difference in the cost between the two periods. Another problem can be the fact that all people in a workplace with children want the same holidays and not all can have them, meaning they have to work in the school breaks.
The problem has seen the creation of a number of campaigns to try to get the government to reverse the law on school holidays and fines. One example is the Parents Want A Say campaign, founded by Craig Langman and Karen Wilkinson. The feel that parents were not given a say in the creation of the law and that it doesn’t take into account these factors. It also penalised children who otherwise have a faultless attendance record and criminalises parents who otherwise see their children attend school at all times. They feel the responsibility for a child attending school should rest with the parent, not with the state. Their website can be found at www.parentswantasay.co.uk as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
As well as on this site, the campaign also has an online petition through the 38 Degrees website that allowed parents to add their details. The petition needs to each 300,000 to get the government to really take notice of it and is already well on the way to achieving this. It has already passed the 10,000 signature mark needed for a government response and the 100,000 mark to be debated in parliament.
Support for the petition is widespread with people offering their own stories to back why the law should be removed. One such couple are the Mettams from Doncaster. Tim Mettam is a painter and decorator and strongly believes that time away together is essential for families. However if job circumstances or finances mean that parents cannot go away during the school holidays, then they shouldn’t be penalised for this. The couple have previously been fined £360 for taking their three children out of school for holidays and are defiant that they would do it again. Their local council has recorded 3,378 fines issued from 2014-2015 for parents taking children from school.
Another similar campaign in Wales is run by a group called Let Children in Wales have a Holiday During Term Time and was founded by Bethany Walpole-Wroe of Cwrtnewydd, near Lampeter. The group say there are a number of reasons that children may need time off during the term and the blanket ban should be removed to allow head teachers to look at each case individually. The campaign surveyed over 1000 parents across Wales and said that the pressure to meet attendance targets in schools is part of the problem. They also found that the ban was disproportionately affecting the poorest families in the country and failed to take into account the range of issues that could affect a family, such as family members dying and being a long way away so time is needed out of class for a final visit.
One dad, American-born Noah Myers from Brighton has with his solicitor wife even given notice of a judicial review against the governors of their two boys’ primary school. He believes that the ban on term time holidays are a breach of his human rights and that they infringe on his civil liberties under the Human Rights Act. If the test case succeeds in court, it would be the first to successfully challenge the new laws.