As a parent and a school governor I have given a lot of thought to term-time holiday fines. These thoughts can be summarised as, “I do not like term-time holiday fines”.
Over the weekend I therefore read this article from the Guardian with great interest.
At last, common sense has prevailed: if your kids have good attendance generally, the odd term time holiday does not warrant being issued with a fine. Today, with this announcement from the Local Government Association (article courtesy of the BBC), it seems the discontent with term time holidays has finally reached tipping point. Does this provide us with a glimmer of hope that term -time holiday fines are going to be scrapped? Let’s hope so.
Speaking with personal experience of trying to implement the term time holiday fines policy, there are many problems that I have with asking schools to fine their communities. The main issue I have is that the fines don’t work.
In the year we were obliged to fine parents who took their kids out of school for unauthorised absence, our school had more unauthorised absence than ever before. It is as if parents were putting two fingers up to this pointless policy.
The policy, forced upon schools, has been extremely divisive between schools and communities. Decisions to take kids out of school are rarely taken lightly. We certainly don’t want the added pressure of being judged as bad parents for doing so.
As a parent governor, it has impacted upon my friendships. I did not sign up to police my friends, acquaintances, or community. I signed up to support them.
Prior to this government enforced stance, headteachers were allowed to make considered judgements around term time holiday leave. Now they can’t. Their professionalism has been undermined and their workload increased – it takes time to ratify policy and manage this process.
Obviously schools want kids to attend. And rightly so. But now there is more at stake than the needs of the children. Now a low attendance figure can trigger an Ofsted visit. A low attendance figure means your school can never be Outstanding, even if every child at the school performs and attains above expectations.
This seems to miss the blindingly obvious point that low attendance figures are indicators of problems, not necessarily problems in themselves. They should be treated as such.
There are all sorts of things that a blanket attendance figure actually hides: the number of kids with needs such as autism who struggle with the school holiday crowds; the very specific needs of kids aged between 4 and 5 who legally don’t have to be at school at all; the private dilemmas that face all families at times, and lead them to needing some time out; the long term chronic conditions that mean lots of hospital appointments; distinguishing between a family who had one 2 week holiday in term time and families who are too hung over to bring their kids into school most Mondays.
Fining cannot solve most of these problems.
The real problems with attendance – the families that just don’t care about education, or for their children, or who are really struggling with their own illnesses, or financial or personal problems – are what need addressing.
They need addressing with fully resourced social services departments.
We don’t have fully resourced social services departments anymore. We have unpaid local governors asked to fine their communities.
Fining families for taking term time holidays serves no real purpose other than to allow the powers that be to say ‘look, we are doing something’.
Unfortunately that ‘something’ is not enough, and given the above verdict it’s not even right.
Fingers crossed we now start to see a bit more common sense in this area, we see some trust in parents and schools reinstated, and we need to see resources targeted to the real problems facing some families that impact upon their childrens’ education.
What do you think needs to change regarding attendance at kids’ schools? Anything? Or are fines fine with you?
Let me know!