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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 11:54 GMT
Term-time holidays OK say parents
Family on beach
Many chose term-time holidays to save money
Four in 10 parents who take their children out of school for a holiday say they do not believe it will have an impact on their education.

In the same survey, half said they had gone during term time "to save money".

The findings are from a survey carried out by Mori for the Department for Education and the Association of British Travel Agents.

The department is determined to cut unnecessary absences, arguing that they do affect children's learning.

It made it clear earlier this week that middle class parents going on skiing holidays, for example, should be seen in the same light as dysfunctional families whose children play truant from school.

Truancy sweeps

Mori asked 713 people for their views - of whom 72% did not have children or would never consider taking them on holiday during term time.

Of the 135 who would or had done so, 49% wanted to save money and 40% did not think it would have any impact on their education.

For 9% it was a special or family occasion.

The survey findings were released along with updated information on truancy sweeps held around England last December.

This shows that police apprehended 20,000 pupils out of school.

More than a third, 7,341, did not have a valid reason to be out of school - and more than half of them were with an adult.

The Education Minister Ivan Lewis said the figures underlined the need for continued efforts to cut truancy rates, by government, local education authorities and parents.

"While it should be remembered that parents can request a term-time absence of up to 10 days in special circumstances, every day counts and any kind of absence that has not been discussed with, and authorised by the school, should be seen as truancy," he said.

New measures

His department stressed that it had no intention of altering the long-standing 10-day rule.

In some cases, people's job requirements gave them no other option, a spokeswoman said. This applied to 29% of those in the survey.

But new measures against truancy later in the year would include fixed penalty notices "for parents who persistently condone absenteeism".

Council officers and head teachers could ask parents to sign a contract agreeing to attend a parenting course and improve their child's attendance.

Refusal to sign, or a breach of contract, would mean prosecution or a fixed penalty notice.

The government wants to cut truancies by 10% by 2004 from the 2002 level of 0.72% of school sessions.

At present, recorded unauthorised absences in primary and secondary schools account for 0.72% of half days lost (1.1% in secondaries and 0.5% in primaries). This translates into 7.5 million days missed annually.

Quicker to court

Under "fast track" arrangements being tried in nine education authorities - and going England-wide from the autumn, parents of frequent truants get 12 weeks to improve things are can find themselves in court.

The first such prosecutions, in Thurrock on Wednesday, ended in frustration for the council when some parents pleaded not guilty, others did not turn up, and all the cases were adjourned.

Thurrock's principal education officer, Sandra Fletcher, said she was disappointed the cases had not been dealt with.

She would be talking to the Department for Education and the Home Office to see what improvements could be made in future fast-track cases.

But the department said it had never meant a fast track to the courts to mean a fast track to conviction - that was "a matter for the independent judiciary".

The aim had been to end the situation in which there could be an almost indefinite delay in taking action against the parents of a persistent truant.

In the case of Patricia Amos, the first parent jailed for their child's truancy in England, a the department said there had been something like 72 interventions by the local council over 18 months before the case came to court.

The BBC's James Westhead
"Parents and pupils have been given a clear warning"

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