For, while cities like Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Doncaster have each issued more than 3,000 fines as part of a wider clampdown on non-attendance, there have just been eight occasions where parents in York have faced this £60 sanction.
The scale of these inconsistencies shows just how difficult it is to reconcile this issue. Given that there is a fundamental difference between persistent truanting and very occasional absences, such matters should be left to the discretion of the headteachers concerned – they know the children in question and should be trusted to implement rules sensitively in the event of a bereavement or illness.
Heads should also be able to sanction term-time holidays in exceptional circumstances. This might be the only time that a family can afford a few precious days away because of financial hardship, but the onus should be on parents taking personal responsibility for ensuring that their children keep up with their studies. Any concerns could be assuaged by a trip including, for example, a museum visit of educational value.
That said, there must be a presumption against term-time holidays. Previous generations made the sacrifice – they recognised that a child’s education was non-negotiable. Non-attendance not only disrupts classes, but adds to the workload of teachers when lesson planning. Most crucially of all, any leniency plays straight into the hands of those truants who are jeopardising their future prospects because of their non-attendance. On this, there must be no room for doubt – these pupils need identifying at the outset, and their parents held to account, before it is too late.