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Class struggle – when are term-time holidays legal?

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 23 September 2015
  2. Family
  3. 0 comments
Family going on holiday

With the new school term in full swing, the last thing on most parents’ minds is the idea of spending more time with the kids. But one thing may serve as a temptation to extend the summer holidays and take the kids out of school - along with the new school term comes an inevitable plummet in holiday prices.

There’s no question that travel companies raise their prices during the peak season of the school summer holiday, so it’s no wonder many families would prefer to go during term time and avoid both the crowds and a bigger hit to the wallet.

Unfortunately, it’s no longer as accepted as it once was to take children out of school to go on holiday. Warning of the effects on a child’s education that can result from missing a week or two of classes, the government has cracked down on term-time holidays within the past few years, making them a thing of the past in most cases.

In September 2013, new legislation was introduced which toughened up the rules on school absences. Whereas before, headteachers were able to authorise up to 10 days off for family holidays during term time, they’re now limited to granting leave only in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

What are ‘exceptional circumstances’?

Unfortunately for the frugal-minded family, reasons such as wanting a cheaper holiday or avoiding the crowds won’t make the cut when it comes to getting authorisation for term-time getaways. While the exact definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ is up to individual headteachers, there is an onus on them to ensure that it reflects serious situations in which a term-time absence is genuinely the only option.

Anything which could be reasonably scheduled during the normal school holidays is off the table, so the only options are really for one-off situations where you have no choice. These include important family events like weddings or funerals, and important religious observances.

While these may not be your idea of a relaxing holiday, there are some reasons that an opportunity to go on holiday would be accepted – but many of them are not exactly what you would call fun. For example, if a family member is terminally ill and it is likely to be the child’s last opportunity to spend time with them, this would be an acceptable reason for absence. Families wishing to spend time together following a traumatic experience may also be granted permission. Children could also be taken out of school to holiday with family members serving in the armed forces whose leave from an operational tour may not coincide with school holidays.

It’s important to remember that even if you have a valid reason for your child to miss school, you need to get written approval from the headteacher before you do it. You can’t just have them not show up and explain your reasons afterwards (except, of course, when an absence is down to unforeseen circumstances such as the child being ill).

What if we just go anyway?

With all these rules in place, it is of course tempting to simply go away on holiday and deal with the consequences afterwards. Many people do just this, assuming there isn’t really much the school can do about it.

However, if your child misses school without a good reason, every adult responsible for the child could be hit with a £60 fine. This rises to £120 if it isn’t paid within 21 days, and if you don’t pay within 28 days you could even face prosecution – meaning a fine of up to £2,500, a jail sentence of up to 3 months or a community order. Prosecution also means that you would have to attend parenting classes and would have to do whatever the court says to improve your child’s school attendance.

While the initial fine may sound cheap (you could, after all, save more than £60 on the cost of your holiday), the government has stressed that the penalty fine is imposed because taking children out of school without permission is a criminal offence. Whether that’s enough to sway you from the promise of a bargain getaway is up to you.

Will things be like this forever?

Fortunately for beleaguered parents, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. There has been a lot of pressure on the government to try and improve the situation, and new laws have just been brought in this month which gives headteachers more leeway to set their own term dates. This means that the timing of the school summer holidays could become more flexible in future, giving families the opportunity to go on holiday outside of peak season.

It remains to be seen if any further measures will be taken to help families looking for more options when it comes to holidays. The headteacher of one school in Wales was recently lauded for scheduling the five teacher training days which are usually spread throughout the year for a single week in June, effectively closing the school to pupils and giving parents the opportunity to take an off-peak holiday that week. It’s a demonstration of the fact that the cost of peak-time summer holidays is still an issue in the spotlight, and the government may be moved to take further action about it in future.

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