"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?

tumbletumble Tue 17-Dec-13 11:38:20

The trouble with saying "she COULD do it if she wanted to" is that it sets a precendent within the school, so that every time any family wanted to attend a family celebration of any kind they would be able to say "well you let Number42 do it".

You can choose to go unauthorised or not go, but don't blame the HT for doing her job.

Kantha Tue 17-Dec-13 11:46:09

I have chatted to our head about taking holiday in term time. He said that there is no definition of 'exceptional circumstances' i.e. what one family defines as exceptional differs to that of another family or a teacher. From this I take it that there is no official definition.

prh47bridge Tue 17-Dec-13 11:50:51

There is no definition of what constitutes "exceptional circumstances". It is at the head's discretion. As tumbletumble says, the head in this case will not want to set a precedent.

To be honest, attending a family celebration isn't really the kind of thing intended to be covered by "exceptional circumstances", however important you think it is. "Exceptional circumstances" covers things like attending the funeral of a member of the immediate family, the family becoming homeless unexpectedly, serious illness of a close relative or similar.

FeisMom Tue 17-Dec-13 11:52:12

With our H/T the problem seems to be with asking for "holiday" to be authorised, it seems to be about terminology.

I realise it is school specific but f you ask for them to authorise leave on "compassionate grounds" for a funeral then that gets the ok; if you ask them to authorise for "extra curricular" reasons - eg ballet exam, competing at sport, entrance tests then that gets the ok here too, as they are deemed exceptional circumstances.

FeisMom Tue 17-Dec-13 11:57:27

Sorry I waffled on a bit and didn't answer the last sentence about who has had leave authorised.

DD and DS have both had a long weekend authorised to allow us to travel a long distance for a dance competition that DD was in - it was deemed extra-curricular leave for DD, not sure how DS' school coded it as haven't had his report through yet.

hattyyellow Tue 17-Dec-13 12:03:53

It's such a mess the whole system i think! Our school have allowed children to travel abroad wit their parents, missing school where the parents are both from a different country and have family events there. They've also allowed children leave for competitions, sporting and arts based and to appear in productions. It's all a massive grey area which seems to be a bit unfair at time to be honest..could you present it as educational? i.e. would they be attending a religious celebration and observing something new that they wouldn't otherwise see?

Number42 Tue 17-Dec-13 12:42:41

Thanks for helpful responses. Well yes there is a religious celebration involved; I guess it just feels a bit ridiculous claiming it is "educational". We wanted to be honest about what was going on.
I feel slightly better but obviously the HT is not going to change her mind.

prh47bridge Tue 17-Dec-13 12:50:15

The new rules introduced in September were designed to tighten things up. The reference to holidays in the old regulations had unintended consequences with many parents thinking they had the right to take their children out of school for up to 10 days. Travelling abroad in most cases should not be allowed under the new regulations (indeed, it should not have been allowed under the old regulations but many schools felt they had no choice).

The regulations specifically allow a child to take time off school to appear in a performance for pay.

The school can only regard a day off as educational if they approve the activity and it is supervised by someone authorised by the head. They would get in a lot of trouble if they treated a family celebration in this way. Competitions may be regarded as educational, for example.

PastSellByDate Tue 17-Dec-13 12:52:16

Hi Number42

I know it's frustrating but the way to view this is previously you would have considered this a holiday, written to the school asking for a day off and most likely had it approved and gone.

Now the HT is required not to approve any family holidays during term time.

This family event isn't a crisis - but you need to make the case it's exceptional and couldn't have been planned for another day.

What is perhaps an unintended consequence is there now seems to be a lot of unexplained 1 day absences due to illness on Fridays or Mondays. Sure it's possible - but it is creating that culture of 'taking a sickie' in our children.

I know of two of my DD1's friends who've had long weekends to Disneyland Paris but have told the school they were sick at the time.

I know my DD1 would just blurt it out at school - but these two are very adept at not saying anything in particular about the absence although teachers have been questioning it.

