Almost one in 10 pupils miss lessons for unauthorised holidays

By Alison Kershaw, PA Education Correspondent

Almost one in 10 children miss lessons without the school’s permission to go on holiday, figures show.

Across two terms in the last academic year, more than 630,000 youngsters were taken out for an unauthorised family trip, according to data published by the Department for Education (DfE).

With the Christmas holidays coming to an end, many families will be turning their thoughts towards potential summer breaks.

It has been argued that many parents consider taking their child out of class for family trips due to the high cost of travelling during school holidays.

But ministers argue that missing just one day of school can affect a child’s education and school leaders say it is important that children miss “as little time as possible”.

The government’s figures show that in the autumn term of 2018 and the spring term of 2019, 631,108 pupils in England had one or more sessions (half a day) of unauthorised absence due to family holidays.

There were 7,057,021 pupils on school rolls during these terms – meaning that around nine percent (8.9%) missed at least half a day of lessons due to unauthorised trips.

An analysis of the statistics also indicates the proportion of pupils missing classes for holidays is increasing.

For the same two terms in 2016/17, almost eight per cent (7.7%) of children missed at least half a day of lessons due to unauthorised absence, and in 2017/18 the proportion was around eight per cent.

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Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “It is important that children miss as little time at school as possible. The cumulative effect of missed days can be harmful to children’s education. The best way to ensure children are learning and progressing is for them to attend school during term time.

“This means that requests for time off during term time can only be authorised in exceptional circumstances, which does not normally include holidays.”

He added: “The real problem is holiday pricing. Neither parents nor schools set the prices of holidays. They will both continue to be caught between a rock and hard place without some sensible government intervention.”

Justine Roberts, founder of parenting website Mumsnet, said: “Of course missing lots of school has a negative impact on children’s learning, and is disruptive for teachers as well, but sometimes having the occasional day (or even half a day) off school can be the only way to get an affordable family break.

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“Allowing headteachers to exercise discretion – providing parents act responsibly and only take children out of school for really crucial events – would help everyone involved.”

Term-time holidays have consistently been in the spotlight since a Government crackdown on school absence in 2013.

Parents can be fined £60 if their child misses school without permission. This rises to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days. Parents who fail to pay can be prosecuted.

Ministers have argued that no child should be taken out of school without good reason and that missing just one day can affect a pupil’s chances of getting good GCSE results.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The rules on term-time absences are clear: no child should be taken out of school without good reason.

“We have put head teachers back in control by supporting them – and local authorities – to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”