A CHIEF Constable is facing criticism after writing to schools asking for special dispensation for officers to take children on holiday in term-time.
Justine Curran defended the request saying Humberside Police was having to restrict the number of officers allowed leave because of demand during the summer and Christmas, including providing specialist cover for the Northern Ireland marching season and the Commonwealth Games.
Under rules brought in by Education Secretary Michael Gove, parents face fines of up to £120 for taking children out of school during term-time without good reason. Failing to pay risks a fine of up to £1,500 – or even jail – and schools have been told not to let pupils miss lessons unless in exceptional circumstances, such as a family funeral.
The East Riding branch of the National Association of Head Teachers said allowing police officers authorised term-time absence would set a precedent.
County branch secretary John Killeen said they understood the difficult job police did, but they had limited powers to agree a term-time absence and schools are held to account by Ofsted for attendance levels.
He said: “If a school was seen to be giving dispensation then they are condoning absence and its impact on learning.
“A strong case can be made for the police and the commitments they have with different national events but I am sure a representative of the fire service, or health service could equally make an very strong case. Once you make a case for one professional you don’t have an answer for another professional.”
Ms Curran said the police nationally had lobbied Mr Gove to highlight the need for flexibility for officers and staff.
She said: “People employed in these roles may need to take authorised term-time absence for their children so they can have a holiday. With this in mind I asked that applications from operational officers and staff for term-time absence be fully considered and looked upon favourably.”
However headmaster at Hull Collegiate School Rob Haworth said Mr Gove had “copped out” by giving heads the final say but he would “be on a hiding to nothing” if he made police officers a special case.
Mr Haworth said he gave authorised absences two or three times a term – for example in the case of serious illness of children or parents. He added: “Where would it end? A lot of people could claim special dispensation which would mean a lot of children not at school.”
The DfE said it was up to headteachers to decide and they were giving schools flexibility on setting term-times. A spokesman added: “Evidence shows allowing pupils to regularly miss school can be hugely detrimental to a child’s education. The most recent full year figures show we are making progress, with 130,000 fewer pupils regularly missing school under this government.”