The thorny issue of taking holidays in term time has recently been raised in Parliament again.
MP Justin Tomlinson, of North Swindon, was gathering parents’ views across social media before taking part in the debate which was triggered by an e-petition which reached the threshold of more than 100,000 signatures.
The debate showed the confusion and piecemeal approach of schools under rules which state children can only be absent from school in term time in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
MPs had examples of parents who were refused permission to attend family funerals, or take holidays where parents were unable to take time off during a holiday period. Mr Tomlinson said: “A lot of parents have contacted me to say, ‘we have triggered fines’.”
At one school that has made the new rules clear, the chair of governors said, “Actually, there is discretion. We will look at those parents whose children have excellent attendance records and are achieving well and we will look at why they might be taken out of school, for a funeral, say, compared to a holiday without educational benefits, and it would be weighed up.”
He also raised the issue of ‘unfair’ price increases put in place by some holiday operators during school holidays and pointed to schemes in some European countries, such as Germany, where school holidays across regions are staggered in order to spread demand.
One of the major concerns for schools, he said was Ofsted apparently marking a school down if absence rates were high or rising.
He said: “There is the assumption that there is pressure from Ofsted because it looks at attendance records when rating a school. If a school decides to say that, because of cost and work pressures, it will allow a good level of discretion, its attendance records do not look good. That also needs to be considered, because that would be a disincentive for a school to apply common sense discretion.”
The Minister who attended the debate from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Skills, Jenny Willott, said there would be no intervention in the tourist and travel industry to influence pricing; the government has not said absence isn’t possible and from 2015 all schools would have the power to set term dates locally.