Is it discriminatory to issue penalty notices for term time absence to both parents?

(72 Posts)
minisale Fri 05-Jul-13 13:28:21

Our LEA has a policy of issuing a fine to each parent for each child if you take them out of school for 5 consecutive days. So a two parent family will receive four penalty notices of £50 each while a single parent family will receive just two for the same act. The impact of taking the two children out of school is exactly the same. Is this discriminating against two parent families and therefore is it illegal for the County Council to implement this policy? Ideas, knowledge, experiences and views gratefully received.

prh47bridge Mon 29-Jul-13 17:08:13

Whether or not you would get away with that depends on how long you take off and how often it happens. If your child is sick for a week at about the same time every year, for example, the school may want proof that your child is genuinely unwell. And of course you need to be sure that your child isn't going to spill the beans accidentally by telling their friends about the wonderful holiday they have just had.

SpringSunshine Mon 29-Jul-13 14:37:27

So why don't parents just call in say their children are sick instead of asking permission and letting everyone know they are going on holiday?

Took a term time holiday myself once the week before the end of term as it was the only possible date to fit around dh's work (and authorised), but if things get difficult would just say they are sick. DS has been off for more than week before when his asthma / hay fever are bad ...

tiggytape Wed 24-Jul-13 18:02:20

My own DD is under an OT and also a specialist paediatric physio at the hospital. She needs similar equipment to your friend's child so I do have some understanding of the issues your friend faces. Apart from official hospital appointments though, she doesn't have extra time off, we have loads of things we have to do with her daily and also at weekends. It is difficult I know, and provision isn't great in every region but I do understand why the school say no to playground visits in school time.

'Where very specialist equipment is needed, your friend should ask her GP to refer to a paediatric physiotherapist at the local hospital.'

I take it you have never tried to get such a referral.

Well what happened was that she won (after tribunal) OT weekly IN school, though still OT monthly. The TA had to deliver it IN school for 3 half hours a week, in the school hall.

The TA wasn't anywhere near competent enough to ensure the child complied, so it was a waste of time.

On top of that she then had to go to busy playgrounds which her child found distressing, during busy times, so he stopped complying there too.

tiggytape Wed 24-Jul-13 17:41:58

Time off for medical appointments is allowed. Most clinics and consultants operate at set times and on weekdays so a child needs to miss that time off school. It is unavoidable - it simply isn't possible to get a consultant to see you at 6pm or on a Sunday.

However completing the exercises a professional gives you (as most parents with children under an O.T are required to do) can be done outside school hours because no professional need attend.
Where very specialist equipment is needed, your friend should ask her GP to refer to a paediatric physiotherapist at the local hospital. The school understandably would find it hard to justify sanctioning time off for periods when the swings in the park are likely to be less in demand especially as it is only needed once a week so could be slotted into weekends instead.

I have an example of why this does not work.

A friend of mine with a child with ASD had an private OT appointment weekly. Because she didn't drive it took a whole morning. The HT agreed to this time off (probably pleased to see the child's back for a bit).

Because of the time it took and the progress her child had made, and diminishing of funds, she used the OT in a consultative capacity and went to appointments monthly. She requested an hour and a half a week during school time to carry out the some of the OT exercises in the local playground (programme required suspended equipment i.e. swing) because the playground would be relatively empty instead of full of school kids.

Her request was refused by the HT. There was no right of appeal.

tiggytape Wed 24-Jul-13 14:22:02

The HTs were in a very awkward position under the old wording which mentioned upto 10 days for holidays with exceptional circumstances because everyone (including some Head Teachers) came to view this as the right to 2 weeks off school for a holiday as long as other attendance wasn't too shocking.

This was never the intention. 10 days was supposed to be the absolute maximum not the default expected. And it was expected that HTs would strictly ensure it wasn't granted except with very strong reasons - which put them in a pretty impossible position. In the end, there were schools that granted holiday to anyone who asked which was never supposed to happen.

So now the reference to a holiday has been removed to emphasise the exceptional circumstances element that was always the key thing. And only the HT can decide about that. You can't have a system where some parents (who claim the moral high ground of offering educational trips at times they deem less disruptive) are treated differently to parents who don't have any educational motives and just want the cheapest and hottest 2 weeks in Spain. So no, one system doesn’t ideally suit everyone but a system based on parents deciding which rules apply to their children and when wouldn't work.

prh47bridge Wed 24-Jul-13 13:57:08

The absence rules. There has been a tweak this year to remove a reference to 10 days holiday as some parents were treating this as a right which was not the intention (nor was it what the rules actually said). In other respects they haven't changed.

Many of those parents who I've come across claiming things have changed believe they previously had the right to take their child out of school for 10 days holiday. They didn't.

It is also true that some schools and LAs are tightening up and authorising fewer holidays but this is a process that has been going on for years. Some schools have used the tweak to the rules as cover for a decision that they will no longer authorise any holiday - a position that I suspect will only hold until a parent takes them to judicial review.

You don't have the option of home educating though do you, unless you are very wealthy, same with going private.

Unfortunately, the way our society is set up, school is as much about childcare as it is about education.

What's been like it for years?

The 'outreach' model of pretend partnership or the absence rules?

If the absence rules, then how comes people are saying they were able to take time off last year but not this?

If the outreach model, then yes I agree. But think this is outdated and detrimental to our children's education and development.

prh47bridge Wed 24-Jul-13 12:50:53

But why should the HT decide?

