Are term time holiday fines causing absences to rise?
The term time holiday debate is always controversial. If you accidentally wade into it on Twitter or Facebook it is guaranteed you will have lots of people disagreeing with your view, no matter what it is. The government guidelines are clear on the matter from their point of view – term time holidays should only be taken with authorisation from the school’s head teacher, and this must only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Councils can also fine a parent £60 for each child’s unauthorised absence from school. However, when you dig down to find out what is classed as an “exceptional circumstance” and also whether or not a specific council will fine you, how much, and in which situations, it gets much harder to find a clear answer to what the expectation and repercussions may be. Some high profile cases have hit the media where parents have fought back against fines although success rates have varied.
Many parents, and some teachers, will argue that a term time holiday with family can actually be a good thing if it has some educational content i.e. visiting a cultural capital or exploring mountain ranges. However, there is much less support for a week in Butlin’s or a fortnight swimming in the on-resort pool in Majorca. The main support comes from those who understand that for many parents the £60 fine is much cheaper than the extra £600+ they may have to pay per person to go on holiday to their dream destination during school holidays. There is another discussion in there about holiday cost variation from term time to holidays but we will leave that for another time!
For schools and teachers, however, the real pain point comes when they need to find a way to fill in learning gaps for pupils who have been on holiday during term time. Content of the curriculum still needs to be covered and with Performance Related Pay coming into play around exam and test results, it is inevitable that teachers and schools feel angry that parents feel they can take a week’s holiday to save their own pockets when teachers are stuck with holiday costs at astronomical figures regardless. AND then they have to spend extra hours giving lunchtime catch ups or weekend revisions sessions as well as producing more homework for holiday takers. As I said, it’s a controversial topic and we have only touched on the top of the iceberg in terms of different views and reasons.
However, term time holidays are perhaps not the main source of absence issues happening in schools. For many children who have low attendance figures, the issue is not holidays but persistent random absence and lateness. These children are also more likely to have other issues, parents who are harder to contact, and lower attainment scores overall than those who are taken out for a family holiday once a year, as a general rule.
Although a holiday can have an impact it is at least very visible and parents tend to have at least a modicum of understanding that they are causing disruption – as they will have had to fill in a form in advance and then pay a fine afterwards.
Persistent school avoiders, however, present a different set of issues and are not usually as repentant or as willing to complete the extra work created to catch them up with their results. A pattern where a school is constantly chasing a child/parent to see why they are absent also takes up a lot of extra time and stress. The teacher is having to keep very strict records of attendance to even figure out what the pupil has and hasn’t missed. Some pupils may be late and keep missing the same lesson every morning, but not have missed any other subjects, so this presents a longer term issue in one subject.
It is also necessary to track persistent absence where there is always an excuse or other. Figuring out to what extent multiple late sessions or missed sessions is due to genuine reasons the school can support with (no fixed abode, moving often, ongoing illness or disability, for example) or simply a school avoidance issue, takes careful tracking and some sensitive work by the Attendance Officer at the school.
Some families simply forget to pick up the phone in the morning and call in when they take their children to emergency doctor or dentist appointments, or when they are running late. For some families it is more about mindset and culture and may need much more work to get to the bottom of the problems and underlying causes.
Every situation, every family, every child who has persistent absence will their own story. Fixing it is not usually easy although occasionally a quick win helps (releasing funds for a bus pass for example) can solve the issue. However, we are aware that there is nothing we can do to help with these very individual cases.
What we can do, however, is help you with the chasing, the registering, and the tracking of absence. Our Premium Mobile App, free to download for parents once you are all set up, allows parents to log absences and even add a digital signature from their mobile device wherever they are. Not only does this reduce your paperwork, but also saves you needing to kick your First Day Calling procedures into place when they are not required. We would hope that parents are not signing their parent off sick whilst they are sat on a sunny beach somewhere on the Spanish coast, but we cannot stop that either. Imagine if you had all of the stats and information to hand, however, when you need it for those difficult conversations.
Save the office staff and Attendance Officer from a load of phone calls by setting up the mobile app for your school. Then your resources can go into supporting the families who really need it. Contact us to find out more or see our website for pricing and more information.