School absences: Parents could face legal action

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PARENTS are being warned they could face legal action if they repeatedly take their children out of school for holidays – following a rise in absenteeism since the pandemic.

As research in England revealed that parents are much more willing to book term-time holidays post-Covid, Jersey’s Education Department is considering taking a harder approach to what a union says is a ‘growing problem’. In a letter to parents, the Education Welfare Team said that term-time absence would be granted only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ following requests made before travel is booked.

Parents are also warned: ‘Whilst a single holiday will likely result in you being informed by the school that the absence is being recorded as ‘unauthorised’, repeated holidays will be reported to the Education Welfare Team by the school, and through liaison with the parish Centeniers, a decision will be made regarding possible legal steps being taken.’

Attendance rates for Jersey schools increased during the 2022/23 school year – the first to be unaffected since the pandemic began – but the figures have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. Referencing the strapline ‘Every Day Matters’, the letter states: ‘The three years of [Covid] disruption have not only impacted on pupils’ learning, but social and emotional development too. Therefore, as we enter a new academic year, we want to support all our young people across all areas of their growth and development. By working in partnership with your child’s school, you are giving them the best opportunity to flourish and succeed.’

The government’s efforts to cut unauthorised absence have been backed by one of the main teaching unions.

Marina Mauger..Picture:DAVID FERGUSON. (36708903)

Marina Mauger, of the NASUWT, said: ‘It is a real and growing problem – not just for the children, who have to catch up, but also for the teachers who have to make arrangements to repeat lessons for those who missed them first time.’

Research carried out in England and recently reported in The Times revealed a fundamental shift in parents’ attitudes to schooling and term-time holidays following the pandemic.

Consultancy firm Public First, which carried out the research, said: ‘Parents agreed that every school day could not possibly be that important, given that so much time had been lost to lockdowns and strikes.

‘Moreover, there was a sense from parents that other elements of their lives were just as important as attending school, if not more so.’

The author of the Public First research said it would take a ‘monumental’ effort to change attitudes in England, a challenge that has also been picked up by officials in Jersey.

Data provided by the government in July revealed that students in Years 7 to 11 missed 2.8% of the 2022-2023 school year for unauthorised reasons up to mid-May, compared to a figure of 1.2% during the 2017-2018 academic year.

The Pupil Attendance and Absence Report for 2017-2018 also showed that there was 93.5% overall presence compared to 88.3% during 2022/23.

School attendance is covered by article 12 of the Education (Jersey) Law 1999, which says that parents must ensure full-time attendance at a school or in another educational setting approved by the Children’s and Education Minister.

Exceptions are listed for leave that has been granted by the child’s head teacher, sickness or ‘any unavoidable cause’, or days set aside for religious observance by the religious body to which the child’s parent belongs.

Under the law, parents who fail to comply with article 12 may be fined a maximum of £1,000.

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