School absences crack down angers parents

Education Secretary Michael Gove
Education Secretary Michael Gove
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Parents have accused the Government of interfering over a crack down on school absence during term time.

Members of the group Parents Want a Say say they will seek a judicial review challenging a Department for Education (DfE) decision to remove the discretion of headteachers to approve term time absences in “special circumstances”.

Campaigner, Natalie Bamford, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain show: “We just feel that they don’t trust us and our decisions to take our children out of school when the need arises and we feel that they are interfering too much.”

In September, Education Secretary Michael Gove removed headteachers’ powers to grant parents 10 days of discretionary leave, meaning any future unauthorised absence would be met with a fine unless headteachers deemed “exceptional” circumstances applied.

Those changes alone rankled with some and Leeds City Council stated that parents would not be fined for absences of less then five days in a term. The Government’s stance backfired. By March, 500 fines had been issued in Leeds for absences this year - twice last year’s total.

But the DfE’s latest intervention, removing headteachers’ discretionary powers, means parents who do not have permission to take a child out of school during term time facing a £60 fine. Failure to pay could see parents prosecuted and fined up to £2,500, given a community order or a jail sentence of up to three months.

Parents Want a Say claimed that workers in professions such as the NHS and the police, who face restrictions on when they can take leave, risk being unfairly penalised.

However, the DfE said schools can set their own term times to suit their families, highlighting David Young Academy in Leeds, which runs a seven-term year.

South Milford Community Primary School.

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