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Holiday rap for errant parents

Primary issues strongly-worded letter to stop children being taken out of class for family travels. Biddy Passmore reports

A ROMAN Catholic primary has told parents that their children will be removed from the school roll if they are absent on holiday for more than 10 days during term-time without permission.

Margaret Smart, chairman of governors at St Bernadette's primary, Brighton, said: "There is no automatic right to authorised absence from school."

In a letter to parents she warns that the school could suffer financially as council auditors may require repayment of funding for pupils who have prolonged or repeated absence from school. And she points out that parents who knowingly prevent their children from attending school - for instance, by taking them on holiday - can be taken to court.

The strong action follows a letter last November from Mrs Smart and Bernadette Connor, the headteacher, urging parents to reconsider any plans they might have to take holidays in term-time.

This did not produce the generally positive response they had hoped for - partly, says Mrs Connor, because parents had already booked holidays of up to a month.

"The nub of the problem is that parents are almost bribed to take their holidays in term-time by tour operators," Mrs Smart said. She stressed that the parents were generally very supportive of the school.

Her latest letter follows government guidance on attendance but the rules have come as a surprise to many parents. They have also been taken aback by the tone of the letter.

It states that long absences during term-time hamper the progress of children and their classmates. They have also brought the school's attendance rate down to 94.2 per cent: anything below 95 per cent is considered a trigger for concern by the Office for Standards in Education.

"Parents have come to believe that their children are entitled to 10 days'

holiday each year during term-time," said Mrs Smart. "This is not the case."

Only in exceptional circumstances will the head grant leave of absence for holidays taken in term-time, the letter says.

It adds: "If a pupil is absent from school on holiday for more than 10 days without authorisation, hisher name will, save in exceptional circumstances, be removed from the school roll."

Mrs Smart makes it clear, however, that authorised absence will always be granted by the head on compassionate grounds, for instance when a family member has died.

The school's stance was backed by Brighton and Hove Council, which has encouraged schools to be more hard-headed about absence.

"For obvious academic reasons we fully support schools in their efforts to stop parents taking their children on holiday during term-time," a council spokesman said.

But he added that the financial penalties referred to by Mrs Smart would only occur "in the case of a very long absence".

Tackling the truants, 14

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