Holiday ruling gives teachers a headache


Headteachers have been left in a vacuum after a legal ruling which has given parents more freedom to take their children on holiday during term.

The High Court last week supported a father who had refused to pay a £120 fine for removing his daughter from school for a trip abroad.

While the government has promised to introduce new rules to deter unauthorised absences, head teachers are trying to cope with the lack of clarity over policy in the meantime.

Michael Woolf, headteacher of North Cheshire Jewish Primary in Manchester, said that the ruling "has made it difficult". Although the school had not previously resorted to fines, he said, "it is something we were thinking about doing. Now we are awaiting guidelines from the Department for Education. I'm sure most schools are in the same boat."

Susy Stone, headteacher of Akiva primary in London, agreed that the uncertainty "makes my job more difficult". While fining parents may not necessarily be the best sanction, she said that "you need something with teeth that's going to support heads in doing the best job for children".

You need something with teeth to support heads

A few years ago, she handed out 11 fines in a year to parents who took their children from school without permission. Parents got the message and fines went down to one or none a year.

Mr Woolf said that North Cheshire was "typical of any Jewish school in getting constant requests for simchahs or to take the day off before Yomtov".

While the school was sympathetic, it would take into account such factors as a child's overall attendance record before agreeing to time off. But there had been instances of applications so frequent that he reckoned "the child must have 25 grandparents".

Three years ago a family with children at King David High School in Liverpool was furious when permission was refused for a week-long visit to Israel to mark their son's barmitzvah and daughter's batmitzvah.

Mrs Stone said that as children had 190 days of schooling a year out of 365, avoiding term-time breaks was "not a lot to ask". But Akiva "recognised that people have family in Israel and want to go to celebrate with them. If there is a barmitzvah party on Sunday, we'd say if you can take Friday and Monday, that's reasonable. But we'd ask them not to tack on a holiday."

When it comes to spending Pesach or Succot abroad, Joshua Rowe, chairman of Manchester's King David Schools, said that "our calendars are generally designed to try to allow one day's travel at either end".

Robert Leach, headteacher of Michael Sobell Sinai primary in London, receives several requests a week from parents which are considered on their individual merits. "I don't feel inundated," he said. "Most parents are responsible and understanding. Our attendance records are well above the national average."

He said that "we have never fined a parent because we don't feel that is effective".

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive