New Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is backing a relaxation of the rules drawn up by the National Association of Head Teachers. Children will now be allowed to attend family weddings or funerals, recover after a personal or family crisis, attend a religious event or visit a relative who is seriously ill. The relaxation does not include taking advantage of cheap holiday breaks in term time.
One of Gove’s most unpopular policies
Mr Gove brought the changes in last year, which ended the right for schools to grant up to 10 days holiday per year in special circumstances. The aim was to prevent children from having large gaps in their education, but the changes soon became one of Gove’s most unpopular policies, with many campaigners arguing it was unfair on parents and had no affect on the level of a child’s academic achievement.
More than 60,000 families fined
Since the ban was introduced, more than 60,000 families have been fined by councils for taking children out of school without approval. Parents were faced with fines of £60 per and those who refused to pay were then fined £2,500 by the courts and could even face up to three months in jail.
In one of the most high profile cases in Birmingham, Kerry Capper was ordered to pay a £120 penalty fine after keeping her daughter off school for seven days. Miss Capper had let her daughter Libby stay off school to ‘keep an eye on her’ as she recovered from cancer. Libby had been diagnosed with a tumour in her kidney in 2010, but recovered after several months of chemotherapy but remained under the care of Birmingham Children’s Hospital for check-ups. Kerry was ordered to pay the £120 fine, but was cleared of a criminal act.
Still more to be done
Many more parents faced fines and jail sentences. More than 200,000 parents signed a petition opposing the ban. Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming, is also chairman of a campaign group ‘Parents Want a Say’ who carried out the petition. He said the relaxation is a positive move but there is still more to be done to support parents further.
“This is a very welcome U-turn. However we will be monitoring the situation and may still press for some families to be allowed to take cheap term-time holidays. Families should be supported by the government rather than family life made more difficult.”
A DfE spokesperson has responded to the new rules, saying: “The National Association for Head Teachers (NAHT) firmly support the current policy and term-time holidays should only be granted in exceptional circumstances. There are no plans at all to change the policy and no u-turn. Headteachers have always been able to decide what exceptional circumstances are, but if they find that the NAHT’s guidance assists them in making this judgement then we welcome that.”