Friday, June 10, 2016

The Government Position on Holidays in Term Time

The Government have set out their position on pupil absence as a result of term time holidays. All Headteachers received this letter on 9 June 2016. We also understand, as I indicated in my blog ‘Attendance Matters’ on 27 May, that the Government intend to change the legislation to tighten up the regulation around holidays in term time.

The letter below is from Nick Gibb who is the Schools Minister.

Department for Education

High Court judgment on unauthorised pupil absence

Dear Colleague,

I am writing to set out the Government's position on unauthorised school absence and next steps following the judgment by the High Court on Friday 13 May regarding the case of the Isle of Wight Council v Jon Platt.

I am disappointed with the High Court ruling. I am clear that no child should miss school apart from in exceptional circumstances.

Over the past six years, schools and local authorities have taken the lead in reducing overall absence to make sure more children attend school every day. Overall absence in primary, secondary and special schools has been on a downward trend since 2010/11. In particular, since introducing the changes to the regulations in 2013 so that absence is only granted in exceptional circumstances, the rate of absence due to term time holidays has decreased by more than a third.

This is a significant achievement. As you will be aware there is clear evidence that absence from school is linked to lower levels of attainment. The Department's latest analysis published in March shows that every extra day missed was associated with lower attainment at age 11 and at age 16. In other words, every extra day of school that is missed can affect a pupil's chance of gaining good GCSE results.

I wish to advise you on two matters.

1. The High Court's judgment did not establish a hard and fast rule that a pupil's attendance above 90% is regarded as 'regular' attendance. Instead a decision will have to depend on the individual facts of each case. In the Isle of Wight case, for example, the magistrates thought it was a pertinent fact that the school itself had described 90% attendance as 'satisfactory'.

2. We understand that some parents who have already been given penalty notices and have paid the penalty are asking local authorities to withdraw the notices under regulation 8 of the Education (Penalty notices) (England) Regulations 2007 and refund their payments. However, the view of the Department is that the decision in the Isle of Wight case does not require local authorities to do this, and I would expect applications of this kind to be refused in the ordinary course of events. We will set out any additional steps necessary to secure children's attendance at school in due course.
In the meantime, it remains the case - as set out in the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 amended in 2013 - that headteachers continue to have the power to authorise leave of absence, but only in exceptional circumstances. While family holidays are enriching experiences, the school year is designed to give families the opportunity for these breaks without having to disrupt their children's education. It is for schools to consider the specific details and relevant context behind each request. Schools know their pupils best and are well placed to make those judgements.

I am clear that we need to continue reducing absence, building on the success schools and local authorities have already achieved, to support attainment and ensure all pupils fulfill their potential.
With best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Gibb MP

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Outcome of our Uniform Consultation

I would like to express a huge thank you to all our parents, students and staff who participated in the consultation on amendments to our uniform policy.

Views were canvassed and in many cases provided passionate responses both in favour and against some or all suggested changes.

Over 120 parents answered the online questionnaire and between 40 and 50 attended the Parent Voice uniform agenda meeting on Tuesday 17 May 2016. Written comments were taken in to account and parents who attended the meeting listened politely to all opinions and the college’s rationale behind the changes.

One view was very clear in that parents felt the college was right to pursue a stricter adherence to the expected uniform and that current fashions around tight trousers and short lycra skirts should be challenged and not accepted. Many parents felt that a minority of students wearing indiscreet fashion items made it more difficult for them to enforce the correct uniform with their own children. However, a majority also felt that whilst moving to one main supplier with logoed clothing would make it easier for both the college and parents to enforce, this financially penalised those parents who already ensured their children wore appropriate uniform within the policy.

Cost, despite negotiating a good deal with a reputable company, was the main issue for most. Both I and the Governing Body held concerns about the potential cost difference between trousers and skirts bought from large retailers and a school supplier.

It is important to recognise that many schools in our locality, especially those that have or intend to become part of a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) organisation, are now moving to a more rigid uniform policy where the main items can only be bought by the school supplier. A quick research on a variety of school websites will confirm this.

In the final decision we also needed to take into account the future of the college and any potential changes to governance. Like many schools, it is likely that Sir Thomas Wharton will join a MAT in the near future; this may bring about a change in uniform as a result. I would not want parents to go through two changes of uniform in a short period of time.

Having considered all the views and potential consequences we have decided not to go ahead with the proposed changes. Instead, we will be tweaking and clarifying our current uniform and with a solid endorsement from parents enforce our expectations and adherence to the policy. We will be communicating our expectations over this half term and would ask that parents are clear about what is and isn’t acceptable as you purchase new items both this term and especially for the new academic year in September. Our current expectations, including pictures of what is and isn't acceptable, can be found on the uniform section of the website. We will be retaining our current supplier for blazers and ties and the logo badge will remain the same.

Once again I thank you for your responses to the consultation and in your current and anticipated support with our uniform policy.