Sunday, 26 October 2014

Parental fines - schools mustn't treat family holidays like truancy

The amendments introduced by the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2013 under Michael Gove have caused considerable controversy and debate, with many thousands of parents signing petitions opposing them.

These regulations state that parents should be fined for taking children out of the school during term-time unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’. As a result, the number of parental fines for poor school attendance has risen sharply, largely where children have been taken on holiday during term time.

In response to parental campaigning, the Local Government Association have called for the Regulations to be relaxed. The NAHT has now issued advice clarifying its interpretation of the legislation. The NAHT now advise that funerals, weddings and religious events should be considered as ‘exceptional circumstances’. However, family holidays would still be unlikely to match that criterion.

It's definitely a step forward that parental campaigning has resulted in change but the Regulations will still unfairly impact on working parents, particularly the low-paid. A 2010 report from MPs, ‘Transforming Education Outside the Classroom’, found that there was already a risk that school trips could become ‘the preserve of pupils from more affluent backgrounds’. This must not become true of holidays too.

The RMT letter in March from Mick Cash
As the NUT nationally said this week, much greater pressure needs to be put by Government on holiday companies and airlines to change their unfair pricing structures. However, as was explained for example in a letter from the RMT to the Union earlier this year, it is not just excessive costs that discriminate against working parents, it is also the fact that many rostered and shift workers are simply unable to arrange annual leave that coincides with the school holidays.

Parents and other trade unionists need to appreciate  the enormous pressure on schools and teachers to meet pupil progress and attendance targets. This inevitably mean that some Heads will fear the consequences of allowing parents to withdraw children for term-time holidays in special circumstances. It is also true, in general terms, that persistent absence certainly impacts on a child’s attainment. However, even the DfE’s own research shows that, unlike most other absence reasons, family holidays do not have a significant effect. 
Taking children on holiday is not the same as persistent truancy. Holidays can provide valuable experiences and outdoor learning opportunities. Giving families time to be on holiday together will also have social and emotional benefits which can be of lasting value and support to schoolchildren.

From Research Report DFE-RR171 - spot the exception
In addition, as I posted after our last strike action in July, if  this issue is not taken seriously and sympathetically by teachers, then it could become one that is used to divide parents from teachers at a time when we need to be working together to defend education. ( )

Even before the recent announcements, LANAC (the Local Associations National Action Campaign) had already agreed that we would draft a motion on the issue to make sure that the NUT adopts a clear policy at our next Annual Conference in Easter 2015.

That motion we are proposing is among a group of LANAC motions available via The demands we want to put to Conference include:

1) Support the call for the repeal of the relevant amendments introduced by the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2013
2) Call on schools to interpret the existing regulations in a way that allows families to take term-time holidays in exceptional circumstances with parents and students agreeing suitable arrangements to catch up on schooling missed as a result
3) Promote the value of family holidays, with an emphasis on outdoor learning
4) Support calls for action to be taken against holiday companies and airlines who unfairly raise their prices at peak times
5) Contact other teacher and headteacher unions to seek a joint approach based on the above.

6) Similarly, write to parental campaigners to offer our support based on the policy of the Union.

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