Olympics set to trigger a race for term-time holidays

13th January 2012 at 00:00
Schools may find themselves 'inundated' with requests for leave

for most of the capital's schools, the idea of Olympic disruption is remote. That this enormous infrastructure project may interfere with the day-to-day antics of the classroom seems little more than hypothetical, especially because the three-week extravaganza falls within the summer holidays.

But a missive from the Department for Education this week has brought the possible scale of disruption into very sharp focus for London heads. Indeed, teachers have been warned that they could be "inundated" with requests from parents, especially essential workers, to take their children out of school during term time, ahead of the Olympic flame being lit.

The reason? Because of the Games, thousands of Londoners - police officers, firefighters and medics - will be working throughout the summer holidays, with stricter restrictions on when they take leave. In fact, the whole of this summer will be a busy period for the emergency services: as well as the Olympics, they will be on duty during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June.

But the DfE guidance has urged parents not to take their children out of school and to instead "consider other opportunities" such as half-term breaks. School leaders have been told they should consider each request "on its merits" and only grant approval for term-time holidays under "special circumstances".

There will be a heightened police presence from the time the Olympic flame enters the country in May until the Paralympics end in September. On peak days, it is estimated that 12,000 officers - 9,000 in London - will police the Games. It is the biggest ever policing operation in England and forces will bring in restrictions on officers taking annual leave.

Those representing police officers are disappointed with the DfE's response to this issue. John Coppen, the Police Federation's national lead for the Olympics, told TES there was a risk of headteachers being "inundated" with requests from parents to take their children out of school. Indeed, he has gone further, asking the DfE to come up with other solutions, such as staggering school holidays.

"We understand you can't just go carte blanche into a school and ask to take your children out, but we would like an acknowledgement that a large tranche of the population won't be enjoying the Olympics," he said. "They will be working hard to make sure they go ahead and it would be good if they had the chance for family time at some stage.

"This guidance passes the buck down to somebody else. I'm sure headteachers won't love being inundated with individual requests from police, doctors, nurses and firefighters asking for family holidays in term time."

The DfE guidance does leave open the small possibility of term-time holidays being granted. School leaders should, in fact, be able to grant leave "entirely at their discretion", but only when a "child's attainment, attendance and ability to catch up on missed lessons" has been taken into account.

Explaining the decision to issue the guidance, a DfE spokesman said it had been "contacted by a number of police constabularies on behalf of their staff, and unions representing the police and fire services have been in touch ... to seek clarity".

But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said "floodgates would open" if parents used their profession as a reason for term-time holidays. "We recognise this is a special occasion, but many parents already have restrictions on when they can take leave," he said. "Everyone wants children to achieve the highest standards. If they miss crucial weeks of school they will fall behind in their work."

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