the english education system – how it’s taken leave of its senses

Here’s how the English education system has taken leave of its senses.  (I’ve tried to be as calm and collected as the situation allows me to be.  I suppose I would do my own case no good at all if I said what I really thought.)

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Leave of absence for schoolchildren from 2006 onwards – a summary:

7.  (1)  Leave of absence may only be granted by a person authorised in that behalf by the proprietor of the school.

(2) Leave of absence shall not be granted to enable a pupil to undertake employment (whether paid or unpaid) during school hours except—

(a) employment for the purpose of taking part in a performance within the meaning of section 37 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 (1) under the authority of a licence granted by the local authority under that section; or

(b) employment abroad for the purpose mentioned in section 25 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (2) where a licence has been granted under that section by a justice of the peace.

(3) Subject to paragraph (4), a pupil may be granted leave of absence from the school to enable him to go away on holiday where —

(a) an application has been made in advance to the proprietor by a parent with whom the pupil normally resides; and

(b) the proprietor, or a person authorised by the proprietor in accordance with paragraph (1), considers that leave of absence should be granted due to the special circumstances relating to that application.

(4) Save in exceptional circumstances, a pupil shall not in pursuance of paragraph (3) be granted more than ten school days leave of absence in any school year.

(5) This regulation applies only in relation to a maintained school and a special school not maintained by a local education authority.

Leave of absence for schoolchildren from September 2013 onwards – some amendments:

2.  (1)  The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006(1) are amended as follows.

(2) In regulation 7—

(a) after paragraph (1) insert—

(1A) Subject to paragraph (2), leave of absence shall not be granted unless—

(a) an application has been made in advance to the proprietor by a parent with whom the pupil normally resides; and

(b) the proprietor, or a person authorised by the proprietor in accordance with paragraph (1), considers that leave of absence should be granted due to the exceptional circumstances relating to that application.;

(b) omit paragraphs (3) and (4);

(3) In regulation 8(1)—

(a) in sub-paragraph (f)—

(i) omit “exceeding ten school days for the purpose of a holiday”;

(ii) for “regulation 7(3)”, substitute “regulation 7(1A)”;

(b) for sub-paragraph (k) substitute—

(k) that the pupil will cease to be of compulsory school age before the school next meets and—

(i) the relevant person has indicated that the pupil will cease to attend the school; or

(ii) the pupil does not meet the academic entry requirements for admission to the school’s sixth form..

Request for leave of absence due to serious family illness (slightly amended to anonymise) – 21st March 2014:

SPANISH GRANDFATHER IS HOSPITALISED WITH A TERMINAL CANCER. THE DOCTOR WHO SAW HIM LAST SUNDAY SAID HE WOULD NOT LIVE BEYOND THE END OF MARCH. THE ABSENCE WOULD ALLOW THE SCHOOLCHILD TO SAY GOODBYE IN A HUMANE MANNER. (GRANDFATHER IS IN SPAIN.)

Request for leave of absence denied – 21st March 2014.  One email then sent to two councillors (also slightly amended from the original).

Complaint email sent to school – 21st March 2014.

Grandfather dies – 22nd March 2014.

Grandfather is buried, as is the Spanish tradition, a day after his death – 23rd March 2014.

On the schoolchild’s return to school on Monday 24th March 2014, it is reported that one of the teachers tells her, in front of the rest of the class, that the decision not to grant leave of absence was a fair one, because so many children are trying to get off school.

Written response to leave of absence request, dated 21st March 2014, is posted on 24th March 2014.  Arrives at residence of schoolchild on 25th March 2014.  Written response is a standard letter.  An excerpt follows:

The government discourages the taking of holidays/leave of absence in term time.  Our EiP policy states that ‘Absence due to holiday which does not meet the exceptional circumstances criteria will not be authorised.’  Evidence shows that children who miss school do not achieve as well as those who attend regularly.  Therefore, I am unable to authorise this absence.

[…]

If you feel this decision has not taken into account any extenuating circumstances please contact the school immediately.

Reply to complaint email sent on Friday 21st March 2014 is received by father on 26th March 2014, apparently after a Board of Governors’ meeting was held the previous day.  (There may be a relationship between these two events or not.  The father is not party to this information.)  The school confirms that it is its belief that there is no statutory basis for compassionate leave for schoolchildren under any circumstances.  It expresses sadness at the situation, and offers the option of contacting the Chair of Governors, as the original email requested.  The tone is correct and dispassionate, and cannot be faulted.  The father doesn’t know whether to cry or be angry.

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So.  As I observed this evening:

The school has written to me to say compassionate leave doesn’t exist for children.  No statutory basis.  So my question is as follows: if workers can have compassionate leave, why not children?  Are children second-class citizens?  Do they not have feelings?  Do they not have emotional needs which should be supported?  Do they not grieve?  Do they not mourn?  Are these only things we do, things which society allows for, when we turn eighteen and/or begin to work?  I measure my words but am seething inside.  And no one I’ve spoken to has the courage to stand up to this appalling situation.  Well.  Perhaps it’s not courage that’s needed: just a dollop of humanity, a slice of true compassion.  We’ll see.

Yes.  Indeed.  We’ll see if this nation of people – which once so believed in fair play – is capable of getting at all upset about the fact that apparently its schoolchildren no longer have the legal right to be treated in a compassionate way.

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Update to this post, 28/03/2014: yesterday morning I thanked the school for their reply to my complaint email which had asked for a review of the original decision, and I also contacted via email the clerk of the Board of Governors.  In my email to the Chair, and wider Board, I have asked a series of questions around policies the school might or might not currently have in place in relation to serious family illness and bereavement (whether potential or actual).  I also asked that the criteria and scenarios for determining whether a case was exceptional or not be explained.  Finally, I wanted to know if the Board was satisfied that everything that could be done was being done to help schoolchildren in these kinds of situations, especially given the insensitivity of the teacher who apparently found it more important to impress upon the rest of the class the correctness of the decision taken than to find out if the grandfather was still alive.

I shall continue to pursue this matter with as much dignity as I can muster.  The schoolchild in question is much more positive this week, and I think it is a result of not letting the issue go as if nothing had happened and nothing needed to be done.

I will keep you all posted on how this appalling national legislation/implementation at local level is assessed – maybe even revised – for future cases.  Hopefully, something manifestly positive will come out of all of this.  Many thanks for reading thus far; your support, whether explicit or silent, has helped us a lot.

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