I'm not sure ultimately this was the kind of lesson Gove wanted children to learn?

hattyyellow Tue 17-Dec-13 12:57:51

pastsellbydate totally agree - we have my brother's wedding next year and will be taking the children off on a sick day - meaning we will be lying to the school. And that DC will have to go along with the lie. If you're attending school and working hard and there 99% of the year, it's ridiculous that you can't be legitimately excused for one day of the school year.

scaevola Tue 17-Dec-13 13:01:47

Gove has never told parents to lie to have a term time holiday. It's the parents who chose to do that.

It is solely up to the head to decide what I exceptional, and I think that's right: it needs to be a decision within the school from someone who knows what is going on.

The only bit of guidance fom the Government is that pupils who have a military parent returning from an operational tour (such as Afganistan) should have absence authorised.

tinytalker Tue 17-Dec-13 14:43:01

You don't need to lie and this is a very poor example to set your kids. They may get caught out talking about the celebration and then feel guilty about it. Just bite the bullet and take the 1 day unauthorised absence.

BlueStringPudding Tue 17-Dec-13 14:48:13

I got approval from DS's infant school for him to have a day out so we could travel to a family wedding abroad for the weekend. Our family are fairly dispersed so relatives were coming from all over the world, and many we hadn't seen in years, and some we'd never met.

My DD's Sixth form college didn't give us an authorised absence, but said they'd hope we'd have a lovely time.

magichamster Tue 17-Dec-13 14:54:24

My ds had a day off a couple of weeks ago for a family funeral. His teacher told me he would put it down as 'religious observation'. So if there is a religious ceremony, maybe you could suggest this.

Number42 Tue 17-Dec-13 15:41:29

Thanks. I had already gone through the stages of:
- Well if this is what happens then I will just claim they are ill.
- No, wait. I'm not going to make my children into liars. I'm not going to do that.
But it is clearly going to be happening a lot more with other people.
I suspect the HT feels it is too risky to exercise discretion even if she wants to, though I have to say in those circumstances I would have preferred the letter that one friend got - "I am afraid I am unable to authorise this absence. I hope you have a very pleasant trip."
Sigh. Is taking a pencil from the office theft? Well, technically, but you'd be considered a bit mad if you called in the police and had somebody charged if they did it.

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 15:58:29

Funny, how it is claimed it is at the HT's discretion now and was before, and yet it was still felt necessary to change the law so as to help them exercise their discretion, by making it more clear that they didn't really have any discretion grin... In other words, bollocks to HTs using their discretion - they do what they think they have to, to satisfy Ofsted (who wants to be criticised for "behaviour and safety" or "leadership and management" issues because your data looks weird to an organisation which is data driven, and doesn't have the time or inclination to bother to go into the details of each case of absence...), and to keep other parents off their backs. Only a very unusual headteacher would use any genuine "discretion" to do what they thought fair in the individual circumstances. They don't give a tinker's cuss about individual circumstances.

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 16:20:38

What really winds me up are the facile conclusions drawn from the data. To solve the issue of families who took their children out of school every year for 10 school days, the entire nation is now treated as though it took 10-day holidays in term time every year. Thus the poor sods who have 100% attendance every year for years can't even take one bloody day off for a special family event without being told off for it, as though they are feckless and irresponsible. How patronising and offensive.

Number42 Tue 17-Dec-13 16:40:30

Thanks rabbitstew that's captured exactly how we feel. We never dreamed of taking our kids out for holidays and felt it was pretty wrong when (not very often) someone we know did do it.

prh47bridge Tue 17-Dec-13 17:12:46

Head teachers discretion has not changed. They still have exactly the same discretion as before. The change in the regulations was because many parents wrongly took the previous version as meaning they had the right to take their child out of school for 10 days holiday a year. Many head teachers felt unable to put a stop to this even though it was clearly not the intention of the regulations. The ever-increasing number of parents exercising their "right" to 10 days holiday meant that schools faced a growing amount of disruption affecting all children. The reference to 10 days holiday under "special circumstances" was therefore removed.

