Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Time for common sense, not spot-fines nonsense.

The requirement of parents to ensure that their children attend school "regularly" is nothing new: it isn't a Blair-era piece of government control, it dates back to the 1944 Education Act. This was successfully used recently by a parent in the Isle of Wight to challenge fines issued for a term-time holiday.  However, the debate has gone way beyond family holidays, with the schools minister suggesting that it was unacceptable for pupils to miss school due to a family bereavement.

Nick Gibb, parrot-like schools minister trots out the "evidence" that any missed schooling- even a day, even through illness- has a negative effect on children's education. Like many in the DfE, he is selective about which "evidence" he quotes word-for-word: evidence that shows, say, community schools improving faster than academies is not used.  What his selective and out of context data does not take into account is that the whole circumstances of family circumstances, and children's physical and mental health and wellbeing are unique to every child, and do not fit in a crude table.

Privately-educated Tory MP Gibb told Radio 4: "If it’s something like a funeral or something, then the head teacher would be able to give permission to attend the funeral, but not to have an extended holiday on the back of that funeral or other compassionate circumstances." (See also Daily Telegraph here

Yep- you've got it. Grieving for the loss of a parent, sibling or other close person isn't an excuse for giving a child compassionate time to come to terms with the situation.  It's not bereavement time- it's "an extended holiday."

Perhaps Nick Gibb and his DfE colleagues think that these children would be able to access help in school via those specialist children's mental health services such as CAHMS... Oh wait- that would be the CAHMS service that is facing massive cuts, on top of the nearly £600 million real terms cut it faced under the coalition government. (If you haven't signed the Change.org petition against CAHMS cuts, please do so here

The thorny issue of students being taken out of school for family holidays is an issue that often divides staffrooms. I know of colleagues who support the zero-tolerance approach, and many others who see it as a nonsense.  The NUT does not appear to have clear policy on this- I certainly don't recall it being debated at annual conference recently.  I hope that when it does, the Union will call for an end to the 2013 blanket ban on term-time leave, allowing some common sense to be applied, and, in particular end the role of schools in the issuing of fines to parents.  The Local Government Association recently called for a common sense approach, and this was supported by the Union, through Deputy General Secretary, Kevin Courtney, who said:
"The LGA is right to highlight the problems that occur as a result of Government and Ofsted’s policy to fine parents who request permission to take children out of school during term time. It has caused great irritation amongst parents and is not supported by the majority of teachers.
“There are many reasons why families on occasions have to request leave during term time, not least the huge hike in prices for holidays during school breaks. What has to be remembered is requested leave is not the same as truancy and should not be viewed as such. Of course children’s education is very important but adopting a common sense approach as advocated by the LGA will ensure that unnecessary tensions between schools and parents/ carers do not arise.  
“The NUT will be working with other unions and parent groups to try and resolve this unsatisfactory situation.” (Source: NUT Press Release 21.10.15)


Nick Gibb and the exclusively privately educated and wealthy ministers at DfE miss one important fact when they try to defend their policy through sterile number-crunching. Whatever the impact of missing a few days schooling is on a child's attainment, the relationship of support and trust between school and home is far, far more important.  For many of our children, from ordinary backgrounds in ordinary schools,  the school itself is the most consistent and safe space in their young lives- it needs to be a place that stands up for children and stands alongside parents who trust it, not somewhere that hands out fines like an educational traffic warden.

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