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Government’s interest in ‘term-time holidays’!
Interesting to see the prime minister’s interest in the term-time holidays issue on the same day Labour announced their policy to fund free, healthy meals for all primary school children.

Theresa May who interferes in how pupils should be educated now says that the individual headteacher should have the flexibility to make decision about the balance between pupil attendance and time off.

She was talking after the Supreme Court ruling against a parent, who had won earlier legal battles against a £120 fine in a case brought by the Isle of Wight council for taking his daughter on an unauthorised term-time holiday.

The Supreme Court appeal was supported by the government and the department for education was quick to say: "We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position - that no child should be taken out of school without good reason”.

But of course the government and its education department don’t consider that the cheap holidays offered during the term time is what some families, especially the extended families, could really afford, is a good reason.

Nor the department for education, seemingly more interested is showing statistical performance in reducing ‘truancy’, appreciates the difference between the ‘unauthorised’ absence and ‘truancy’ or the differential effects of pupils absence on their learning!

Within the education system, truancy, mostly in the secondary schools, is where a pupil tells that he/she is going to but does not turn up at the school. This is so serious for the pupil’s welfare and safety that many schools enquire about pupil’s unexplained absence on the same day.  

Then there is absenteeism, normally by school-refusers or by those who find the school less attractive because the school work is not matching their ability or interest.

Sometimes the schools have to make a difficult choice: whether or not to force the disaffected pupils in and face disruptions in lesson, adversely affecting teaching and learning.

It is not difficult to understand that the schools conscious of the league table of performance would rather work on the willing learners and get better results.  Moreover, there is no evidence that a school with below average attendance but above average results attains a lower Ofsted inspection grade as there is no strict correlation between a  pupi’s attendance and attainment – many pupils with below average attendance achieve higher results while many others with high attendance rate don’t achieve that well.

Therefore, in issuing the absence fines, what is missed is that pupil absence has differential impact on their learning. The state education is more or less geared to provide appropriate education care to the pupils in the middle ability range; the above average pupils excel under their own esteem or because of their parents ability to provide private tutoring (in this case the attendance rate at the school is less important), whilst the below average either struggle or rely on internal/ external support and need good attendance.

Because of all this, the straitjacket absence fines enforced through the legal actions and without due consideration about the impact of specific absence on a pupil’s learning, gives less educational and more authoritative sense, most probably demanded from the schools to help out the government in showing success in reducing ‘truancy’! 6/4/2017