Trust’s shorter summer holiday policy causes rise in term-time absence

Trust's shorter summer holiday policy causes rise in term-time absence

An academy trust has abandoned the experimental holiday calendar it introduced to alleviate cost pressures and reduce term-time absences, after it actually caused a rise in pupils taking days off.

Tall Oaks Academy Trust in Gainsborough introduced a pilot plan to cut the traditional six-week summer holiday break short by one week, in favour of adding an extra week’s holiday elsewhere to the school year.

But it found that pupils took more days off because many parents had children at different schools, and the trust has been forced to bin its idea.

Sue Wilson, the executive head of the chain, which runs three schools, said she had hoped families would be able book cheaper holidays outside the peak summer period, but the lack of coordination with other local schools caused problems.

“Parents found it really difficult if they had children in other schools to get the family together all at the same time,” Wilson told the BBC. “Parents still took their children out of school when their other children were on holiday.”

Parents found it really difficult if they had children in other schools to get the family together all at the same time

Barnsley council also contemplated the idea of reducing the six-week break, but heads revolted against the idea because of similar problems and blocked the change.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that holidays are a “complex exercise” which “must be coordinated with other schools to prevent disruption to parents and teachers who have children at different schools”.

Other issues that Tall Oaks came across during the pilot included problems securing supplies of free milk and fruit when other schools were closed. It also meant new pupils joining from other schools had a much-reduced summer holiday.

Barnsley was set to become the first local authority to introduce the new policy after it approved plans for the changes last year. Tim Cheetham, a spokesperson for the council, told Schools Week: “The consultation showed that while a narrow majority of parents were in favour of change, there was less support within schools.”

One council ploughing ahead with the idea, however, is Brighton and Hove.

From this academic year onwards, the summer break will be shortened to five weeks while the traditional one-week break in October will be extended to a fortnight.

The council claimed the new term dates had been set with consideration of dates for schools in the neighbouring authorities of East and West Sussex.

Tom Bewick of Brighton and Hove city council said: “Modern families come in all shapes and sizes and the reduction in the discretion available to headteachers is damaging. The introduction of a new week’s holiday in term time is a positive step and I hope addresses the behaviour of travel companies who whack up prices.”

This trend of shortening the summer holidays comes as the number of pupils taking unauthorised family holidays increases.

Government figures published last month show pupil absences rose from 270,220 in autumn 2015, to 328,555 in autumn last year – a rise of 22 per cent.

The rise followed a court case with parent Jon Platt, from the Isle of Wight, who challenged the government’s rules barring term-time absences in state schools.

He won a High Court case over his right to take his daughter to Disney World during term without having to pay a fine of £120, but the decision was overturned by Supreme Court judges after a government appeal.

At present schools can permit a term-time absence in “exceptional circumstances”.