Headteachers call on Ministers to prevent holiday price hikes

A TEACHING LEADER has called for Ministers to take action to prevent price hikes in summer holidays to avoid parents wanting to take children away during term time.

NAHT General Secretary Russell Hobby. Photo: Chris Ison/PA Wire
NAHT General Secretary Russell Hobby. Photo: Chris Ison/PA Wire

The General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Russell Hobby has said that government intervention was needed to stop dramatic increases in the cost of going away in the summer holidays.

He was responding to new guidance from the Government which is urging councils not to refund fines to parents who have taken children on unauthorised holidays following a High Court judgement in favour of a parent who refused to pay.

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The legal battle has centred on the expectation – set by the Government two years ago – that parents should only be able to take pupils out of school in term time in “exceptional circumstances.” Parents face fines if they take children on unauthorised breaks.

However Jon Platt saw the High Court rule in his favour after a council had appealed his earlier court victory. He was fined by Isle of Wight Council after he took his family on the holiday in term time, without permission from his child’s school. Mr Platt refused to pay and had the fine overturned at magistrates court who decided he had no case to answer because there was no evidence his daughter had not attended school regularly. This decision was upheld last month by the High Court.

Now Schools Minister Nick Gibb has written to schools in light of the court judgement.

He said: “We understand that some parents who have already been given penalty notices and have paid the penalty are asking local authorities to withdraw the notices...and refund their payments. However, the view of the department is that the decision in the Isle of Wight case does not require local authorities to do this, and I would expect applications of this kind to be refused in the ordinary course of events.”

He added: “It remains the case – that headteachers continue to have the power to authorise leave of absence, but only in exceptional circumstances. While family holidays are enriching experiences, the school year is designed to give families the opportunity for these breaks without having to disrupt their children’s education. It is for schools to consider the specific details and relevant context behind each request.

“Schools know their pupils best and are well placed to make those judgements.”

Mr Hobby said: “Last month’s High Court ruling created confusion for schools and parents alike. We welcome this statement from the DfE, clarifying the expectations of school leaders when authorising term time absence.

“During term time children should be in school. There are occasions where this is not possible but these should be rare. In order for schools to satisfy their statutory obligations on attendance, requests for time off during term time can only be authorised in exceptional circumstances at the discretion of the head teacher. We have provided guidance to members on typical circumstances. However, the system of fines is clearly too blunt an instrument and in many cases it drives a wedge between schools and families. The government should take steps to address the price hikes that we see at holiday time. If the cost increases were not so dramatic, parents would not feel the need to seek cheaper deals in term time.”