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Term Time Absence – Even After A Supreme Court Judgement – Remains Something Of A Minefield

When, if ever, can you authorise it, asks Vic Goddard

  • Term Time Absence – Even After A Supreme Court Judgement – Remains Something Of A Minefield

I sometimes get asked to sit on a morning television sofa to talk about term time holidays. And now ‘that’ long running court case has been resolved at the Supreme Court, with the original fine issued by the Isle of Wight being backed, I am sure it’s something I’ll find myself doing even more.

I find the whole topic to be a minefield of interconnected factors linked to family wellbeing, Ofsted inspections and long term investment in our children’s lives. As a dad, I absolutely relish my family time when we can get away and just spend some time together. Obviously, my opportunities will always fall in the school holidays – and because of that my choices are often limited due to availability and cost.

When I think back to my own childhood this was the case also; we never went away in term time. This meant no holidays abroad (not until I was beyond statutory school age, anyway), but I remember with such amazing warmth those times in Skegness or Great Yarmouth with my siblings playing crazy golf or trying to surf in the sea. In fact when I look back on my holidays in the UK compared to the ones I had in sunnier climes I think I did more stuff and had more fun closer to home!

Genuine problems

The inordinate strain placed on schools by the inspection regime in this country means that our ability to use common sense and compassion when making the decision whether to authorise a term time absence is very tested at the moment. I know of inspections where attendance questions have been asked about the authorisation of term time holidays and the school’s definition of exceptional circumstances.

And yes, the strain on the classroom teacher when they constantly have one or two students missing due to a variety of reasons is obvious. We, as a school, have looked at limiting the incidental absences that occur far too often because of different school events, and tried to make sure that any of the educational visits we make happen at the same time through our ASPIRE days. It is difficult when students miss out on key learning and we then have to spend time to catch them up rather than focusing fully on the whole class.

Transparency is the answer

But the big issue, which is often used as an argument by parents for why they need to remove their child from school, is that of family wellbeing. It’s the reason that that is hardest to disagree with. If any family can afford to get away together, when nobody is having to work, then I truly want to support this – but the challenge is that we are expected to sit in judgement on the quality of the time away from school.

I have yet to find a school that has never had an issue with this, although now I’ve put that in writing I’m certain I will be contacted by a colleague whose school has it sorted out – they never authorise any absences except for certificated illness or something similar. Personally, I struggle to be so binary.

The best solution for this situation is surely one of total transparency. Our honesty with parents starts before they have chosen Passmores in Year 6. I talk about our approach to term time absences during our open evening and our induction event. I give parent(s)/carer(s) as much information as possible regarding our expectations generally, but specifically about holidays in term time. We employ a full time education welfare officer, who ensures that we apply our definition consistently to avoid my own biases; she does a very difficult job very well.

If we consistently apply our transparent rules I feel that this is the best we can do for term time holidays (not to mention those other morning TV sofa favourites: haircuts and uniforms). And in the meantime, how about someone tackling the outrageous price hikes that travel companies love so much?

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