German police to check on children at airports in truancy crackdown

Kate Connolly in Berlin
Children at school in Germany. Photograph: Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images

German parents who take their children out of school without permission during term time to go on holiday face being reprimanded by police at airports.

School authorities have given police instructions to carry out systematic checks for school-age children who are travelling during term time and to approach their parents for explanation.

Around 20 families were caught out after being removed from queues at airports in Bavaria last week on suspicion of keeping their children away from school in order to take cheaper holidays.

“We established in several cases that many children were of an age when they should have been at school,” a police spokesman told German media.

The families were allowed to board their flights but could face stiff fines on their return, or even prison sentences in the case of regular offenders.

German children have been obliged by law to attend school since 1919. Children under the age of nine may be more easily excused, but those above that age have to receive formal written consent from a school authority to miss school, including in cases of funerals or family illness.

Schools generally take a stricter approach to requests for time out just before and after holidays. Many will allow absences only if a medical note is provided. Doctors and parents who conspire to feign a child’s illness have been warned against doing so.

“If a sick note turns out to be a smokescreen for being able to go on holiday earlier, that counts as a violation of compulsory school attendance and will be punished with a fine, the level of which is decided individually by each state and school authority,” said Otto Bretzinger, an expert in school attendance law.

Increasing numbers of German parents have complained that the prohibitively high cost of travel during the school holidays leaves them with little choice other than to look for other dates. Flights, hotel rooms and other holiday accommodation during the official holidays are estimated to cost anything from 8% to 40% more than during term time.

Truancy fines differ greatly from state to state, ranging from up to €10,000 in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria to €2,500 in Berlin and Brandenburg and at least €80 per day and per family member in North Rhine Westphalia.

There are no nationwide statistics for truancy rates in Germany, but the figure is estimated at around 200,000 pupils a day. Pupils aged 13-14 are said to be the most likely to skip school.

In 2010 an 18-year-old from Hamburg was sent to prison for regularly failing to attend school. Some school authorities advocate sending chronic truants to young offenders’ institutions, typically over a long weekend, where they could expect to receive counselling.