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Friday, 31 October 2014

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No Cumbrian parents fined for taking children on term-time holidays

No parent in Cumbria has been fined for flouting strict new rules which are preventing families taking children out of school for holidays in term time.

Michael Gove photo
Michael Gove

Cumbria County Council says it has not had to issue a fine to any family following the introduction of the tighter laws in September.

Headteachers used to have discretion to give pupils a leave of absence of up to 10 days a year for family holidays in “special circumstances”.

Now they must only grant permission for a child to be absent in “exceptional circumstances”, such as family funerals.

Debate continues to rage over whether parents should be allowed to take children out of school during term time.

MPs discussed the issue in Parliament in a move sparked by a petition calling for action to stop holiday companies cashing in by ramping up prices during school holidays.

Education Secretary Michael Gove says it is wrong for parents to take children out of school and that parents should lobby their schools to change their term times instead.

The Coalition Government has given academies the power to decide their own term times.

Headteacher Simon Jackson, of Keswick School, says it is unlikely schools will change their term times.

“Looking forward our holidays will match pretty closely that of the local authority’s,” he said. “One of the things we’re aware of is that parents may have children at other schools, particularly primaries, and so it makes it easier for our families to take their holidays together.”

But he revealed that Keswick School is to have a longer Easter break than other schools in the county.

He said: “We also have our boarders to think about and often the best time for international flights is at weekends. Many of our boarders are foreign students.

“It is a very unusual Easter this year for the local authority’s maintained schools. Cumbria County Council’s Easter holidays will be starting on a Wednesday with schools coming back on a Wednesday. What we’re doing is finishing on a Friday and starting back on a Monday so our pupils will enjoy three weekends in their break and not two.”

Paul Cusack, owner of Cockermouth Travel, has an 11-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter.

He said: “This wasn’t an issue 12 months ago when headteachers had the discretion for granting leave for holidays. It is particularly an issue for somewhere like here in Cumbria, an area that relies on its tourism industry. We’ve got families who make their money during the spring, summer and October holidays and look to take their holidays at other times.

“I know I put in 40-50 hours a week and I treasure the chance to spend a week with my children. What I think is angering people is the inflexibility of these new laws. I understand the legislation was brought in to penalise parents whose children were persistently playing truant but if you have an A-grade pupil it now criminalises the parents.”

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