Cheaper holidays are not an "exceptional circumstance" – head teachers offered new guidance on term-time absence

New guidance has been issued by the National Association of Head Teachers, in regards to school absences.  The current system has been described as unclear as there is no consistent definition of an "exceptional circumstance".  This has led to confusion and disparity in the application of the current policy.

The new guidelines stipulate that whilst weddings, bereavement and religious events will be deemed as "exceptional circumstances", cheaper holidays will not be a good enough reason to justify taking children out of school.  The guidance will also include scope for allowing time off for children with disabilities, special needs or those who are suffering a family crisis.

Until September 2013, head teachers could grant up to 10 days leave per year for holidays in "special circumstances". But under the new guidelines, leave can only be granted for absences outside of the school holiday period in "exceptional circumstances".  Currently, parents who take children out of school during term-time without authorisation could be fined an automatic penalty notice of £60 per child, with this figure rising to £120 if the fine is not paid within 21 days.

Parents may also face prosecution, with a maximum fine of £2500 or a jail sentence of up to 3 months although this happens rarely. 

Whilst the new guidelines have raised the threshold from "special circumstances" to "exceptional circumstances", there still seems to be a lack of clarification as to what constitutes an "exceptional circumstance".  This may mean that the new guidelines will do little to alleviate any of the confusion under the previous regime.  Even if the guidelines did offer some clarity, the continued frustration that we hear from head teachers is that paying a £120 fine on top of the cost of a term time holiday is still the cheaper option.