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"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.

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