You will not be penalised for a single day unauthorised absence. You will not get fined and you should not be told off. It will just be marked down as unauthorised.

I am not surprised the head does not regard the OP's request as falling into the "exceptional circumstances" category. It should not have been granted even under the old regulations. But it is very unlikely the OP will be penalised if she takes her children anyway.

HedgeHogGroup Tue 17-Dec-13 17:23:57

I am a HT and unfortunately, our relationships with parents are really taking a hit over this whole policy.
We are the people who have to impose the fines, deal with the complaints & are criticised by OFSTED for our attendance but we see none of the £££ - it all goes into the criminal justice budget hmm.
Its very rare that you find any HT who is happy to have their 'discretion' diminished in such a way and have or professionalism & ability to use our judgement of situations to help families questioned.
Believe me, we're as unhappy about it as you are but our hands are tied sad

prh47bridge Tue 17-Dec-13 17:29:25

it all goes into the criminal justice budget

Actually the PCN fines go to the LA. It only goes into the criminal justice system if the parents end up being taken to court.

And I am unclear why you are saying that your hands are tied. You still have discretion to grant leave in exceptional circumstances. That has not been taken away from you.

Crowler Tue 17-Dec-13 17:34:39

My kids' head teacher authorized an absence for my husband's sister's wedding in February. I submitted the invitation as evidence, it was rather elaborate so I think they assumed it was real.

GooseyLoosey Tue 17-Dec-13 17:50:33

During our summer holiday one year, ds had an accident and spent the most of the holiday in a coma in intensive care whilst dd was farmed out to relatives and hardly saw us.

Our family was shattered. We got back and school started but we couldn't get past what had happened.

I decided that the thing to do would be to take everyone to Alton Towers for a few days and we could just chill together and put things behind us. Take a few controlled risks so the dcs could re-learn that it was OK to do some things.

Would the head authorise a 1 day absence for children who had never, ever been off? She would not.

Crowler Tue 17-Dec-13 18:00:21

GooseyLoosey, that's shocking. Hope your son is OK.

Groovee Tue 17-Dec-13 18:03:39

In our LA, there is no authorised absence unless you are in a job which means you don't choose your holidays such as forces or in recent years emergency services who have had their leave cancelled due to Olympics or G8 for example.

I take them with unauthorised permission but state they will not be in. I've not been challenged as it's only ever been 1 day at the most a year.

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 18:03:43

prh47bridge - one minute you are saying HT discretion has not changed, the next you are saying that the law was tightened up (how can it have been if it is all at the HT's discretion and that hasn't changed?!!), then you are saying that a HT shouldn't authorise one day off for a family event as "exceptional circumstances" - how can you say that, when you aren't a HT?!... Are you exercising someone else's discretion for them?! Like Ofsted does and the government likes to do?...

What you really seem to mean is that the government only listened to those HTs who thought parents wouldn't let them exercise their discretion and who were somehow being FORCED to authorise absences that should have been unauthorised, and are now turning a deaf ear to HTs who think government won't let them exercise their discretion and parents who think it's all a complete, bloody, predictable farce.

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 18:06:04

And it may not result in punishment to have a day's unauthorised absence, but it does result in bad will, a reduced willingness to communicate openly, and a general loss of trust. That's quite a lot to lose.

HedgeHogGroup Tue 17-Dec-13 18:34:49

Our hands are most definitely tied - in our LA we have guidelines for what the 'exceptional circumstances are & they're very stringent.
We take all of the flak from the parents & see none of the money. If we do let them go, OFSTED criticise our attendance rates, if we don't, parents criticise us for being unhelpful.... hands are tied.
We're damned if we do & damned if we don't!

potatopie Tue 17-Dec-13 19:52:30

All the upset caused by absences and the discussions around whether or not the HT has any discretion makes me laugh. HT's can choose to do what they authorise when it suits.

