Schools used to have some discretion in granting leave of absence in term time, but ‘The Education (Penalty Notices) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, amended previous legislation to “clarify that leave of absence shall not be granted by schools unless there are “exceptional circumstances.” This was justified, by the way, by data showing that “90 per cent of pupils with an absence rate of less than 4 per cent achieved 5 or more A*- C grades at GCSE or equivalent. In primary schools, 4 out of 5 pupils with an absence rate of less than 4 per cent achieved level 4 or above in both English and mathematics.”
This cherry-picked data implies that parents are more likely to take primary aged children out of school, which seems to be the anecdotal evidence which one hears at the school gate. It also suggests that absence is an issue for a small number of children in any given school, and not a widespread problem. The DfE’s own data suggested that, of 4.9 million children in education, 0.65% were fined for unauthorised absence in 2010/11. But as a result of data driven nonsense, everyone has to suffer under Whitehall’s restrictive practices.
Now, I have had some spectacular excuses from parents for not bring a child to school – my favourites being that a particular child had to get a haircut and ‘it’s always busy at the weekend’ closely followed by ‘his little brother needed some new shoes, so I took him to get some new ones at the same time.’ Those were for single day absences however. A week’s absence, often added to an existing school holiday is not uncommon, as is the request to take a child out of school early to get away for a long weekend. It might be worth knowing the following information.
Firstly, for a single day’s absence. Schools will always allow children medical absences and time off for music exams, so booking in a medical appointment or music exam at 8:30am on a day you want off school will ensure that your child is marked absent with no comeback to you. If you want to get off early, simply ask to pick your child up straight after afternoon registration; most schools will be more than happy to let your child go once their attendance box has been ticked.
Secondly, to add a week’s holiday. Schools can only allow absences in “exceptional circumstances”, which is usually interpreted as being for a funeral of a family member. This can also be for a memorial service too, however. And that memorial service can be anywhere, at any time. As long as you make a genuine effort – and who knows, we should remember the dearly departed in places which they may have enjoyed or dreamed of visiting – school will find it much easier to accept that the event which you have arranged halfway up a mountain or in a restaurant overlooking a beautiful beach to remember and celebrate the life of a much loved relative counts as exceptional circumstances. So go ahead, organise a memorable event and give your children an opportunity to celebrate their family history.
I will say that these suggestions are offered simply because the DfE’s data-driven nonsense is not in any way relevant to most people’s lives, in which parents do what they can for their children and don’t take their children out of school without considering the implications this might have. Problem absence can’t be tackled by percentages in spreadsheets which are largely ignored by Ofsted and central government; it needs schools to be aware of and to investigate issues on the ground. The absence data for a school is largely meaningless bureaucracy and subverting it by playing the DfE at its own game seems entirely reasonable.