School Penalty Fines and Authorised Absence — [Mr David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:33 pm on 11th July 2016.

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Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip 5:33 pm, 11th July 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I find myself yet again commenting on English education and looking at it with a different set of eyes, which I hope some Members throughout the Chamber will benefit from.

It is obvious from the debate that this is a difficult problem that is not easily solved. There is no blanket ban in Scotland, and no automatic fines for parents who take their children out of school without authorisation. Local authorities judge how to treat unauthorised absences. Steve Double made a passionate and informed speech, and as he said, the subject is not going to go away—almost 200,000 people have signed a petition on this difficult ongoing issue.

Parents need to know where they stand, and swift action is needed because of the Isle of Wight decision, which Mr Turner referred to. The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay said that we need common sense, and as I listened to Peter Heaton-Jones it became more and more apparent that swift action is needed. They both have constituencies with tourism issues, and the regulations cause conflict for those who work in the tourism industry and those who support it.

Another important point is that it is sometimes not a holiday that is being considered but a trip that would make people better at their sport—volleyball, in the case that was mentioned. Andy Murray would not have got to where he was yesterday had he not been given leave at various times to attend tennis camps and pursue his sporting prowess. It seems unfair that regions in England treat unauthorised absences in such different ways, as can be seen from the number of fines that are issued in schools in the Isle of Wight and across Devon and Cornwall. The Minister should be able to respond to that situation and consider it with a bit more care.

The main point I have taken from the debate is that headteachers should be given back discretion, because they best know their own pupils and what works for them. That might well help Imran Hussain, who is no longer in his place. One of his interventions regarded family bereavements causing people to go to Pakistan with their children, and those families then coming back to face horrendous fines.