To keep it simple and enforceable.

If it is up to the parents it becomes much harder to hold them to account if attendance is inadequate. All absences become unauthorised as there is no mechanism to authorise them and the courts start having to distinguish between different types of absence. And the process for holding parents to account becomes longer. The school can't simply issue a fixed penalty notice (or take any of the other steps available in the current legislation) for taking too many unauthorised absences so the first port of call would be the courts.

Putting it at the head teacher's discretion gives a simple system. You ask the head and make your case. They decide. If they say no and you take the holiday anyway you may get fined. If you disagree with the head you have the option of home educating, going private (if you can afford it) or going to a school where the head agrees with you (if you can find one). Or you can simply accept that, as with many other things, the school makes the rules and you have to comply.

This change means significantly reducing the partnership element of education and the role of the parent in this.

What change? Nothing has changed. It has been like this for years.

DD's school are asking for direct debits every month shock. It would appear most parents pay it.

DH has suggested paying in a lump sum at the end of the year/school career deducting any fines.

This change means significantly reducing the partnership element of education and the role of the parent in this.

But why should the HT decide? They are not the ones charged by law with responsibility for the upbringing of the child, their needs holistically, their context in their culture, family, educationally. Their decisions can never delivered in the whole context of a child's lifetime, of their opportunities or not, or their self-esteem, relationship, attachment needs.

Some parents are feckless and neglectful. There are bodies who deal with that. Or should HTs also make rules about bedtimes, and issue fines on these too?

cloudskitchen Wed 24-Jul-13 10:49:01

ah ok. misunderstanding on my part. it seemed reading the thread that people are being fined for occasional absence. as I said, I don't take my kids out of school for holidays however I do not judge those that do as sometimes situations or circumstances arise when it seems the best or only thing to do.

I am bowing out of the conversation at this point as law or no, it's not something we will not totally agree on.

prh47bridge Wed 24-Jul-13 10:21:46

we are talking occasional absences

We are talking about fines. That means we are not talking about occasional absences.

Your LA must have a code of conduct for fines. If a school issues a fine in breach of the code the LA will withdraw it. Whilst I haven't read every LA's code I have seen quite a few. For the ones I have seen you will generally only be fined if you take an unauthorised holiday (i.e. a week or more) or your child is regularly absent. In the latter case you are likely to get a warning first with a fine only being issued if the situation does not improve. I have yet to come across an LA that would support parents being fined for a single absence where the child otherwise has good attendance.

I suppose I don't like the system because where a parent and a HT can disagree what is in the best interest of a child holistically, or even simply educationally, the HT 'wins'.

I understand your point but someone has to decide. Unfortunately some parents are quite happy for their children to miss school regularly and simply spend the day hanging around the local shopping centre or whatever. I don't think such parents should be trusted to decide whether or not their child should be allowed to take days of school. If we can't trust the parents the only other option is to give the decision to the school (unless we want to bring in some outside body). Hence it becomes the head teacher's decision. I'm afraid I don't really see any alternative.

cloudskitchen Wed 24-Jul-13 00:52:33

starlightmckenzie you have obviously judged your child correctly and made the the right decision for them - good for you. Every child deserves an education but sometimes common sense must prevail. one size does not fit all!

cloudskitchen Wed 24-Jul-13 00:46:29

we're not talking regularly though are we. we are talking occasional absences.

And it could be argued anyway that in some instances the time off school was more than worth an arbitrarily, goal-post constantly moving, awarded GSCE grade.

I've seen that research. It is at whole population level and includes and relies heavily on the CBA parents.

Research also shows that children in deprived areas fall behind during the summer holidays but children in more affluent areas make advances.

My ds made NO progress at school. We took him out of ONE TERM and he made a years gain, and he has SN.

prh47bridge Tue 23-Jul-13 20:09:07

cloudskitchen - You may not like it but, in terms of current sentencing guidelines, persistently failing to get your child to attend school regularly is regarded as broadly equivalent to shoplifting. A first offence of shoplifting will usually attract a fine of £50-£80, similar to the £60 for non-attendance. And the penalties for repeated offences are also similar. If you don't like that take it up with your MP. But as I said you can replace shoplifting with any minor offence of your choice. The principle is the same. If you and your partner both commit an offence you will both be fined.

gintastic - It is up to the head teacher to decide what qualifies as exceptional circumstances. There are no rules.

For what it is worth (and this is a general comment, not aimed at anyone in particular) all the major political parties are in agreement on the penalties for non-attendance. Policy is driven by research that shows children who are taken out of school for an unauthorised holiday of a week or more often never catch up on the work they have missed whatever their parents believe. A child missing 17 days of school in a year can lead to achieving a grade lower at GCSE, so a C becomes a D.

I suppose I don't like the system because where a parent and a HT can disagree what is in the best interest of a child holistically, or even simply educationally, the HT 'wins'.

This issues is an absolute nightmare when it comes to SN as most teachers are woefully undertrained in this respect, yet few would admit this.

yes, My children would lose their place, but they'd go on the top of the waiting list and it is a big school so more likely to get a leaver. In the mean time I'd just do more fun stuff with the kids while I wait.

cloudskitchen Tue 23-Jul-13 18:42:48

gintastic our school would be the same plus what a hassle...

If you're school authorised those absences they obviously felt they were good enough reasons. I can't imagine any school not authorising for a funeral.

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