Education Secretary Michael Gove is being invited to the Great Yorkshire Show to witness its educational benefits after his tough new policy on school absences was criticised for blocking some children from attending the annual spectacle next month.
Head teachers can only grant leave to pupils in “exceptional circumstances”, such as bereavement, serious illness and family weddings, under the Absence from School for Exceptional Circumstances policy. Recording unauthorised absences can lead to parents being fined.
Heads can use their discretion to judge applications for leave on an individual basis but in some cases this discretion is not being extended to cover visits to agricultural shows.
The Yorkshire Agricultural Society, which organises the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate every year, is disappointed that some children are being denied the opportunity to attend with their parents, where schools are not visiting the show on July 8-10 as part of an organised trip.
Nigel Pulling, the Society’s chief executive, said: “Following updated guidance from the Department of Education, some head teachers are taking a tougher line on authorising children’s absences, with some refusing all requests. Disappointingly, for some this includes attending the Great Yorkshire Show.
“As an agricultural charity which runs educational activities year round for young people, we strongly believe that a day at the Great Yorkshire Show is not only educational, but unique. It is England’s premier agricultural show and provides an unrivalled opportunity for young people to see first-hand the best of British farming and the countryside – whether it is the story of wool, the role of supermarkets in the supply chain or simply seeing the thousands of animals, from tiny chicks through to prize winning bulls. The ‘Discovery Zone’ is specifically aimed at children covering healthy living, the environment and the countryside. Furthermore, the show is very much a part of the region’s fabric and tradition and gives a strong sense of place.”
Last month, The Yorkshire Post reported how Nafferton Primary School in Driffield had told parents that leave will not be approved for children to attend Driffield Show on Wednesday, July 16.
Six million people visit agricultural and country shows in the UK each year - about 10 per cent of the population - and Paul Hooper, secretary of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations is adamant that they are important educational experiences for schoolchildren.
“All agricultural shows are educational, helping with rural and urban integration and a lot of shows have education at their heart so when shows are in term time schools are greatly encouraged to go en bloc as recognised school trips,” Mr Hooper said.
“Obviously schools have their rules and regulations but we say its a cultural and educational experience and all part of growing up and the education of a child, and just because they wouldn’t be able to go to a show, I would hope it doesn’t reflect on the fact that shows are part of our heritage and have helped with educational purposes and the training of people who work on the land.”
Bill Cowling, honorary director of the Great Yorkshire Show, added: “The point that we are trying to put over is you don’t have to stretch the imagination too far to make the Great Yorkshire Show, and many others, an educational experience. The rules seem to be lumping the holiday on the beach with something that’s educational - a one size fits all approach.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said it was up to head teachers how they used their discretionary powers and it had not issued specific guidance to schools on leave for attending agricultural shows.