Page last updated at 08:03 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 09:03 UK

Ruane child missed school on trip

Caitriona Ruane
Ms Ruane took her daughter on the trip to Cyprus

The education minister has admitted her 12-year-old daughter missed three days of school when she was taken on a government trip to Cyprus.

Caitriona Ruane confirmed a report in the Irish News which said the trip fell outside holidays in the Republic, where her daughter attends school.

The NI Department of Education says parents should not remove their children from school during term time.

Ms Ruane said it was gutter journalism and a "dreadful attack" on her family.

She said she paid for her daughter to go with her and private matters should not be brought into "political battles".

"I will make decisions in relation to my family," she said. "I'm a mother and I'm a minister."

Ms Ruane said she was in Cyprus on official business, speaking about the peace process and education in Ireland "and the lessons that Cyprus can learn".

In a later statement she added: "My decision was dictated by private and personal matters and in the best interest of my daughter.

"I am happy that my decision was both responsible and correct."

There is an issue for people in public life that if you do one thing and say another, it worries people,
Basil McCrea

Mervyn Storey, who chairs the education committee at the Northern Ireland Assembly, criticised Ms Ruane.

"I think this is another example of how the minister sets a standard for others, but is not prepared to live by the rules herself," the DUP man said.

Basil McCrea, the Ulster Unionist education spokesman, said as minister, Ms Ruane advised other parents not to take their children out of school during term time.

"There is an issue for people in public life that if you do one thing and say another, it worries people," he said.

However, Brendan Harron, from the teaching union INTO, said each decision must be judged on merit.

"Attendance at school is crucial - there's a clear link between attendance and achievement - but every individual case must be looked at on its merits," he said.

"A parent makes a decision - I don't think any parent makes a decision to in any way inflict damage on a child's education."

The Republic's National Educational Welfare Board "strongly advises" parents not to take their child out of school for holidays during term time.

A document on the Northern Ireland Department of Education's website states that "the majority of family holidays taken during term time should be categorised as unauthorised absence."

The document entitled "School Attendance: Absence Recording by Schools" goes on to state that schools can authorise a family holiday during term time if there are "very exceptional circumstances".

These would include a family holiday "judged to be important to the wellbeing and cohesion of the family, following serious or terminal illness, bereavement or other traumatic events."

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