Poll: Is it too early to book a family summer holiday? Headteacher criticises ‘cynical’ parents over term-time breaks

Simon Letman, headteacher at Holbrook Academy.

Simon Letman, headteacher at Holbrook Academy. - Credit: Archant

Dr Simon Letman, headteacher of Holbrook Academy, said “it is time to make a stand” against term-time holidays.

Headteachers can only permit term-time absences in “exceptional circumstances”. Before the Government revamp in September 2013, they were able to grant pupil absences for up to 10 days a year for family holidays in “special circumstances”.

Opponents argue poor households struggle to pay for expensive summer holidays as firms put up prices.

But Dr Letman said: “I am disappointed parents feel that sometimes they have to tell fibs. They will report an illness when clearly there is not an illness, when students are being taken on holidays during term time cynically because flights and accommodation are cheaper.

“Each day that the child is away from school unauthorised affects their learning. We try to work in partnership with parents and have a good working relationship with them, but some just ignore the rules.

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“Some frankly don’t care and they know that if they do get a penalty notice, the amount they have saved on the cost of the holiday will more than compensate for that, so it is cynical and we certainly take a dim view of it.

“I understand that some families will find it very difficult, if not impossible, to afford family holidays during the standard school holiday time, but I can’t have sympathy with their approach because my job is to ensure that children get the best possible outcomes and they will only do that if they are in school for 100% of the time.”

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Currently, if an absence is not authorised, local authorities have an obligation to fine parents and enforce legal proceedings on behalf of schools.

Under the current system, parents who take children out of school without permission could face a £60 fine per child, rising to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days.

Those who fail to pay can face prosecution, with a maximum fine, if convicted, of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

This newspaper previously revealed the number of Suffolk parents convicted over their child’s school attendance doubled from 149 in 2012/13 to 309 in 2014/15. The number of Fixed Penalty Notices dramatically rose from 256 to 2,736 over the two years.

The Local Government Association has said there are occasions where parents’ requests should be considered, such as religious festivals, weddings, funerals or an “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

Prime Minister David Cameron has previously said that he has “sympathy” for parents struggling financially.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Unauthorised absences are for councils to take action where necessary, including prosecuting parents for failing to secure their child’s attendance at school.

“The most recent attendance figures show we have made real progress. Some 200,000 fewer pupils regularly miss school compared with five years ago.”

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