"Exceptional circumstances" for authorised absence

(88 Posts)
Number42 Tue 17-Dec-13 11:29:38

We have a family celebration overseas next term which we think it is important for our kids to attend. We're going for the minimum time physically possible - 48 hours - but that still means we need to miss one day of school. The HT has refused to authorise, saying she can only do it under "exceptional circumstances". As far as we can see there's no set definition of that term, and so actually she COULD do it if she wanted to. We feel really uncomfortable: we love the school, the kids are doing well, we support it 100% and now it feels as if we've been given something like an Asbo for one day of school....Has anyone come across a definition of what are "exceptional" circumstances, or examples where HT has authorised?

beresh Wed 18-Dec-13 19:31:22

We're in Switzerland, no term time holidays are authorised and the fines for unauthorised absence are hefty (and income related) but the primary school has a system of Joker Days - up to 2 days can be taken as holiday in term time per year, separately or together.

Parents have to fill in a form, giving at least 3 days notice, but no reason needs to be given for the absence. It is at the teacher's discretion to approve the absence if the child has missed lots of school due to illness.

I'm sure something like that could work in England, surely head teachers have better things to do than weigh up requests for occasional days off.

pixiegumboot Wed 18-Dec-13 19:05:11

My reception child has watched a DVD in school, every day for the past three days. We do not allow DVDs at home. So frankly, unless my child is in school, learning every single day, I will take my child out whenever I see fit. Then we will have a discussion about what is educational, because watching tom and jerry, and the snowman certainly is not!

NearTheWindmill Wed 18-Dec-13 18:50:01

prh47bridge do you not see how this stance, however, dilutes the impact and professionalism of the HT about things that matter. If I, for example, asked for a two day absence for DC to attend something significant and it was refused on the basis that there would be an impact on their education do you not see the extent to which this would be disproportionate in relation to the practice in many primaries where no constructive work is done in the last week of term, three times a year for 3 x 5 days. I am more concerned about the impact of that than on research relating to a one day absence to be honest.

I am also concerned about the impression it creates for parents and the extent to which such a stance erodes respect for the teaching profession. My DC left primary school a long time ago but if I was refused an authorised absence for a punitive reason I would certainly be kicking up a stink. Indeed as I did when a very stiff letter was sent to all parents at our school circa 2005 (rather dictatorial on the subject of holidays) and in the run up to and after Christmas that year no less than three governors received authorisation for term time holidays and one member of staff was allowed dispensation to travel to Australia, missing the last week because fares were cheaper.

I would like to know about the research into all the learning lost at the end of term when children are watching videos, playing and generally having a hoot. When that is justified then the teaching professiona, in my opinion, can start kicking up a stink about the impact of a one day absence. It's worth thinking about I think because it flaws the argument you have presented.

We have taken our children out only for two days, authorised and in extremis.

Our DC transferred to the independent sector at 8 and 13 respectively. Interestingly it isn't an issue there at all - people just don't take their children out in any significant numbers. Perhaps when one pays a £1,000 a week for one's children to be educated one values what they receive a little more highly. The other factor of course is that terms are much shorter - there are fewer days dedicated to learning than in the state sector yet I believe research indicates that achievement across the board is higher. I wonder how that can be explained on the basis of a one day learning loss in the state sector. Hmmmm.

Our DS got 10 A*s and 2 As at GCSE (or similar) and 42 points for his IB. I wonder if he's have got 12A*s and 45 IB points if he hadn't had those two days of authorised absence in an emergency. I really do think that particular argument is flawed.

The problem I think is the general lack of respect for the general public. How can it possible be acceptable to claim that one day off has an impact on learning and achievement whilst schools are allowing children to generally muck about for at least one week a term. I can tell you if I were in a position where an HT refused my child an authorised absence on the basis of my experience I would be writing to governors and local authorities about the lack of learning for three weeks per year in too many schools. Sauce for the goose and all that.

