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Common sense approach to holidays is needed

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A reasonable, common sense approach to term time holidays should be allowed, council leaders said today.

With the October half term set to start next week (Monday, 26th October), the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils across the country, is calling for; head-teachers to be allowed to give reasonable consideration to term-time leave requests and for a change in the rules from the Department for Education (DfE).

Since September 2013 the DfE and Ofsted have insisted school heads take a much harder line on term-time leave requests including the removal of term-time leave allowances in most instances. Previously head teachers were able to grant 10 days leave in “exceptional circumstances”, in effect meaning that many schools could allow up to two weeks of term-time holidays a year, however Department for Education and Ofsted have imposed stricter guidelines on what can be classed as an exceptional circumstance now this no longer includes holidays.

If an absence is not authorised, parents that take their child out of school during term time are reported to their local authorities who are obliged by Government to fine a parent £60 per child (which rises to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days). In extreme circumstances, those that fail to pay could face prosecution with a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

However, recent developments mean this could become much harder to enforce, with parents successfully challenging fines in the courts claiming, amongst other things, it is an infringement of their civil liberties under the Human Rights Act to decide what is in the best interests of their family.

Families seeking to go away during school holidays can also find they are hit with costs that are sometimes double that of travelling during term-time, and there is a suspicion that some travel companies may raise prices to exploit these holiday periods.

For instance, a family of four heading to the Canary Islands this half term would pay around £2000 more than if taking the same holiday the week before or week after half term, rising from £2484 before half term, to £4800 during and dropping to £2523 after. Booking flights was a similar story, LGA research has found. A family of four flying to Cyprus (Larnaca) would pay up to £1500 more for flights during half term week at £2577, than they would if flying just one week before (£1426) or one week after (£970).

The issue is not solely one of economics. In particular, those parents that are employed in the armed forces, emergency services or who work unconventional hours don’t always have the option to take a family holiday during the normal school holiday period and therefore will run the risk of being penalised, somewhat unfairly.

Cllr Roy Perry, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“Children’s education is treated with the upmost seriousness, but it is clear that the current system does not always favour families, especially those that are struggling to meet the demands of modern life or have unconventional work commitments.

“There has to be a sensible solution whereby every family has the option to spend time together when they choose to, without fear of prosecution from education authorities.

“The current rules tie families to set holiday periods. They make no allowances for what a family would class as a special occasion or takes into account a parent’s work life.

“Families where parents work unsocial shift patterns, in the emergency services or whose jobs are tied to calendar commitments, can find that they are unable to take family holidays during school holiday periods. As such these families, some of whom have parents that provide a valuable service to society, are unjustly penalised or find they are unable to have a holiday at all for fear of prosecution.

“It shouldn’t be that a tragedy has to befall a family for a child to get leave during term-time. There are many more joyous and positive occasions in life when consideration should be given to granting leave requests, such as a wedding or perhaps a sporting event involving a family member. These can be a positive influence on young people. And there are just times when a family should be able to come together to celebrate without worrying about prosecution or being fined.”

“Blanket bans do not work and fines are now being successfully challenged in the courts under human rights laws. It is time for this situation to be reassessed to ensure we are not wasting time and money by enforcing, what is considered by many, to be a punitive and unfair system. Also, as the high court decisions have shown recently, it’s a system that is not always enforceable.

“Giving families time to be on holiday together can have social and emotional benefits which are of lasting value and support to children. It should not be something for which they are unduly punished.

“While councils fully support the Department for Education’s stance on every child being in school every day, there are occasions when parental requests should be given individual consideration and a common sense approach applied.”

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