|The News Line: Feature
Saturday, 8 April 2017
Parents criminalised for taking their children on holiday – says NUT
THE NUT (National Union of Teachers) and the CFHF (Cystic Fibrosis Holiday Fund) have condemned the fining of parents for taking their children out of school for a holiday during term time.
Commenting on Thursday on the High Court ruling against parent Jon Platt said, ‘To attend regularly no longer means to attend frequently, it now means to attend on all the days and at all the times that the school requires it. Every unauthorised absence, including being a minute late to school, is now a criminal offence.’ Platt had won earlier legal battles against a £120 fine after taking his daughter on holiday without permission.
Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT, commented: ‘Parents generally do all they can to keep children in school and teachers want them to do that. However there will be occasions when families will have a planned holiday in term time. This can be for a many reasons such as family commitments or parents unable to take leave in the school holidays.
‘Fining parents is entirely the wrong route to be going down. Many parents will be able to afford the fine and it will not be a deterrent. This is yet another example of top-down measures being imposed on schools causing unnecessary tensions between head teachers and families.’
The Cystic Fibrosis Holiday Fund has found that even parents with children with life-limiting illnesses are being fined for taking term-time holidays and have partnered with CLC World who are pledging to pay the fines for these families and who provide the much needed respite accommodation for valuable family holidays.
This has revealed that there is no separation or allowance for sick children, when it comes to taking time out of school. Parents who are already in emotional turmoil and many who are already under considerable financial strain, are finding they are returning home from a holiday to a fine.
The charity partners with CLC World Resorts & Hotels (CLC World) to provide holiday accommodation to families living with the debilitating disease, so they can enjoy respite and valuable time together. The charity has found that some parents are afraid to take up the offer of a holiday of a lifetime because they are worried they will receive fines. Currently, there is no direction on whether parents whose children are ill can be granted special permission to take their family on holiday in term time.
Cystic Fibrosis Holiday Fund has found that fines are being issued by individual schools or local councils on an ad-hoc basis. Cystic Fibrosis is caused by a defective gene carried by one in 25 people in the UK. It affects around 10,000 people in this country. While sufferers can live into their 40s, many die in their teens and 20s. Often parents have to give up work to care for their children with Cystic Fibrosis, forcing them to live on benefits and in financial difficulty, which prevents them being able to afford holidays.
CLC World, which provides free accommodation through the charity at its resorts worldwide, has pledged to pay fines issued by local councils on behalf of CFHF families holidaying at its resorts, so they can continue to enjoy an improvement in mental and physical wellbeing.
Laurie Howard, Director at the Cystic Fibrosis Holiday Fund, said: ‘The lives of families are totally geared around providing care for a child with this debilitating illness. Holidays are vital for the well-being of the children, their siblings and parents. This is just about the only time during the year a family can spend quality time together. For these families to then face fines could deny them the opportunity to make memories together. It creates unnecessary stress for parents who are already facing financial and emotional difficulties.’
Graham Wilding, UK Operations Director at CLC World, added: ‘The issue of whether parents can take children out of school during term time takes a completely new perspective in the case of families living with life-limiting illnesses. It’s clear that the law needs to consider these cases separately.
‘While it’s important for children to gain a good standard of education, it’s also important for those children who are sick, or their siblings, to have the chance to spend time as a family. Our partnership with Cystic Fibrosis Holiday Fund gives families this opportunity, but often they’re being penalised for it.’
Former BBC Royal Correspondent, Jennie Bond, who is an ambassador for the partnership between CLC World and Cystic Fibrosis Holiday Fund, added: ‘Families facing such difficult circumstances – their lives dominated by a draining schedule of daily care – will be looking forward to the prospect of being able to take their desperately poorly children away for a holiday. They can’t come back from these holidays to face a battle with either their child’s school or local council. A greater degree of understanding, empathy and common sense must be applied here.’
Angela O’Hanlon, a CF nurse for the Isle of White NHS Trust commented: ‘When children suffer from CF, family time is especially precious. Schools should not be fining these families for taking a term-time holiday. Cystic Fibrosis is progressive and unpredictable and often families have to take a holiday when the health of their child is good. This may not fit with school term dates but a holiday together is valuable to the child and family in so many ways.’
Speaking after Thursday’s ruling, Jon Platt said: ‘The issue is no longer about term-time holidays. It is about the state taking the rights of parents away from making decisions about their children. Many of you thought, as I did in 2015 when I took my daughter on holiday, that it would be grossly unfair to retrospectively criminalise me. That was very nearly the case.’
He added: ‘I have absolutely no intention of pleading guilty to this offence when it goes back to the magistrates’ court. To parents all over England I say this: the legal battle is now over. There is no right of appeal beyond this place. It will be a generation or more before this court revisits this issue, if ever it does. You can no longer make the decision to take your children out of school, even for one morning without permission of the state.’
• Commenting on the Labour Party pledge to expand free school meals to every primary school pupil, NUT leader Courtney said: ‘This is a good idea from the Labour Party. All too often teachers see the impact that hunger has on their pupils. It affects their concentration and ability to learn and their physical and mental health and wellbeing.
‘The benefits of a healthy and nutritious school lunch are well documented and for the 4 million children living in poverty – nine pupils in every class of 30 – this may well be their main meal of the day. At a time when yet more families are affected by cuts to benefits, and in-work poverty is soaring, the cost of school lunches can be prohibitive.
‘Universal free school meals would ensure that all children have a meal in the middle of the day, bringing health and educational benefits. It would reduce the stigma attached to free school meals and would cut down on administration for schools. While this initiative will make a big difference to the lives of pupils, all political parties need to commit to ensuring overall school budgets are increased to stem the funding crisis they are currently facing.’
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