I really would like you to have a little think about this because I think it is very important indeed.

prh47bridge Wed 18-Dec-13 17:56:12

if the research genuinely appears to show that one isolated day off primary school in an entire primary school career harms a child's education

No, that's not quite what I said. Do you think there is such a thing as a child who only had one day off in their entire primary school career! You would need to find such a child (indeed, a number of such children) in order to test the proposition. The research has not shown any threshold value for absence below which there is no effect but that doesn't mean there isn't one. I personally think there probably is an effect from even a single day off but the effect would be very small.

it is not illogical or wrong that a primary school's approach to time off school should be different from that of a secondary school

Up to a point I agree with you. Part of the issue is that research has shown that those children who are regularly taken out of primary school for holidays by their parents are more likely to play truant at secondary school. But yes, there may be scope for a different policy.

I disagree it was thought as undesirable 20 years ago as it is, today

I never said it was. I am comparing with the previous regulations which were made in 2006 and which introduced the idea of 10 days holiday in special circumstances. From 1995 to 2006 the regulations simply said that the school could grant leave of absence for holidays but could only grant more than 10 days in exceptional circumstances. No reference to special circumstances at all. That definitely was different to the current regulations and gave the HT far more discretion. The political climate has changed due to the increasing number of parents taking term time holidays and recent research showing the adverse effects of this. Whether they are getting it right is another matter. And I do think that some schools are being far too draconian. I am not at all happy that some schools have said they will not grant leave of absence under any circumstances. The regulations don't stop them from doing this but that is clearly not the intention and really does result in loss of credibility for the whole system.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 15:23:11

I agree, prh47bridge, to a large degree we are arguing over terminology. However, if the research genuinely appears to show that one isolated day off primary school in an entire primary school career harms a child's education (which I would only view to be the case if it resulted in permanent, noticeable harm to the child's educational achievement), then the research is seriously flawed - there is no way you can show a real connection between one isolated day off school and genuine harm to a child's long-term education. And if there is such a connection, then why on earth are children allowed out of school for sports competitions, or music exams, or out of class for music tuition (week after week, on the same day of the week, what's more...)? Surely because it is acknowledged that sometimes what is done outside of formal lessons has greater value to the person concerned than what is going on inside the lessons at that particular time? There is always the danger of losing the impact of a message by taking it a bit too far, until it loses credibility, or picking on one particular issue and ignoring the resulting inconsistencies in what is still allowed and what isn't. It basically seems to me to be taking statistical analysis so far that you lose sight of individual realities. The impact on an individual really does depend on that individual, the importance the set in general on education, their particular ability to catch up quickly and efficiently, etc, etc.

I personally also think that in practice, it is not illogical or wrong that a primary school's approach to time off school should be different from that of a secondary school - the two environments are very different, the manner of educating the children within them is very different, the children are at a different stage of their development, the effect of one day off will also be different as a result.

If, however, it was getting to be the norm that people took 10 day holidays every year when their children were in primary school, then I agree, something needed to be done to make it clear this was extremely undesirable. However, I disagree it was thought as undesirable 20 years ago as it is, today - the legislation would never have made specific reference to holidays as special circumstances if it had always been the opinion of those in power that holidays shouldn't ever really be authorised, or that term-time weddings were harmful to a child's education.

prh47bridge Wed 18-Dec-13 14:18:34

It was perfectly within a HT's discretion to allow one day off school as a holiday, to go to a wedding, before

It remains within the HT's discretion to do so. It doesn't matter whether or not it is intended that they use their discretion in this way. They can do so if they wish. The intent of the previous regulations was the same as the intent of the current regulations. There has been no change whatsoever in the way HT's are intended to exercise their discretion. It is, however, true that under the previous rules many HT's (particularly in primary schools) were exercising their discretion in ways that were not intended. Indeed, to take this particular example, the intent of both the old and new regulations was that the HT should NOT allow one day off school to go to a wedding in most cases.

I think to a large degree we are arguing over terminology. Technically HT discretion has remained the same. Indeed, it is noticeable that these threads generally come up under Primary. In most secondary schools nothing has changed - HTs were following the intent of the old rules. But in many primary schools the way the HT exercises their discretion has changed. They were not following the intent of the old rules but are following the intent of the new rules.

