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  • Writer's pictureTony

When government and parents part company

The government’s increasing distance from the reality of contemporary schooling is causing problems but also offering new opportunities.

The case of a parent who argued that he was entitled to take his daughter out of school during term-time to go on holiday has been heard in the Supreme Court, which found in favour of the Local Authority.

The result means that schools and local authorities in England can continue to fine parents £60 for taking their children out of school when they are not ill.

This case will not only present challenges to parents who sought cheaper air fares and hotel bills by going away out of the holiday season, but will also be a challenge to farming families where farmers are often unable to take their holidays during the summer. However it is still possible to argue that the family has “exceptional circumstances” through the requirements of farm work. We will have to wait to see how local authorities react.

The argument in the Supreme Court case that the child’s attendance level prior to the event could be taken into account was rejected by the court, leaving only sickness, the failure to provide transport to children registered to receive it to and from school, and religious observance as reasons for taking time out. Since there is no definition as to what a religion is, in these circumstances, some parents might find a religion that has a celebratory period each June for two weeks to be particularly attractive.

Parents at state-funded schools are estimated to have taken 4.1 million days of unauthorised absence in the 2015 autumn term alone, and all these parents are now once again to be seen as breaking the law.

However different councils and different academy chains have different approaches. A BBC investigation earlier this year found that 35 English councils have changed their policy on term-time absences as a result of the case - before the judgement was known. 28 councils have withdrawn fines.

Suffolk Council, on the one hand, issued more than 6,000 fines during the 2015-16 school year, whereas North Tyneside issued only 108. Richmond-upon-Thames did not issue a single fine.

A poll published in the Times Education Supplement last year showed that 84 percent of people in England believe parents should not be criminalised for term-time holidays, with 63 percent of teachers saying the same.

It is possible, however, that this is not the end of the affair. The dramatic rise in student and pupil numbers in schools together with the on-going crisis in recruiting teachers means that schools are having to rethink their approach to the concept of “in school time” and “lessons”, with more and more learning being undertaken on computers.

This variety of different factors and the unwillingness of government to become involved in any reform of schooling, other than the continued financing of the free schools, means that reform is happening in an ad hoc manner.

In effect new approaches to schooling are arising without the government’s authorisation. Now with the government signally out of phase with the wishes of the parents it seeks to serve, there could be the evolution of change which simply by-passes the government’s wishes.

There is no doubt that any company that, as well as supplying services and products that meet the needs of traditional education, is also providing products and services that meet the evolving need for learning away from school, is going to find itself in a perfect position for expansion in the coming months and years.

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