School holiday rules hit pupil sport stars, MP says

Tory MP says heads should not be sole arbiters of when pupils can miss school during term time

Mark Smulian


Children are being preventing from participating in international level sport because schools refuse to allow term-time holidays, a Conservative MP has said.

The claim has come from Steve Double, MP for St Austell and Newquay, in a parliamentary debate on attendance.

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Mr Double told parliament: “I know of children who had been selected to compete at international level in their sport, yet their school refused to grant them leave to go and represent their country.”

He said the rules were inconsistently applied and said “I do not believe it should simply be down to headteachers to determine for which events or experiences it is appropriate for children to miss school.

“Making that decision should primarily be the responsibility of parents, in conjunction with the school.”

The government had not provided schools with guidance on what constituted "exceptional circumstances" for allowing term-time holidays, the MP said, and he questioned whether local authorities viewed fining parents of absentees mainly as a means of income generation.

Labour MP Helen Goodman said that in her Bishop Auckland constituency, Timothy Hackworth School had “real worries that if it falls below 96 per cent attendance, because a contagious disease or another perfectly valid reason pushes the number of absences up, Ofsted will mark it down”.

Mr Double said a headteacher had recently told him that a school deemed "outstanding" in all other respects could be rated as "requires improvement" if it missed the attendance target, a situation the MP said “seems bonkers to me”.

Turning to child mental health, Mr Double said he knew of parents “at their wits’ end”, because schools would not allow children time off until they had a medical diagnosis, which could take many months to secure.

Responding to the debate, schools minister Nick Gibb did not address the points about sports or mental health, but said: “There is a correlation between time absent from school and attainment.”

He added: “The government has made the rules clear: no child should be taken out of school without good reason. We have put headteachers back in control by supporting them, and local authorities, to use their powers to deal with absence."

No guidance had been issued on granting leave because “schools know their pupils better than the [Department for Education], and can consider the specific details and relevant context behind each request for a leave of absence”.

He said Ofsted would continue to look for “clear and effective behaviour and attendance policies”.

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Mark Smulian

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