THE UK’s highest court made a ruling that means parents cannot take their children out of school for a holiday during term-time without the school’s permission.
A father from the Isle of Wight who was fined after he took his daughter on a two-week trip to Disney World when she should have been at school lost his legal battle and has been ordered to pay a £120 fine he was handed by the council.
Warrington’s unauthorised school absence rate stands at 1.1 per cent, which is in line with the national figure.
And 46 per cent of those unauthorised days off were taken because children went on holiday during term time.
But head teachers say any absence from school has a big impact on children’s grades and their wellbeing.
One primary school head teacher said the key message is that attendance leads to achievement.
Head teacher at Sir Thomas Boteler High School, Beverley Scott-Herron, said she has ‘huge sympathy’ for parents who face rising costs for holidays and childcare but she added that absences are not good for pupils, with many students working towards their GCSEs.
“The biggest impact of term-time holidays is on pupils’ learning. I understand how expensive it is to go away during the holidays and that people want to have time together as a family. However, from an education point of view the impact that it has is huge,” she said.
“Teachers help the students who have missed school try and catch up. That affects the other children and teachers,
“Students being on holiday and not in school also does not send out a positive message to others pupils.”
She added that attendance is an important issue at all schools and teachers want to work with parents to make sure children get the most out of lessons: “We want the relationships we have with parents and families to be good ones. If children are in school they have a much better chance of doing well. We want the best for our pupils.”
A spokesman for Warrington Borough Council revealed that 139 families had been put on the fast track to prosecution for failing to make sure their children attended school regularly in the past year, with 25 of those parents being prosecuted by magistrates.
Warrington Borough Council itself does not fine parents for school absences but if a family is taken to court, they may be fined by magistrates.
Children need to have 90 per cent attendance at school or the council will intervene.
But there is support from the council’s attendance team for parents who are struggling to get their children to go to school.
Woolston Community Primary head teacher Craig Burgess said term-time absences mean children get behind at school, miss out on fun experiences with friends and that they also have consequences for other pupils.
He said: “To take children off at key times, like the start of term, has a massive impact on the pupil, the teachers and the other children.
“When the child comes back, the teacher may need to spend extra time with them helping them catch up. This takes the teacher away from the rest of the class.”
Term-time absences can also be bad for a child’s wellbeing and Mr Burgess added: “Taking time off at the start of September is the worst possible thing they can do because they are all settling in.
“They have all got their coat pegs and met their new teacher. They miss fun events at school and making friends. There is no good time to be off school.”
He said that all it takes is for a child who has been off school to become sick and suddenly their attendance can drop below the 90 per cent required.
“If they are off sick as well, all of a sudden they can be missing half a month or a month of school. It can become a significant amount of time,” he added.
“I do have sympathy for parents who can’t take time off in the school holidays, in key jobs like immigration officials or seasonal workers. We try to work with those families.
“All head teachers are sympathetic to the financial pressures faced by parents but not to the detriment of other children in the class. No teacher wants a child to feel left behind.
“Attendance is linked to good attainment.”
Mr Burgess said everybody is sympathetic to the higher price of family trips during school holidays, and emphasized this is a problem all school staff face as well, but he said parents should consider the impact of missed classes on their child.
Figures from the Department for Education show that the amount of unauthorised absences among primary school children in Warrington was slightly higher than the national average of 0.9 per cent last year, at 1 per cent.
Secondary schools in the town found that 1.3 per cent of school days missed were unauthorised, which is just below the national level of 1.4 per cent.
Some councils fine parents for taking time off school but the National Union of Teachers said this is ‘entirely wrong’.
A spokesman said: “Parents generally do all they can to keep children in school and teachers want them to do that.
“However there will be occasions when families will have a planned holiday in term time. This can be for a many reasons such as family commitments or parents unable to take leave in the school holidays.
“Many parents will be able to afford the fine and it will not be a deterrent.”
But Shaun Everett, secretary of Warrington NUT, said that government measures to stop parents from taking children out of school during term-time could cause ‘unnecessary tensions’ between head teachers and families.