The Education Act 1996 places a legal duty on parents to ensure their child receives an education suitable to their age, aptitude and ability whilst they are of compulsory school age. This is from the start of the school term following their fifth birthday until the last Friday in June in the school year in which they turn 16.
Parents are only, generally, able to keep their child off school where the child is ill (and the school have agreed to authorise this) or where they have been given permission to do so for exceptional circumstances.
Prior to September 2013, headteachers were able to grant up to 10 days leave for holidays to parents. However this guidance was changed and new regulations regarding holidays in term time came into force in September 2013. These regulations removed any reference to holiday leave and referred simply to exceptional circumstances.
Five years on, these guidelines around exceptional circumstances remains contentious with parents, particularly in an area like Cornwall where a large number of parents work in the hospitality industry.
Conversations with a number of schools have suggested that some travel agents are offering “discounts” on holidays in order to encourage parents to take holidays outside of the normal school holiday period. In other cases, parents are budgeting for the fines as part of their holiday costs.https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/03/15/parents-budget-term-time-holiday-fines-rather-keep-children/
Indeed recent research from the Department of Education (DfE) suggests that pupil absence levels have increased from 2015/16 to 2016/17 as a result of unauthorised holidays in term time. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/692406/SFR18_2018_absence_text.pdf
So how can schools address this?
1) Make sure your attendance policy clearly states what you consider to be an acceptable attendance level e.g. XX school believes that the majority of children can achieve an attendance level of XX%. This allows you to cite this policy if you do decide to issue a penalty notice.
2) Ensure parents are aware that leave will only be granted in exceptional circumstances and that holidays should be requested in writing BEFORE they are booked. Publish this information regularly in your newsletters and on your website. Have a clear holiday request form to help parents with their requests.
3) If you are part of a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) consider discussing with your partner schools (and your local feeder/secondary schools) what you consider exceptional circumstances – it can be hugely disconcerting for a parent when one of their children is granted leave and a sibling in a different school is not. If all schools have a similar policy parents are much clearer about where they stand.
4) If you are part of a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) consider discussing with your partner schools whether it is possible and feasible to block all of your teaching training days into one block or across a couple of seasons (e.g. extra days on a half term). This would allow parents to avoid the huge hike in prices seen during peak holiday seasons and will reduce the number of requests received outside of these blocks.
5) If you do decide to ask the Local Authority to consider fining a parent make sure the parent is aware of this (your reply to a holiday request form could simply state this); be prepared to discuss this with them and make sure the parent is aware of the consequences of not paying the fine.