The issue - Term-time leave

8th April 2011 at 01:00
Rules on time off for teachers outside the school holidays are complex - especially where weddings are involved

Teachers in the Scottish Highlands have been refused a day's holiday to mark the royal wedding. On reflection, it's not surprising. After all, Wick and Westminster are a long way apart, and in Scotland public exams begin earlier than in England - on 3 May. In any case, why should teachers be free to watch Wills and Kate tie the knot when they would be lucky to get time off for their own big day?

The rules governing term-time leave are complicated - and weddings in particular are a delicate area. Bizarrely, many local authorities allow teachers time off for the wedding of a relative, but not for their own wedding - the logic being that you can't control when other people get married, but if you're setting the date yourself, you have 13 weeks' holiday to choose from, and therefore no excuse.

That view is shared by the public, judging by the reaction to news that a teacher at Seaham School of Technology in Durham is being allowed a week's honeymoon in term-time. Is Seaham head David Shield just a great big softy? Not exactly. "The teacher in question has only just joined us," he says. "They'd already agreed the dates with their previous head, which put me in a tricky position. Normally, I'd expect teachers to take their honeymoon during the holidays."

Malcolm Trobe, policy director at heads' union ASCL, says while heads are free to use discretion, they should be careful not to set precedents. "Heads want to keep staff happy," he says. "But schools should have a clear written policy about term-time leave, and the fairest thing is to apply those rules consistently."

So when is time off allowed? In most authorities, up to five days' paid leave is granted following the death of a spouse or close family member. But leave for the funeral of a friend will usually be unpaid. "It's an awkward one," says Mr Trobe. "There was a time when teachers would simply ask a colleague to cover for them while they went to the funeral. But the `rarely cover' rule has put a stop to that."

Public duties, including jury service, carry statutory paid leave, as do governors' meetings and exam-board duties. And should you get a call-up to the England squad, rest assured that international sports duties are also in the paid leave category. In the real world, there's the issue of time off for job interviews. This should always be paid leave - though if you're considering jobs in the Maldives, note that some authorities have a "UK only" clause.

Finally, work done during the holidays - attending a course or running a trip - does not entitle you to time off in lieu - but if you are negotiating leave, you might mention those occasions when you have gone the extra mile. Just do not necessarily expect heads to be sympathetic.

"Teachers have to set an example," says Vicki Paterson, executive head at the Brindishe schools in Lewisham, south London. "Unless something is completely unforeseen there's no excuse for not arranging it in your own time. I can't ask parents not to take their children out of school during term-time and then allow a teacher to go for a wedding dress fitting. It just wouldn't be right."


- Schools must have a written leave of absence policy, based on LA guidelines.

- The illness or death of a close family member carries a statutory entitlement to time off. But the length and nature of the leave may vary.

- Requests for leave should be made in writing, giving as much notice as possible.

- In some cases you may be asked to make up the time at a later date.

- If you feel a request has been unfairly denied, contact your union.

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