Does Penalizing Parents For Taking Kids On Vacation Work?

In the United Kingdom, a new survey reveals that a quarter of primary school leaders have fined parents for taking children out of school for unauthorized holidays.

The study, which was conducted in the wake of new legislation banning holiday absences during term time, says sickness being used as excuse for pupils to miss school since legislation ended ‘holiday allowance' of up to 10 days. Many parents maybe try to get around the new rules – and the fines – by claiming sickness as the reason for absence, writes Richard Adams of The Guardian.

Under the new law that came into force in September, schools are allowed to grant up to 10 days leave for family holidays. But the national survey of more than 800 primary school headteachers and deputies in England, conducted by The Key, a consultancy service supporting school heads, suggests the new rules are failing to change parents' behavior, especially for those with primary school-aged children.

According to more than half the primary school leaders who responded to the survey, applications for additional term-time holidays had risen in recent years, compared with just a third of secondary school heads.

Some two-thirds of primary leaders said the extra holiday had become an important issue at their school, with the problem most acute in the south-east, where 69% of school heads said it was an issue, compared with 47% of those in the Yorkshire and Humberside region.

Under the new regulations, schools are authorized to fine each parent £60 for each child's unauthorized absence, rising to £120 if not paid within seven days, and one in four of those surveyed said they had used the new power since it came into force on September 1st.

According to the survey, some schools had also called parents to special meetings with attendance panels or welfare officers, and even threatened exclusion in extreme cases. School leaders in the east Midlands have taken the toughest stance, with the survey finding that 44% of school leaders in the region had imposed fines on parents, compared with just 5% of their counterparts in London.

In Derbyshire, 238 fines were imposed on parents of pupils in maintained schools in September alone, which was more than the 219 fines imposed for the whole first half of the year. Nottingham city council has already imposed 164 fines between the start of the school year in September and the end of November, compared with just 338 given out in the entire 2012-13 academic year.

Some headteachers said the new rules were having little effect on the behavior of parents, while 63% said they did not expect requests for term time holidays to fall despite the new rules limiting applications to "exceptional circumstances".

"Evidence to date shows no decrease in term time requests. Parents take children anyway even if unauthorized," said Carole Staniland, headteacher at Carter Knowle junior school in Sheffield.

Some parents protested against the new rules, including petitions led by a group lobbying for parents to be allowed to enjoy the lower prices for family holidays outside of school holiday peak seasons.

But the assessment of education experts is almost unanimous that lost classroom time – especially in primary school – is damaging to a child's education. Fergal Roche, chief executive of the Key, said: "It is clear that the value of the fines imposed is insufficient to deter parents who are saving considerably more on the cost of holidays in peak periods."

12 5, 2013
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