I know of a disabled child that was placed on a part time timetable for almost a year by the school with a threat of permanent exclusion if it was not agreed to. No work was provided for the child who was very anxious and distressed at missing school and it caused a lot of problems for the family who had to exist on one income instead of two.

When the annual report was produced almost 200 missed sessions were marked to record that the child was being 'educated elsewhere' which was clearly not the case. When queried the school simply said that they had made a 'genuine mistake' hmm. My point is that figures can easily be manipulated if required and that HT's will authorise absences if they wish.

If schools cover up or 'accidentally forget' to record these absences who will know???

shebird Tue 17-Dec-13 19:55:46

I have had an unauthorised absence for a similar type of occasion OP, like you I considered saying they were ill but I refused to make my DCs lie to their teachers and friends. I explained to the HT that I was still taking them out of school and she had no issues with this but said it would still be unauthorised and we were not fined. As long as your DC have good attendance it is not normally an issue so don't be too terrified of this.

EdithWeston Tue 17-Dec-13 19:59:12

THe LA has no role in this. They have no legal authority to insert themselves into this process at all, and neither have governors (but I can see that a weak head might want to hide behind either/both)

The only change in the law was the removal of the specific phrase referring to 10 days holiday and changing "special" to "exceptional". It was and remains totally up to the head to authorise absences or not.

annieorangutan Tue 17-Dec-13 20:02:10

We went away for 2 weeka holiday and didnt get charged but dd never ever goes sick.

Our HT is still authorising holidays dd had a day off added onto the last half term as we went on holiday. Her best friend had five days. So long as attendance is good it seems he doesn't have a problem.

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 20:17:19

EdithWeston - given that a lot of schools changed their behaviour as a result of the change in the law, and the law would not have been changed unless a change of behaviour was expected... you are talking bollocks. Don't hide behind words and ignore reality. If people feel their hands are tied, then they behave like that and clearly a few little words and lots of political pressure have achieved just that, as was clearly intended, otherwise nobody would have wasted time and money on a little word change or two.

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 20:21:24

HTs are set arbitrary targets for school attendance figures, which go up every year. That's what drives a headteacher's "discretion." Woe betide the unfortunate parent who needs understanding from a HT whose attendance figures aren't deemed "good enough" by the powers that be. We are all statistics, you see, not individuals.

EdithWeston Tue 17-Dec-13 20:25:19

It's not bollocks. It's what the law states.

How any individual HT exercises the discretionary power the law gives them (and only them) is for their own judgement. Many, of course, do prefer pupils to be in school in term time unless it is a case of illness or exceptional circumstances.

These changes aren't a party political issue btw.

MerylStrop Tue 17-Dec-13 20:33:38

Our headteacher has now stated that she will not authorise absence for "holidays" and I am afraid that your trip, whatever the reason for it, falls into that category. You could argue perhaps that it is to do with your child's understanding of their cultural identity or something, but too late now.

Don't take it personally, schools are under massive unreasonable pressure.

If the event is really important to you (like a close relative wedding), just go OP, and even if its unauthorised its only one day and extremely unlikely that anything will happen, or that anyone will even comment, especially if your attendance record is as good as you say.

Got to disagree with the poster that said that the changes are not party political - of course they are, get real.

MerylStrop Tue 17-Dec-13 20:35:09

sorry EW - the change in wording may not be party political (though it is hard not to see them as such)....but their implementation and interpretation certainly is.

jamtoast12 Tue 17-Dec-13 20:38:51

Our head will still authorise upto two weeks for holidays too, actually sent email saying he has no intention of stopping parents who need it unless attendance poor.

annieorangutan Tue 17-Dec-13 20:42:04

Same at my school jam they get a lot more annoyed with random regular sick days for colds etc

stubbs0412 Tue 17-Dec-13 20:48:25

Our helpful headmistress says exceptional circumstances means bereavement of a close family member or the marriage of parents. A little limiting.... Call in sick. Btw if your child has above average attendance education welfare don't bother, it's not the school that enforces fines.... Unless things have changed. Correct me if this is no longer the case.

stubbs0412 Tue 17-Dec-13 20:51:45

Not that I've ever had dealings with EW but I worked closely with ....

