10,000 more unauthorised days of term-time holidays in Suffolk since 2010/11, but overall requests fall
PUBLISHED: 20:00 20 April 2017
In the latest sign of headteachers and education chiefs taking a stronger stance on the controversial issue, unapproved family holidays accounted for 38,615 days of unauthorised absences in the 2015/16 academic year in Suffolk.
This is a 38% rise from 27,924 in 2010/11.
The proportion of unauthorised trips has also risen, against a backdrop of fewer term-time holidays and authorisations.
The number of days lost for all unauthorised and authorised term-time holidays fell from 60,347 in 2010/11 to 54,779 in 2015/16. It suggests the tougher action and prospect of fines and prison sentences are deterring parents.
Days lost to authorised holidays fell from 32,423 to 16,164, meaning 71% of requests were rejected last year, up from 46% five years ago.
Last night, heads pledged to continue imposing former education secretary Michael Gove’s toughened-up policy of only permitting term-time holidays in exceptional circumstances. He tightened the rules in 2013 to improve attendance and attainment rates. Previously, heads could grant up to 10 days leave a year for family holidays in special circumstances.
David Hutton, headteacher at Northgate High School in Ipswich, said: “Fewer pupils are now being disadvantaged by missing important elements of their education, but some parents continue to take their children out of school for holidays. Despite what is stated to the school, this is often because the holiday is cheaper during term time, even when taking fines into account.”
The new Department for Education (DfE) figures come weeks after Isle of Wight father Jon Platt lost a landmark legal battle over a £60 fine for taking his seven-year-old daughter out of school to Disney World for a week.
The Supreme Court’s ruling gave legal backing to the government’s stance.
Lee Abbott, headteacher at Hillside Primary Community Primary School in Ipswich, said: “Unless your child is medically unfit, they must be at school, unless there is a very extreme, exclusive reason. (Granting ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trips) can’t be the case because you would be picking and choosing. I have sympathy, as do thousands of teachers. But that is the expectation.”
Graham White, who represents Suffolk on the National Union of Teachers national executive committee, said: “The reduction in requests may be due to greater knowledge about the impact of absences. But the fact that unauthorised (term-time holidays) have increased percentage wise is because schools feel compelled to be stricter due to pressure from above.”
The NUT believes children must remain in school, but he said heads must exercise discretion. He said short holidays might be beneficial, and parents unable to take time off work must be heard.
Suffolk County Council, which issued 5,668 fines for unauthorised absences in 2015/16, the highest in the country, said: “Fixed penalty notices are issued as a result of a referral from schools for unauthorised absences. Our policy is support schools.”