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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?

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.

insanityscatching Tue 17-Dec-13 20:13:50

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.

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