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 20:52:27

EdithWeston - don't pretend the law is neutral in its application, or that people are free to interpret the law as they see fit. There is a LOT of pressure put on schools by Local Authorities, by Ofsted, by government, by parents. What would YOU call it, if not political pressure? It certainly isn't legal pressure... and it most certainly is NOT true that all headteachers feel free to use their discretion as the letter of the law sets out, rather than as the spirit of the law was intended by those POLITICIANS who caused it to be changed...

Not political, my ARSE. The law does not exist in a vacuum.

stubbornstains Tue 17-Dec-13 21:11:27

Only a very unusual headteacher would use any genuine "discretion" to do what they thought fair in the individual circumstances.

Not always. I took this issue up with the HT of one of the 2 prospective schools I viewed for DS recently.

The school in question is a v. small village school, and is part of a partnership of about 10-12 similar schools in the surrounding area.

She told me that, regarding this issue, the entire partnership has agreed that "exceptional circumstances" could well include holidays, provided that they have an "educational element"- which could be simply writing a diary of the trip.

Reasons for this decision include the fact that there are lots of service families in the catchment area, and that lots of people work in tourism here, so are busiest in the summer months.

The other school I viewed takes the opposing stance, is very very rigid on unauthorised absences, and has stated that it will enforce fines.

Guess which school I have chosen for DS? grin And not so much because I plan for us to be swanning off on a 2-week package in June every year (couldn't afford it), but because I believe that this is indicative of a wider willingness to put common sense and consideration for families above toeing the line just to tick boxes and get a good Ofsted report.

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 21:15:45

When did the school last have an Ofsted inspection, stubbornstains?

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 21:16:51

Besides which, the school is only taking that stance because of safety in numbers. I'd love to see the same thing happen if the 9-11 other schools nearby didn't... grin

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 21:18:43

I can just see it, now: Ofsted report gives a low grading for behaviour and safety because of poor attendance record and parents are delighted...

rabbitstew Tue 17-Dec-13 21:20:03

Or school, unprotected by the service families exemption, decides to allow holiday absences. gringrin

prh47bridge Wed 18-Dec-13 00:18:02

one minute you are saying HT discretion has not changed, the next you are saying that the law was tightened up (how can it have been if it is all at the HT's discretion and that hasn't changed?!!), then you are saying that a HT shouldn't authorise one day off for a family event as "exceptional circumstances" - how can you say that, when you aren't a HT?!...

HT discretion has not changed. However the old rules had an unintended consequence that many parents thought (wrongly) that they had the right to take up to 10 days holiday in term time and some head teachers thought (also wrongly) that they could not stop this (or felt that keeping good relations with parents was more important than ensuring attendance despite the rising number of studies that showed the problems this causes for the children affected). So the rules have been clarified. And whilst I am not a head teacher it is unlikely that the event described by the OP would be regarded as "exceptional circumstances" by many head teachers. So yes, the head involved in this case could approve the holiday but I would have been very surprised if they did so.

the government only listened to those HTs who thought parents wouldn't let them exercise their discretion

Err, no. The government listened to Charlie Taylor's report which in turn reflected the views he gathered from head teachers and others. This found that primary schools in particular had a problem with parents taking the 10 days as a right and head teachers feeling unable to do anything about it.

Not political, my ARSE

EW said that the change was not party political. It isn't. All the major parties are fully behind the change.

MidniteScribbler Wed 18-Dec-13 03:07:55

Many, of course, do prefer pupils to be in school in term time unless it is a case of illness or exceptional circumstances.

