Justice For Us All

With the recent landmark ruling of Mr Platt in the High Court against the Isle of Wight Council, is it fair for other parents to take their children on holiday when they choose, or are there other factors to consider?

As parents in the UK, we are governed by the Education Act 1996, s.7 which states:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

So what does this mean?

Firstly, the Act clearly makes reference to a parent providing an efficient full-time education for their child – this is straight-forward, and would suggest that the education received is regular, and is efficiently suitable, (according to the child’s aptitude, abilities and special education needs).

Either by regular attendance at school or otherwise – would suggest that regular attendance should be maintained at the child’s registered school, or in an alternative manner, such as being educated at home.

The matter of regular attendance

The Court ruled in favour of Mr Platt on the basis that attendance of his child was at 94% ‘after’ the holiday. Before holiday, his child’s attendance had been 100% – therefore Judges expressed that the Magistrates’ Decision in October 2015 was not erred in law (mistaken or incorrect). Regulations clearly stated at the time of Mr Platt’s holiday, attendance below 90% was considered ‘truancy,’ therefore a 94% attendance record would be deemed as sufficiently ‘regular’.

What then happens to a child whose attendance falls below 90%?

They are considered to be ‘Persistent Absentees’, or PAs with irregular attendance. The Government however, has failed to draw a significant line between different types of absences. For example, a child who is ill and absent (authorised), is placed in the same category with a child who plays truant (non-authorised).

Should absence due to illness be categorised as Persistently Absent?

In one word, ‘No’. S.I. No. 1751 – The Education (Pupil Registration, England) Regulations 2006; S.6, ss. 2(b)(i) clearly states: In the case of a pupil who is not a boarder, his absence shall be treated as authorised for the purpose of this Regulation if he has been unable to attend due to ‘sickness’ or ‘unavoidable cause’.

Therefore, due to an illness or unavoidable cause, a pupil may be unable to attend school, and this is noted by the school as an ‘authorised absence’. Within current school Regulations however, this gives rise to an irregular attendance issue.

Certain issues of absenteeism should therefore be addressed properly by schools – if a child is off sick or has an illness which means they miss days of school, teachers should provide parents with an email address to forward work to them. Most topics covered can be researched online, and teachers should make use of technology to its full effect.

These days, Local Authorities are taking a heavy hand against so called Persistent Absences, by fining their parents without questioning the mitigating circumstances of each individual case beforehand. This does not help in anyway, as certain absences are practically ‘unavoidable’ under S.I. No. 1751.

Let’s question the link between attendance and pupil attainment

Primary data for today’s ongoing studies were initially deduced via a Governmental Survey (TellUs4 Survey), conducted in 2010.

From this survey, a causal link was found between pupil attainment in KS2 and KS4 and absence. The survey stated that pupils who were Persistent Absentees (PAs) were four times less likely to achieve a Level 4 or above in KS2, than pupils who were not PAs. The survey stated that only 38% of PAs received a level 4 or above at KS2, whilst 78% of Non-PAs achieved level 4 or over.

The survey also found that a PA at KS4, dropped 1 grade in each GCSE subject compared to Non-PAs.

What TellUs4 did conclude was all pupils in the survey who were Persistent Absentees, found life boring and did not want to attend school. It also established that parents of PA pupils were not interested in their children’s education, did not feel significantly engaged, and did not expect their children to aim towards higher education after school.

The survey highlighted the fact that parents of PA children in the survey had a monthly income of less than £1,300 per month or less.

Parents of Non-PA pupils in the survey however, were all engaged in their children’s school life, and wanted them to enter higher education.

The survey stated that attainment therefore is not completely as a result of absence levels. There is actually a ‘very strong’ link between pupil characteristics and attitudes and attainment in KS2 and KS4.

Should regular attendance become an issue for a child who is a PA, yet exceeding attainment?

The survey of 2010 highlighted the fact that the majority of PAs are from backgrounds in which their parents were not engaged with their school life or education. It does not take into account pupils who are PAs and go beyond scope to achieve high grades in relation to their peers (who are Non-PAs), yet receive the same grades.

In view of attendance levels, it should therefore be concluded that school is not the only way a child can receive education, in fact; for those PA pupils who achieve highly in exams, their attitude to study is obviously considerably different to those within the survey conducted in 2010. PAs who do achieve highly will seek to educate themselves at home, beyond the capacity of their school. Parents of these children may also play a vital part in helping their child move further within their education, even though they may suffer from irregular attendance due to unavoidable causes. A parent’s monthly income should not therefore become a determining factor, as concluded in the 2010 survey.

Parents and pupils should not be categorised into statistical values by schools, local authorities or government(s), due to absence – if a pupil is a high achiever despite their absence levels being below 90% (now amended to below 95%); then these children should be commended for their efforts and accomplishments, not condemned by local authorities for non-compliance of their ‘rules’.

For parents of high achievers, it should therefore be up to the parents on whether to take their children on holiday with them if they so wish, during school term time. The child has proved they are able to function beyond the school’s capacity, and they should be noted as being a benefit to their school, rather than an encumbrance on the school league tables.