Term-time holidays still a hot topic

John Holdich
John Holdich
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Headteachers having the option to fine parents for taking their children out of school has been a hot topic since the government clamped down on term-time absence four years ago, Peterborough City Council leader cllr John Holdich writes.

I have great sympathy with parents who try and avoid more costly holidays, and I’m aware that for some families going away during term time is the difference between having a holiday and not because of the huge cost difference.

But, last week’s Supreme Court ruling in the case of Jon Platt from the Isle of Wight, who was fined £120 for taking his daughter out of school for a holiday to Florida, has helped highlight the need for parents to heed the rules and for their children to attend school regularly, unless there are exceptional or unavoidable circumstances.

I receive lots of emails and letters from parents who are unhappy that they cannot take their children out of school without the risk of a fine.

But, there are very good reasons which are in the best interests of a child’s education as to why the rules apply. It’s so important that children attend school so that they can reach their full potential. It is more difficult for children to do this when they are being taken out of school during term time.

The judgement in the Isle of Wight case explained it well and cited the ‘clear statistical link between school attendance and educational achievement’ and the disruption absences can have on a child’s education. Work missed has to be made up, requiring extra work by the teacher who has already covered and marked the subject matter with other pupils.

Having to make up for one pupil’s absence may also disrupt the work of other pupils and group learning will be less effective with smaller classes. Importantly, if one pupil can be taken out whenever it suits the parent, then so can others. You could end up with a situation where classes are disrupted every day of the week by children being absent.

In our own schools, rates of attendance are the best we have ever seen and in line with the national average at 95.4 per cent. When you compare us with local authorities of a similar size, there is only one which is performing better than us which is fantastic.

This is a testament to the hard work of staff in schools and at the council to continually promote the importance of good rates of attendance, and also the care of parents in fulfilling their duty to ensure that children attend school.

There are almost 600 more children attending school regularly now than there were five years ago, and this is something of which the city should be very proud.

I wish I had the answer to help those parents who are annoyed and frustrated that they have to pay a higher price for their holidays. I have looked into how we might be able to change our term times in Peterborough so that they are out of kilter with the rest of the country. But I have found that for as many people who would support this, there are as many who would not.

Until there is an answer, we will continue to promote good school attendance and push our rates of attendance even higher.

Parents of children who start school this September, and applied on time, will find out next Tuesday which school they have been offered a place at. It’s a nerve wracking and exciting time for parents and I hope that everyone gets the offer that they want.

We know that the next few months can also be a worrying time for parents, making sure their little ones are ready to start school. That is why we are hosting a school readiness event, START, in Queensgate Shopping Centre next Tuesday and Wednesday (18/19 April), to offer parents resources, information and support to help get their children ready for the big day. There’ll be fun activities including storytelling and singing.

It’s never too early to start helping your children get ready for school, so if you have time, please stop by.