Let us imagine someone asks for 5 days off to take their children to Disneyworld because it is cheaper in term time. The intent of both the old and new regulations is that the request should be refused. In practice many primary HTs would have said yes under the old regulations. Now they will generally say no. The intent of the regulations is the same but the practice is different. The old regulations were increasingly not being implemented as intended, particularly in primary schools. The new regulations are generally being implemented in the way the old regulations should have been (although some HT's are being overly draconian and refusing leave in situations that any reasonable person would class as "exceptional circumstances").

There is no evidence WHATSOEVER that taking a day off primary school to go to a wedding harms a child's education

According to research there is a direct relationship between number of days off (for whatever reason) and educational outcomes. As far as we can see there is no threshold value below which there is no effect. Based on the research, one day off primary school to go to a wedding does harm that child's education (albeit not very much if it is an isolated incident) and also potentially harms the education of all the other children in the class.

spanish11 Wed 18-Dec-13 11:54:41

Can the school do this? Most of the children are going to the theatre, my dd did not want to go and I have just get a message to collect her in one hour time. I think this is illegal, in telling me one hour before to collect her, luckily I live quite close to the school, but I don't agree with this.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 11:15:31

I do take the point that the words of the changed legislation are not offensive, I just take issue with the pretence that all that was changed were a few words and HT discretion has remained the same. Politically speaking that is a colossal lie. The changed legislation has made it much easier for politicians to press ahead with a punitive regime and gain more control over the exercise of other peoples' discretion.

NearTheWindmill Wed 18-Dec-13 10:24:19

If a child is genuinely ill and the school is failing to be compassionate or make reasonable adjustments - let alone bullying he child, I would refer that straight to Head od Governors/Local Authority. I would seek action and expect action.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 10:21:42

It doesn't sound as though your dd's school had generally tolerant attitudes, it sounds as though it reacted to arbitrary targets in a very intolerant and illogical way.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 10:20:34

Presumably, you don't want other people to be discriminated against as a result of your child, either?

cory Wed 18-Dec-13 10:17:37

What I am afraid of is, of course, a situation where holiday leave and sickness leave are somehow equated, where HT's think it's ok for any family to have e.g. 10 days for any acceptable reason, but absolutely refuse to see that there are reasons which may demand 15 or 20 days.

What the old interpretation did was to leave some schools with very high absence rates, then Heads would be told that they had to make changes and realise they couldn't suddenly recoup their figures by merely stop granting holidays, so would go in for an approach where everybody had to improve their attendance, including the child with cystic fibrosis.

This is what happened at dd's junior school. Generally tolerant attitudes, with no distinction between illness and enjoyment, resulting in poor figures, requiring radical change.

I have all my family abroad, I love them dearly, but I would not purchase attendance at any of their weddings for the price of seeing any child bullied for her 4 week stay in hospital.

I don't want to hear "anyone can have x number of off days"; I want to hear "we understand that there are a very few children who may not be able to keep to any targets at all".

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 10:14:17

As for only being allowed holidays if there aren't too many sick children in your school - why should that happen, unless the focus is on targets, not individuals?

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 10:10:24

And no, even in a school where most of the children are from Asian families, I really don't see why all of them would be taking their only ever term-time holiday at precisely the same time, tbh.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 10:08:18

Seems to me the current situation is creating more primary schools like the one your dd went to, cory.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 10:07:05

Or do you think the current colossal pressure on schools, headteachers and teachers, and constant criticism of training, and pressure to allow untrained teachers to teach in schools, is good for stress and response levels? I see no evidence of careful training to ensure appropriate responses, just lots of evidence of ramping up of pressure and resulting poor and panicked decisions.

cory Wed 18-Dec-13 10:06:27

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 09:50:42
"It also sucks when all people have to be treated as though they are in a class where 75% of children take a once-in-a-lifetime trip all in the same year, even when that isn't the case."

Isn't the alternative a situation where you can have holiday time off as long as there aren't too many Asian families or families with sick children in your school? I can see problems with that take too, tbh.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 10:04:05

Then, cory, you will understand that rigid targets and a political focus on attendance is doing nothing to increase compassion and therefore nothing to make anything better.

