Leave of absence during term time
Children of school age who are registered at a school must, by law, attend that school regularly. Regular attendance is important, not just because the law requires it but also because it is the best way of ensuring children make the most of the educational opportunities available to them.
When a child is absent from school, he or she misses not only the teaching provided on the days when absent, but is also less prepared for the lessons building on that when returning. There is a consequent risk of underachievement.
There may be occasions when a child has to miss school - for example, if they are unwell. Any other absences should be kept to an absolute minimum. In particular, parents should not be taking children out of school during term-time in order to go on holiday.
What the Law says about term time holidays
The regulations make it clear that parents do not have any right or entitlement to take a child out of school during term time. Regulations introduced in 2013 state that Headteachers may not, unless there are exceptional circumstances, authorise absences during term time for the purposes of an annual family holiday.
What are 'exceptional circumstances'?
It is the decision of the Headteacher as to what might constitute exceptional circumstances and each request for term-time absence will be considered on an individual basis. The Headteacher will not accept as an exceptional circumstance the fact that a holiday is cheaper during term time. An exceptional circumstance is much more likely to be a one-off, unique situation e.g. a parent, grandparent or other close relative is seriously ill and the holiday proposed is likely to be the last such holiday; there may have been a significant trauma in the family recently and the Headteacher might consider that an immediate holiday might enable the child concerned to better deal with the situation; or the holiday might be a unique, one-off never-to-be repeated occasion which can only take place at the time requested.
In some cases a parent’s employer might restrict holidays to a certain time-period. In these circumstances the Headteacher may ask for written confirmation from the employer.
The Headteacher will also look very carefully at the child’s previous attendance record and should he or she have concerns, for example should the child’s average attendance be a cause for concern, it is highly unlikely that the Headteacher will agree to authorise any further absence.
Issues parents need to be aware of
Should a school not agree to grant leave and parents take their child on holiday in spite of this then this will be counted as unauthorised absence - this is the same as ‘truancy’. (Schools are now legally required to record. as a specific category. all absences that occur because of family holidays taken without authorisation)..
Should leave be granted but the child remain absent for longer than agreed then this extra time will be recorded as unauthorised absence. Should a child fail to return to school within 10 school days of the agreed return date and there is no contact from the parents the school may remove the child’s name from the school roll. There is no guarantee that the place would remain unfilled. The school will also inform its Education Welfare Officer. In these circumstances the parents would be responsible for ensuring that their child was registered at and attends another school. (In such circumstances parents would not be entitled to receive any assistance with regard to transport).
Leave of absence taken without authorisation may be referred to the Education Welfare Service. This may result in prosecution proceedings, or a Fixed Penalty Notice. If a Fixed Penalty Notice is issued, a separate Notice would be issued to each parent for each child.
The penalty is per parent per child and will be £60 if paid within 21 days, rising to £120 if paid between 22 & 28 days.
If the penalty notice is not paid each parent may be liable to prosecution at the Magistrates Court, and if proved, each notice may receive a criminal conviction and/or a fine to the maximum of £1,000 plus costs.
Fixed Penalty Notices can be issued for an unauthorised leave of absence of 10 or more consecutive ½ day sessions.
Why term-time absences should be avoided
Headteachers recognise that parents’ circumstances (financial position, working commitments, etc) vary enormously, but they are nonetheless required to ensure that children only miss school if it is absolutely unavoidable. Headteachers will wish to reduce the amount of time lost to learning because they believe that a child’s absence during term-time can seriously disrupt his or her continuity of learning. There is a consequent risk of underachievement, which both Headteachers and parents will wish to avoid.