LBO July 2017
It is some weeks now since the Supreme Court over-turned an earlier verdict about parents taking children out of school on holiday. I thought I would wait a while before returning to this given the heat generated by this debate. It is indeed a tricky one as suggested by the different court rulings and yet the outcome is surely the right one.
I myself must admit to some surprise at the statistics showing the wide variation in the practice of issuing fixed penalty notices for unauthorised absence across Central Bedfordshire schools.
My practice has always been to proceed with a fine only in the most blatant cases and after an exhaustive process. This places Vandyke among the schools using fines for absence the least. At the other end of the scale are some schools issuing over ten times as many. I pass no judgement on these different approaches because each school has its own context.
This is a sensitive and fraught area. Schools seek partnership with parents in co-educating children and a hefty fine with the threat of a court appearance does little to enhance the relationship. Once the fine is paid parents and school must continue to work together and re-building the relationship may not be easy, in the long term benefiting nobody.
However, I recall a conversation with a parent clearly intent on taking his child out of school for a holiday in the sunshine. “A £60 fine is nothing,” I was told. “I will save £1000 on the price of the holiday!” I could not doubt his financial calculation nor logic. So where does that leave schools?
What may appear to a parent simply to be one child missing one week of lessons, when multiplied many times across the school is disruptive to learning and unhelpful to say the least to the teacher managing children’s learning. It is a question of competing priorities.
Parents have 175 days each year to take a holiday without cutting across term-time, so holidays in school time can only be a question of cost. The pressures of the market will not change so air fares in June will continue to be cheaper than in August.
This is a question of the value we place on education and the message we send to our children. Perhaps we have come to over-rate the importance of holidays? It is time to re-state that education matters. And yes, it matters more than a holiday.