I have considerable sympathy for the increasing number of parents who are being fined for taking their kids on family holidays during school term time.
I imagine those responsible for the recent rule change (which only allows a headteacher to authorise a pupil’s absence in ‘exceptional circumstances’) are people who have 9 to 5 jobs, with every weekend off and annual leave allocations which can always be taken within school holiday periods.
Many professions, including some who work in the emergency services, do not have that luxury. There were periods during my police career when I would hardly see my daughters because of the lengthy unsociable hours I was required to work. I would often plan to go to school shows or watch my kids play sport but would be unable to go because of a serious incident or have my rest days cancelled for operational reasons. In 30 years, I was never off work at both Christmas and New Year; I always worked at least one and sometimes both.
The only time I could guarantee spending with my family was if I was abroad on holiday and therefore unable to be recalled to duty.
Unfortunately, because the police is a 24 hour 365 days a year business, not everyone can have leave during the school holidays. That meant some years there would have been no family holiday if we hadn’t taken the kids out of school.
Where possible we would go away during the school holidays but I also fully understand why some people just cannot afford to travel during these peak periods.
I have been glancing through my photo albums and our family holidays stand out as among my happiest memories.
The absences from school had no significant effect on our daughters’ education whatsoever, although we did not take them out of school during key examination years. Between them my two daughters now have 20 GCSEs, eight A levels, mostly A grade passes, and a university degree.
The fines currently being imposed under section 444 of the Education Act 1996 in many cases are both unfair and cruel to loving families. At least one holiday firm is now offering discounted holidays to cover the cost of the fine and others will no doubt follow.
This Draconian action needs to cease and headteachers once again need to be granted the flexibility to sensibly authorise pupil absence.