MadeOfStarDust Wed 18-Dec-13 10:03:39

"authorising" a leave of absence during term time round here just used to be a way of assuaging middle class guilt at taking the kids out for a trip/wedding/holiday whatever.... You KNOW it is the wrong thing to do really... but "The Head said it was OK" ...etc..

Lot less odd days out being taken round here now - shows the tightening up is working I guess...

DameDeepRedBetty Wed 18-Dec-13 10:02:51

Meanwhile statistics for the incidence of D & V on Fridays and Mondays will continue to be skewed!

cory Wed 18-Dec-13 10:01:03

Incidentally, I think you can control compassion by giving very specific training to HT's and administrative staff about how to deal with families struggling with serious problems.

Being taught what a reasonable response looks like does affect how people respond.

I saw it very clearly at dd's junior school: because the HT had a very negative attitude towards ill or disabled people, the admin staff gradually fell into an office culture where suspicion and irritation were the default position when they were confronted by a situation involving illness or disability. It became so habitual that they probably didn't even notice it, because noone in authority ever suggested to them that it was wrong. Teachers were afraid to ask for help from the head and deputy head; in fact, dd's first teacher told me outright that she would rather not approach her superiors to ask for support for dd.

Her secondary otoh had a can-do attitude towards any problem that arose and it made a massive difference to the staff on the frontline. Th

In my current job (university) we have a very firm policy of pastoral support towards students who are struggling with health issues, including MH. As a result, when I am faced with a student whose attendance is dropping or who is behaving oddly, my immediate response is not "I shouldn't have to deal with this" but "I know how to deal with this: these are the people I should turn to". And knowing that I have that backing from my employers makes me less anxious and more able to respond sympathetically and usefully.

My db is in the merchant navy. They have very regular emergency training: the aim is precisely to control the panic response of the crew by making sure they know exactly what to do in an emergency. I have always known my db as a somewhat anxious and overreacting person, but on the day when he was confronted with a sinking ship he was totally calm and in control and helped to save several lives- because his training had been good and he knew what to do. And once he knew what to do, he also knew that he had to do it, that standing around wringing his hands was not an option open to him.

ShoeWhore Wed 18-Dec-13 09:53:53

Time off to visit family overseas was always a separate kind of leave to holidays anyway - has that changed?

Our LA has issued advice to schools on this topic. What's allowed includes things like:

- day off for a wedding of a parent or where the children has a significant role in the wedding (eg bridesmaid)
- leave where a member of the immediate family has a critical illness

Can't remember the others off the top of my head but you get the jist.
Quite a few families at our school have chosen to take the leave unauthorised this year - it's not entirely clear what's going to happen tbh.

NearTheWindmill Wed 18-Dec-13 09:53:46

But my children, who between them have completed 25 years of school between them have lost two days of school each due to an exceptional requirement during time of crisis. In primary I think they probably lost 15 days each per year due to mucking about during the last week of term.

It is those sorts of practices that need to be dealt with by government policy - ie make sure the professionals are fulfilling their responsibilities too. It makes my blood boil.

Give me a good reason why parents should be slammed for poor practice when schools are not.

Outstanding primary btw - top the league tables - head's view "look at the great job we are doing, everyone needs a break including the teachers". So, break up a week early then!

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 09:50:42

Clearly, cory, the school think your dd can help herself. It sucks when people don't believe you, doesn't it? It also sucks when all people have to be treated as though they are in a class where 75% of children take a once-in-a-lifetime trip all in the same year, even when that isn't the case.

cory Wed 18-Dec-13 09:45:39

The problem is that if 75% of the class have family abroad, allowing each of them 10 days off, even as a one off, will cause disruption to the teaching and make extra work for the teacher.

Besides, how do you keep tabs on how many trips to India a child has made during his entire school career anyway? Lots of children change schools between infants and junior and again between junior and secondary. And how do you decide that a trip to Athens is more of a lifetime event than a trip to Mumbai?

I am under no illusion regarding the disruption and extra work caused to the school by dd's frequent health absences. They have been disruptive. The only difference is that dd cannot help herself.

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