A blanket ban on parents taking children out of school for holidays during term time should be removed in favour of a “common sense” approach, according to council leaders.
Ahead of next week’s October half-term, the LGA is calling for headteachers to be allowed freedom to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow parents to take their children out of school without being hit with an automatic fine.
It warns that, under the current rules, parents looking to go abroad during school holidays can face costs more than double those during term time. It found air fares for a family of four heading to Cyprus for half-term were £1,564 higher than if they flew two weeks later.
The LGA also argues block bans can be particularly hard on workers in key professions, such as the NHS, police force and the military, as they are often unable to request leave during busy school holiday periods.
Parents who take children out of school during term time can receive a penalty notice of £60 per child per parent, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Those who fail to pay could face prosecution and a maximum fine of £2,500 or up to three months in jail.
Until September 2013 headteachers were able to grant 10 days’ holiday in term time in “special circumstances”. Now, they can only grant leave in “exceptional circumstances” subject to strict rules.
The LGA suggests there are occasions, such as religious festivals, weddings, funerals or a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”, where requests should be given individual consideration. It is calling for headteachers, not central government, to decide on a case-by-case basis whether parents can take children out of school.
David Simmonds (Con), chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Ensuring every child has a good school attendance is of paramount concern for everyone working with children.
“However, common sense must prevail in cases when mums and dads ask to take their child out of school during term time if there is a legitimate reason.
“An outright ban is too simplistic, and doesn’t recognise that family life and circumstances aren’t always so black and white. We shouldn’t have a system where family holidays are just for the rich or indeed children aren’t able to take time off in light of family bereavement. There needs to be flexibility within the system.”
A DfE spokeswoman said the department had been clear that all headteachers were free to grant pupils leave in exceptional circumstances. “It is up to them to decide whether to grant time off, and how much to grant,” she added. “This appears to be exactly what the LGA is calling for.”