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Term time holidays

…A Family law lawyer’s view

As Family Law solicitors we spend most of our time dealing with divorce, relationship breakdown, finances on separation and of course, issues surrounding children.
However, we’re not just lawyers – we’re people too…and parents! As such, we do take an interest in other areas of the law that impact upon families, parent and parenting.
Anyone with school aged children will be fully aware as to just how expensive it can be to take children away on holiday within the normal school holiday season – and just how much of a price hike the holidays entail.
The current guidelines laid down in the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 stated that a head teacher could grant leave of absence for up to 10 days for the purpose of a family holiday in term time in “special circumstances.”  Extended leave could be granted for more than 10 days in “exceptional circumstances.”  In September 2013 this was changed by the Government when all references to school holidays were removed and guidance introduced to say that head teachers could not grant leave of absence to pupils in term time without “exceptional circumstances.”
Recently a father won a High Court case over an unauthorised term time holiday with his daughter. He refused to pay a £120 truancy penalty.  The Local Government Association said the fines were issued in accordance with Department for Education guidance.  The father concerned took his daughter to Florida without the permission of the school in April 2015 and the Isle of Wight Council fined him £60.  The fine was doubled when he missed the payment deadline.  He was then prosecuted for failing to ensure that his daughter regularly attended school, contrary to Section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.
The child concerned had an overall attendance record of over 90% which is the threshold for persistent truancy as defined by the Department of Education.
The Magistrates who initially dealt with the case decided that the father had no case to answer. The Council asked  the High Court to make a ruling as to whether a 7 day absence amounted to a child failing to attend regularly.  The High Court dismissed the Council’s challenge and made it clear that the Magistrates had not “erred in law” when making their decision.  The High Court was clear that Magistrates are entitled to take into account the “wider picture” of the child’s attendance record outside of the dates she was absent on this specific holiday.
Obviously, the Department for Education feels there is now confusion amongst parents and schools.
Accordingly to local authority data, nearly 64,000 fines were imposed for unauthorised absences between 2013 and August 2014.
The Department of Education is of the view that even one day missed off school can effect a pupils chance of gaining good GCSE’s.
The father concerned has now set up a new company called “School Fines Refund”. This company has been set up to help other parents and the father concerned wants local authorities to go through the history of truancy penalty notices which have been issued over recent years and to refund money to parents where they were issued in respect of short, unauthorised absences.
Term time holidays are cheaper and no doubt some holidays can be educational in and of themselves.
Do you think that missing one day from school is going to have a serious effect on GCSE results?
Clearly, we do have to consider how schools function and how disruptive it might be if parents are regularly taking children out of school during term time.  Obviously there will be other reasons why children might need to have odd days off, for example, for religious holidays and family bereavements.
However, in respect of holidays themselves, presumably, most parents will still aim to try to go away in the main school holiday season. No doubt the Government want to make it “exceptional” for holiday absence to be granted during term time.
Rather than punishing by fining, there needs to be a little more sensitivity to the fact that there will be odd occasions when a short absence cannot be avoided and when schools may need to be flexible.
For advice or information relating to any aspect of Family Law contact a member of our team today.