Photograph by Ferad Zyulkyarov
It’s that time of year again: the weather is getting (slightly) warmer, the sun is (sometimes) out, and parents, teachers and students alike are getting excited for their summer holidays! But with over 90,000 parents being fined for taking their children out of school in the last academic year, is unauthorised absence for family holidays on the rise? Rebecca Purton writes:
The majority of families go away during the school holidays, but a minority of parents choose to take their children out of school during term time, as this can save up to an estimated 150% on the cost of a family holiday. Flights and accommodation are significantly more expensive as soon as the school holidays begin. But with stricter laws and fines now in place, is it worth it financially? .
Under the Education Act, parents have a legal obligation to ensure their children are in attendance at school other than in exceptional circumstances. Parents can request absence, but if it is not authorised they risk paying a £60 fine per child (which rises to £120 if not paid within 21 days).
In recent years the implementation of fines and the number being issued has significantly increased. In the academic year 2014/2015, a whopping £5.6 million worth of fines were issued. This figure suggests term-time holidays are not uncommon. However, the likelihood is that even with an incurred fine of £60 per child, this would still be cheaper than a vacation during the school holidays. So perhaps financially it is more beneficial to take your holiday during school term time.
But are fines the correct response to the issue of absence? Perhaps a more effective way to deter parents from pulling their kids out of school, is to better educate them about the adverse effects absence has on their child’s learning. Therefore, instead of punishing them, perhaps it would be more appropriate to bring to their attention the direct correlation between increased absence and decreased grades. Parents who take their children out of school during term are perhaps hindering their future prospects. Research shows that Secondary School pupils who miss just two and a half weeks of school during the academic year are 2.8 times more unlikely to achieve 5 A*-C grades at GCSE than their peers who are always present (DfE report 2015)¹. This would suggest that even relatively short periods of absence are detrimental to the learning process.
An alternative perspective on this issue is to consider the value of education in the home context. It is fair to say most people would agree that a range of both academic classroom learning and experiential learning is important for the development of a child’s abilities and character. Unauthorised holiday removes a child from the classroom, but provides opportunity for a range of different experiences – such as visiting museums, which add to worldly knowledge but also provide a window to our artistic, cultural, historical, or scientific heritage. The fact that 90,000 parents were fined for doing this last year is, perhaps, evidence that the more narrow curriculum of many schools, is not providing the kind of whole education experience parents require. If the curriculum provided sufficient diverse and engaging experiences as part of the learning process, parents would surely be much more reluctant to remove their children from school during term time.
Furthermore, spending a week experiencing new things as a family undoubtedly strengthens relationships and builds shared memories, something that sitting in a classroom with peers can only simulate. Strong, positive family relationships are something that cannot be replaced (only, perhaps, partially compensated for). They provide a child with a vital source of security, confidence, happiness and wellbeing. And perhaps rather than punishing the parents who choose to take their children out of school, we should look at why they are doing so. So many areas of family life have been squeezed. We work longer hours now than ever before (BBC 2011)² and the impact is damaging the development of relationships children have with their parents (Gauthier et al, 2004)³.
The recent Isle of Wight case involving John Platt who took his daughter out of school for 6 days and refused to pay the subsequent £120 fine has resulted in no prosecution by the council. However, with this case now being referred to the Supreme Court, it is clear that this is a contentious issue. Platt has argued that his daughter had not failed to ‘attend school regularly’- which is what the law states must happen in order not to be fined. Therefore he believes he has not broken the law and so should not be fined. He argued his case for taking his daughter to Disneyland during term time because this was the only time his wider family could all be together. Some would argue this shows ignorance of the necessity of schooling, but actually perhaps it alludes to the importance of family to Platt. He was willing to risk being fined – and is now fighting a court case, to uphold his right as a father, to spend invaluable time with his family.
Parents are legal guardians, role models and loving protectors, and with each of these roles come different responsibilities. The decisions parents make are not black or white, they are made in love, with their child’s best interests at heart. Money can’t buy everything, but when compared to the risk of a £60 fine, strong family relationships are, simply – priceless.