The controversial fines for parents who take their children out of school during term time has been a topic of discussion for several months. However, yesterday the discussion was taken up a level, as the debate reached Parliament. The official debate by MPs comes after one parent’s petition raised over 170,000 signatures. The petition called for term time fines to be scrapped, and the old rules to be reinstated.
Until 2013, headteachers could authorise up to 10 days of absence for children at their discretion. However, under the guidance of Michael Gove, the rules were changed; absences were only authorised in ‘exceptional circumstances’. It certainly wasn’t clear what classed as an exceptional circumstance, as parents were even being fined if they took their children out of school during a gap in cancer treatment for a member of the family. The founder of the petition, David Hedley, was the parent fined £120 for taking his children out of school, despite the fact his wife was undergoing cancer treatment.
Term time fines have been a regular feature in the news since the beginning of the year. Another high profile case is that of Jon Platt, who was fined £120 for taking his daughter out of school for a trip to Disneyworld. He refused to pay and the battle eventually reached the High Court, where he won the case, sparking a victory for campaigners across the UK who wish to abolish the fine. Mr Platt won his case because he proved that his daughter attended school regularly.
Should school holidays be staggered?
One solution that some people believe could stop the uproar over term time absences, is to stagger school holidays by region. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has supported this, stating that in Europe, there is a longer window of school holidays (usually between 10-12 weeks) and leave is divided by region- the association is asking the British Government to seriously consider this. To see what the public thought, ITV ran a poll on its Facebook page, and 73% of voters were in favour of staggering school holidays, believing it to be a viable solution to term time absences and increased holiday prices during peak times.
Speaking ahead of the debate on BBC Breakfast, Mr. Platt cited some statistics. The Goverment’s main argument for term time fines has been that ‘research shows’ that the amount of time out of school is linked with the academic success of a pupil. However, Mr Platt cited a research paper developed by the Government themselves, which says that ‘proportions of pupils who achieve the expected level stay similar despite increasing levels of absence including family holidays’. Platt said that he hoped MPs would discuss the subjects in parliament.
What do MPs think?
Steve Double, the Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay said that there is currently a ‘Big Brother blanket ban’ on term time family holidays, which gives the message that the Government knows better than parents what is best for children. He also spoke of confusion between councils, with some being strict and some councils not imposing the fines at all, due to the confusion over the law. In particular, Devon Council is suspending fines and adjourning court cases until the rules have been made clear.
Rosie Cooper, a Labour MP for West Lancashire said that there was a lack of transparency, consistency and fairness in terms of how the fines are being handled.
However, Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, has defended the rule change, stating that there is evidence to show that term time holidays have an immediate effect on GCSE grades. He added that children’s attendance in school is ‘non-negotiable’ and the Government will take all the steps necessary to defend that statement.
One Scottish MP even went as far as to say that Scottish tennis player Andy Murray, who has just won his second Wimbledon title, would not be as successful as he is today if he had not been allowed time off school to travel for practice.
We’ll keep following this story as more news comes in, but what do you think? Should term time holidays be allowed? Let us know in the comments or on social media!