Radical concept.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 08:20:24

prh47bridge - a political decision is a political decision. I discern no radical differences between any of the major political parties - they all encourage greed, corruption, hypocrisy and stupidity, not to mention silly targets which create unhelpful, artificial and self-serving behaviour. I therefore see no merit whatsoever in the argument that any other party would have done the same thing.

HT discretion has changed - the rules have specifically been changed. Parents may never have had a right to term time holidays, but the legislation specifically included the possibility that they could be permitted in special circumstances. Now you have made it quite clear yourself that a HT is no longer expected to use their discretion to allow any kind of holiday, even one day off to go to a wedding. That is a massive change, and what is more, it will not stop the main offenders from going on 10-day holidays, it will just alienate those who would never consider doing such a thing, but who find it a gross infringement on family life to be told they are harming their child's education to take one day off school for a rare family event. If an absence bears no real risk of harming a particular child's education, then the patronising comments about how much one day of school represents in percentage terms, and how relatives shouldn't have the cheek to marry in term time, should be saved for someone else.

In another thread you appeared to think it possible to create compassion in the NHS by setting the right targets. I think this weird mentality that you can cause common sense and compassion by setting targets, can use sledgehammers to crack nuts, and that a problem isolated to particular groups of people can be solved by hitting everyone with a "solution" which actually impacts more on those who weren't the problem than those who were, is part of the problem... Along with thinking that bad headteachers' "discretion" can be improved by taking it away from them.

givemeaclue Wed 18-Dec-13 08:22:08

Guidance from our school, on the request for exceptional leave form, says family celebrations including weddings are not considered as grounds.

The school is not stopping you from going. They can't authorise it but just take it as unauthorised absence.

School are just following the rules, up to you whether you go or not

NearTheWindmill Wed 18-Dec-13 08:38:48

prh47bridge. You have clarified the points and set out the parameters. However, what really irked parents when my children were at primary (and they are 19 and 15 now) was the fact that the head was quite draconian about authorising absence for holidays even back then and it was very much frowned upon. It isn't something we ever asked for because we think there are 12 weeks and 52 weekends to take time out but the one occasion we needed an extra few days due to a cancelled summer holiday, death of a grandparent and family at breaking point it was happily granted.

Anyway I have digressed because what irked was the draconian attitude combined with the fact that the last week of any term usually was entirely wasted learning time with games in the garden, videos, sing alongs, parties, etc. No learning happened in that week; instead one collected bored and/or overexcited children.

I am all for children having 100% attendance but if the school wishes to dictate this by refusing to authorise reasonable absences then in my opinion schools should be obliged to maximise learning during every week of term and not allow the sort of last week hoolies that seem to go on. Frankly there is more learning from a trip to Ancient Greece (40% cheaper than a week later) than there is in most schools during the last week of any term.

By all means everyone should abide by the rules but that applies also to those who are running schools. And actually isn't it correct that parents are not legally obliged to send their children to school, merely to educate them so if a parent decides a trip will be educational whereas a Disney video will not be where is the logic in that please.

cory Wed 18-Dec-13 09:07:15

Personally I can see why it would be a nightmare to a HT to have to decide that one family's trip to Greece was educational but that the trips of 35 other families in the school to family in India were not.

There are schools where 75% of the children have their families abroad; often in places which take a long time to travel to. It would be incredibly different to differentiate between them without incurring (possibly well deserved) accusations of racism.

Imo (and I do have all my family abroad) discretion should be used for family disasters: bereavement, serious illness etc.

Though I do think, re Windmill's post, that time travel should be allowed: especially as most sources seem to agree that it takes up none of our time at all. So really not reason to deny family trips to Ancient Greece at all. wink

As for parents not having to educate their children in school- well, they don't have to choose that option, but once they have chosen it they have to stick to the rules. I don't have to take a job at X company, but once I have taken it I can't dip in and out of it at my pleasure.

