Term-time holidays – absolutely fine or an absolute fine?

Following the contentious and confusing debate of if, when and how parents may be fined across Wales for taking children on holidays during term time, Education Minister Huw Lewis has attempted to clarify the situation with a public letter to Head Teachers in Wales.

Confusion over regulations – differing across councils – has meant that parents in Wales may have been receiving unfair and unlawful treatment when deciding to take their children on term-time holidays.

After thousands of complaints from parents who received a hefty fine for removing their child from school, and concerns that some schools were operating a ‘blanket ban’ on term-time holidays, William Powell AM, Chairman of the Petitions Committee, wrote to the Minister for Education claiming that the widespread confusion demanded a clarification of the regulations.

In his open letter to Head Teachers, Minister Lewis outlined the regulations, reminding schools and parents to take heed of the following:

  • Parents do not have an ‘automatic right to withdraw pupils from school for a holiday and they must apply for permission in advance’
  • Schools, which will be judged on their absenteeism rates, have a ‘discretionary power to authorise up to 10 days absence during a school year for family holidays during term time’. Absences over these 10 days may be granted in ‘exceptional circumstances’ only.
  • Each request for a term-time absence must be met fairly, as a blanket ban is contrary to the regulations which allow for a margin of discretion
  • If a head teacher decides to refuse a parent’s request for a holiday in term time, and the parent takes the child on holiday anyway, it would be marked as an ‘unauthorised absence’. Only schools, not parents, can authorise absence
  • Head Teachers will know the pupil and family best and this is why they are best placed to make that decision. The Regulations also allow for a consistent approach to be adopted within the school to ensure equity for all pupils.

Petitioners from campaign group Parents Want a Say – whose petition sparked over 2000 signatures – have celebrated this clarification as a victory for parents in Wales, citing that it proves a more ‘common sense’ approach, particularly as some parents are unable to afford holidays in peak times.

However, the Welsh Government’s guide for parents considering booking a term time holiday remains clear that school attendance should come first and that, while ‘there are many experiences outside school that children can learn from that will enrich their lives […] learners are only in school for a limited amount of time and we must ensure that we can make the most of this time.’

Petitioners also emphasise the fact that this is a celebration for Wales in particular, differing from the policy in England which does not specifically allow for Head Teacher discretion. They remain ‘hopeful’ that Westminster may reconsider their policy.

Iestyn Morris, Partner, Employment Law, @CL_Education @MorrisIestyn