Isle of Wight father Jon Platt hit the headlines this week, as the High Court ruled that he had no case to answer regarding fines against him after he took his daughter on holiday during term time.
Regular school attendance is central to progress and leaving school with good results. When it comes to GCSEs, only 12% of pupils with 80% attendance or below get 5+ grades A*-C (including English and Maths) compared with 68% of those students with 95% attendance or above.
However, how we improve school attendance should not be as a result of draconian government intervention consisting of these fines given out for a myriad of circumstances, including family funerals, weddings and important experiences together when it is exceptionally difficult to do this during school holidays.
Parents want the best for their children – and that is a mix of excellent attendance at school, family time together and experiences away from home.
Rather than hitting parents with fines and causing a great deal of resentment between schools, councils and families, we must think of more imaginative and positive ways to ensure students are in school for the maximum time possible.
Re-organising term dates on a county or regional basis would allow holidays to be spread across the year, demand at peak times to be reduced and the cost of holidays outside of term time to become less outrageous. Shortening the long 6 week holiday to 4 weeks and adding the extra fortnight earlier in the summer would also increase flexibility for families. Allowing headteachers greater discretion in the decision as to whether any holiday taken can be accepted, rather than straight to court fines, would also be a clearer way forward.
Instead, the Conservative government and Department for Education are now looking to change legislation to tightening up fines for all families who take any holiday at all during term time. They are not looking at the more positive solutions – instead they simply wish to increase fines.
I ask the DFE in the light of the High Court ruling to look at all alternatives to fines to ensure our pupils are in school, having fun, learning and working hard and making progress towards the bright citizens of the future. Time away from the classroom is a crucial aspect of achieving this – our children need to get away from the desks and out into the big wide world beyond.