Fining parents for taking their children on holiday during term time amounts to “discrimination against working-class families” who cannot afford to take breaks during school holidays, a leading trade unionist has claimed.
Martin Powell-Davies, a member of the NUT executive who challenged Christine Blower for the leadership of the union, has called for schools and parents to work together to help students taken on holiday during school time catch up on their return, rather than imposing “draconian” fines .
Since becoming education secretary, Michael Gove has taken a tough stance on the issue of term-time holidays. A previous policy which allowed schools to grant up to 10 days holiday a year to families in “special circumstances” has been scrapped, with parents who flout the rules risking fines or even prosecution. Parents can be fined £60 for an unauthorised absence, rising to £2,500 if the case goes to court.
Official guidance says heads can only grant permission for an authorised absence in “exceptional” circumstances, and calls on parents to sign a “parenting contract” in which they commit themselves to try and get their child to attend school.
Research published this week by the Nationwide building society revealed that more than a third of parents say they are risking fines and prosecution because they are not prepared to pay a premium for inflated holiday prices when schools are closed, with one in five dishonestly blaming their child’s absence on an invented illness.
But in his blog, Mr Powell-Davies claims that the hard-line policies are being used to drive a wedge between parents and teachers, and calls on the NUT to make it “crystal clear that it is not teachers who want to impose these fines but school managements under direct pressure from the government.”
“In the past, many schools would have taken a more relaxed attitude to requests to take children out of school for holidays or overseas visits,” he writes.
“Now, with schools under immense pressure to achieve both ever-improving exam results and attendance rates, more heads are refusing to authorise absence requests with, under new legislation, some parents facing fines as a result.
“This draconian approach amounts to discrimination against working-class families who are unable to choose the timing of their annual leave - and ignores the benefits of families being able to have such a break together.
"As the actual government guidance says, head teachers will want to consider ‘the frequency of the request; whether the parent gave advance notice; and the pupil's attainment, attendance and ability to catch up on missed schooling’.
“Surely it would be better for parents and schools to come up with suitable arrangements for students to try and catch up on missed schooling rather than to threaten fines and unreasonably refuse holidays?”
In May, the leadership of the NAHT heads' union called for members to explore having a shorter summer holiday and staggering term dates, in order to help parents avoid inflated prides. However the plans were not backed at the union's annual conference.
The heat is on over long summer holidays - May 2014