Poll: Is it fair to fine parents for taking their children out of school?

Students should be in the classroom, not on the beach says Geoff Barton Students should be in the classroom, not on the beach says Geoff Barton

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
6:17 PM

Tough new anti-truancy rules proposed by Suffolk County Council could see families fined £120 if their child misses one day of school.

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Currently pupils have to miss 10 sessions, that’s one morning or afternoon, of school before a referral can be sent to the local authority.

This will prompt a warning letter but no further action will be taken if the child has no more unauthorised absences.

Under the new rules, however, a case can be referred if a pupil misses even one session of school for unauthorised reasons.

That would be met by an immediate fine of £60 per parent – £120 for two parent families.

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury.Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury.

According to a report on the subject by the council’s education officers, schools are demanding more stringent measures to counter truancy because parents increasingly aren’t deterred by the current system.

One of the main reasons for term-time absences are family holidays, which for some families become prohibitively expensive during the school break.

Many parents are willing to accept a fine for truancy because the savings they making by taking their child on holiday during term-time are so great.

Figures have previously shown that truancy rates in Suffolk are higher than those of London boroughs.

Do you take holidays in term time?Do you take holidays in term time?

Yes - Geoff Barton, head teacher of King Edward IV School in Bury St Edmunds

I am teaching Shakespeare’s most troublesome play Measure for Measure in assemblies this week. In it, the tough new Duke of Vienna, Angelo, is determined to show his authority. He pronounces: ‘We must not make a scarecrow of the law.’

Angelo knows that laws – once a powerful deterrent to immoral behaviour – have fallen into disuse. They have become trivial scarecrows that the birds now perch on.

Liz NiceLiz Nice

Looking at the reaction to the county council’s suggestion of higher fixed penalty fines for parents whose children are missing school without authorisation, you’d think that Angelo was back in charge. It’s as if they were proposing to bring back hanging.

As I understand it, the idea – not yet confirmed as policy – is a firmer deterrent to parents thinking of taking their children out of school.

It’s the way law works – deterring the majority and punishing the few.

The county council’s proposals won’t affect the vast majority of parents who see it as their obligation to send their children to school each day. But it may just focus the minds of some others.

After all, with Suffolk’s education standards under such scrutiny, we could hardly expect a culture of complacency to prevail. The law on school attendance cannot be a mere scarecrow.

When you look at what other authorities do, you sense that our county has been unexpectedly laid-back. Lancashire County Council, for example, is much tougher. Families who remove children during term time are hit with immediate fines – rather than warning letters – and, if they fail to pay, they are taken to court.

That’s because the figures are compelling. A child with 94% attendance or higher has a high chance of gaining five good grades at GCSE. When attendance falls below 85%, then their chances are less than 30%. No wonder. They will have missed thirty days in the school year.

Woody Allen was only half joking when he said that 80% of success is turning up. If you don’t attend school, you won’t experience a continuity of lessons, your understanding will become disjointed, and the essential habits and routines of learning will not be fully established.

Of course there are easy counter-arguments. Yes, teachers have been known to go on strike. Yes, lessons at the end of term in some schools can sometimes lack purpose. And, yes, of course there are students with genuine medical reasons who need different provision outside school.

But we mustn’t delude ourselves. Students in Suffolk need to do better and their teachers do too. If that means taking the same firm approach as some other areas in England, then maybe that’s one of the essential lessons that all of us will need to accept – as parents, teachers, school leaders and county councillors.

After all, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t say that standards aren’t high enough in Suffolk’s schools and then turn a blind eye to students out of school or make excuses.

It would be much easier and less provocative to do so of course, but the law is no scarecrow. And the responsibility for driving up standards lies with all of us.

No - EADT columnist Liz Nice, a former teacher, and mother of two

Have you ever noticed how the people who make decisions about how you should be spending your money always seem to have a lot more of it than you do?

And so it is this week with the powers that be cheerfully demonising all those of us who have committed the ultimate crime in today’s Tory Britain – being a bit skint.

I’m sorry, but on the one occasion when I took my children out of school for a day or so to go on holiday; it was because I wouldn’t have been able to afford a holiday that year otherwise.

Not something I imagine Michael Gove, the head honchos at Suffolk County Council or even your average head teacher has ever had to worry about.

I had an argument with someone online about this the other day. Rules are rules, he said. For heaven’s sake, what is wrong with people these days? When I was growing up, ‘rules were made to be broken’ but now we all plug doggedly along, doing as we’re told because someone with a suit on said so.

We never question why these decisions are made or for whose benefit.

So let’s do that now.

Hmm. When Michael Gove is coming up with his grand schemes, which our county council now appears minded to slavishly enact, is he, as a Tory, thinking about skint, hard working parents? Or is he, as a Tory, thinking about the benefits to big business and tourism by kettling us all into these tiny windows when we can all go on holiday at the same time as everyone else?

Tories supposedly want a free market economy but when it comes to holidays, there is no free market. We all have to go away at the same time, sending prices soaring so that meanwhile, comfortably off pensioners, who tend to vote Tory, get to go on cheap cruises to their heart’s content. (And yes, Dad, I do mean you.)

As for the argument that taking your children out of school is harmful to their education, show me the evidence? We’re not talking about long term truancy here. We’re talking about the odd day here and there to save a huge amount of money and give them a fantastic new experience of another culture.

No responsible parent would ever remove their child at a crucial exam time. It’s insulting that the State is beginning to make policy based on the presumption that we do.

And if our policy-makers are really worried about the effect on our children of a few days off, I’m sure they’ll be imposing the same laws onto all the private schools too? Where all their children go?

Of course they won’t! Because they will still want to be able to take young Montague out of school for the odd weekend in Singapore whenever they like!

If we accept this state of affairs, we are agreeing that the Education Secretary and the ‘education profession’ are better qualified to make decisions about our own children than we are. How nanny state can they get? (Funny how it’s only a Labour Government that ever gets accused of that.)

People seem to forget that we pay for our schools – they are ours. So we ought to have some say in how they are run. And they are also our children, not the Government’s.

Personally, I like to think that I am raising two intelligent, well-travelled, cosmopolitan individuals rather than a pair of insular, future UKIP-voting worker drones. And if it means they have to miss a couple of day’s education once a year (learning how to tidy the classroom and watch a DVD), then so be it.

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