Otoh I have no sympathy for HT's who use Ofsted pressure to bully and intimidate the parents of a sick or bereaved child. I would rather resign my job and live on the streets than treat any human being the way my dd has been treated. There can't be any stress that excuses that. Nobody has to be a HT if they can't do the job and behave like a decent human being.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 09:20:54

And to argue, "oh, just take the day off as an unauthorised absence if it's that important to you - you won't be punished," is like saying, "oh, just behave a bit more like the people we were trying to reach when we changed the legislation." And sorry, but I don't think a funeral is more meritorious than a wedding. Some family events are more important than one day of school and every bit as important as any religious event specifically protected by legislation (in fact, they often are religious events, but I really don't see their importance being diminished if they aren't...). Yet the mantra these days is that "holidays" are not permissible, so people are left scrabbling around for silly ways to describe a day off school that will maximise their chances of being given authorisation - because people don't actually like doing "unauthorised" things, unless and until they lose respect for the whole system. To hasten the day when nobody respects authority seems a tad foolish to me.

meditrina Wed 18-Dec-13 09:22:42

One day of for a wedding wouldn't have fallen differently under the old wording - what was removed was up to 10 days for a 'family holiday'.

HT's can exercise their discretion for other absences exactly as before.

I agree with cory

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 09:28:07

cory - tbh, I don't see why it would be difficult to distinguish between a once-in-a-lifetime trip (and you would know it was, because you would only permit it once....) and an annual trip.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 09:29:25

meditrina - HTs can't exercise their discretion exactly as before, because they don't appear to understand they can exercise it exactly as before, hence the schools not authorising absences, but giving their blessing to them, anyway. That is a result of political pressure from the powers that be who are only interested in bald statistics, not personal sob stories.

prh47bridge Wed 18-Dec-13 09:29:42

rabbitstew - It doesn't matter how often you deny the truth, HT discretion has NOT changed. The way they exercise that discretion may have changed but legally they still have the same discretion they had before. HTs were NEVER expected to use their discretion to allow holidays other than in special circumstances (and "it is cheaper in term time" is not a special circumstance). They were NEVER expected to use their discretion to allow a day off to attend a wedding.

I am sorry that you consider telling the truth to be a gross infringement on family life. There is abundant evidence to show that days off damage the education of that child and also of other children in the class. There is also abundant evidence to show that those children who are taken out of school by parents for holidays, family events, etc. during primary school are more likely to play truant as they get older.

I do not think it is possible to create compassion in the NHS by setting the right targets and have never said so. My point was that you can only control something if you can measure it. If you want the NHS to be more compassionate you need a way of measuring how compassionate it is (patient surveys, for example) otherwise you have no idea whether or not you are succeeding.

NearTheWindmill - I largely agree. Some schools waste too much time as holidays approach.

isn't it correct that parents are not legally obliged to send their children to school, merely to educate them

As Cory says, you don't have to send your child to school but once you have chosen to do so you have to stick to the rules.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 09:35:56

prh47bridge - it doesn't matter how often you deny the truth, but the law has changed and therefore the way discretion is exercised has had to change. It was perfectly within a HT's discretion to allow one day off school as a holiday, to go to a wedding, before, given that it was within the HT's discretion to consider a wedding a "special circumstance" and a day off school is a holiday... Either someone has discretion or they don't - to tell them that they shouldn't be doing something, because it was never intended they use their discretion for that is the same things as saying they DO NOT HAVE DISCRETION.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 09:38:09

There is no evidence WHATSOEVER that taking a day off primary school to go to a wedding harms a child's education. Don't conflate truants and regular holiday takers with people who take one day off school. That's just ludicrous.

rabbitstew Wed 18-Dec-13 09:41:40

And there you go again - talking about controlling compassion. You can't control compassion, even if you can measure it.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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...

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.

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 10:07:05

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.

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 10:10:24

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 10:14:17

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?

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 10:20:34

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

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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!

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.

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