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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 December, 2003, 10:01 GMT
Warning on school time holidays
Don't be tempted, is the government's message
Travel agents are being told to warn parents about the rules on children taking holidays during school terms.

Truancy spot fines of 100 could apply if these were broken, education minister Ivan Lewis said.

The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has also written to remind its members the law allows only 10 days' absence from school a year.

Chief executive Ian Reynolds said it was important children's education "did not suffer" because of holidays.

New law

As advertisers start bombarding people with adverts for next summer's bargain breaks, Mr Lewis told parents that such holidays in term time should only be taken with the permission of the head teacher.

He warned them that the new fixed penalty notices for truancy of up to 100, being introduced in New Year legislation, could be used on those who did not get permission.

Mr Reynolds told BBC Radio 4's Today programme his members did not want parents to have to cancel holidays they had already booked, so all ABTA members would remind them of the law at the time of booking.

But some have questioned whether the strategy would succeed in stopping middle class parents taking their children out of school.

Alan Cogswell, chief education officer with Bury Council, told Today a 100 fine would not deter families when they could save several hundred pounds on a holiday by booking outside peak times.

He also questioned whether head teachers would refuse to authorise absences when put under pressure from parents.

"If the schools fail to authorise the absence then the school's truancy figure will go up - which is counter to government policy," he said.

Rate falls

The most recent figures published by the Department for Education showed a 0.4% fall in authorised absences at secondary school in the past year but there was no change in the rate of unauthorised absences.

Cambridge University researcher Ming Zhang said the sustained anti-truancy campaign had not cut truancy among children from deprived backgrounds.

"Middle class parents are not the intended target, but they also feel the heat when the news headlines suggest there may be a new breed of 'irresponsible parents' who take their children out of schools for one of their many family holidays," he said.

'Missing important work'

Even so, almost everyone took some authorised leave during school time - 92% of the pupils in primary schools and 93% of those in secondary schools.

On average they were away from primaries for 17 "half days" - the measure used in the official statistics - and 23 in secondaries.

Mr Lewis said: "Taking a holiday during term time can mean that children miss important school time and coursework and it will be difficult for them to catch up later on.

"Taking a child out of school for a holiday without the head's permission is unacceptable and will be treated as truancy.

"Since last year 1,200 truants have been returned to full-time education and 133 of 150 local education authorities have reported an improvement in attendance at secondary level.

"But parents must support their child and their school in making sure that every day counts."

The BBC's James Westhead
"There are signs that schools are already getting tougher"

100 instant penalty for truancy
03 Oct 03  |  Education
Up to half of pupils play truant
17 Sep 03  |  Education
Class attendance rates increase
03 Dec 03  |  Scotland
Term-time holidays OK say parents
27 Feb 03  |  Education
Family holiday 'truants' targeted
23 Feb 03  |  Education

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