I definitely agree with the hon. Lady. I find it strange that in the system in England, which is so different from the one in Scotland, authority is devolved away from local authorities and down to schools.
It is important that we listen to the almost 200,000 people who signed the petition, because this is a real-life issue for them and their families. Of course educational attainment is important, and of course there are links to attendance—as a former lecturer in a further education college, I can vouch for that—but when headteachers authorise absences for good reasons and teachers know about those reasons, they can provide homework and catch-up sessions, so students can generally catch up. I very much take on board what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight said: a two-week absence should be seen as a 14-day absence across the whole school year. If a student is attending regularly, a one or two-week holiday might not make much different to their attainment.
It is not acceptable to criminalise parents for taking holidays. Parents know what is best for their children, and in that regard I suppose I should declare an interest having, a long while ago, taken my children out of school for a family holiday. I could not have gone away later because I was pregnant with my third child and wanted him to be born in Scotland, not in Scarborough, which was where we were headed.
It is absolutely essential that we, including the Minister, take on board the fact that there is a real difficulty across the UK, not just in England, as parents do their level best to provide for their children in what are, for many, cash-strapped times. We have heard examples of how much additional money is needed to go on holiday in term time. A spokesman for the National Parent Forum of Scotland has said:
“We all know how important family time is, particularly when money is short. But we’d encourage parents to avoid taking their children out of school during term time, as it does impact on their learning.
It would be helpful if holiday companies did not increase their prices so much during school holidays.”
Perhaps the Government should look at that issue.