I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to the debate, which has been well informed and clear. I also take the opportunity to thank all the members of the public who signed the petition—nearly 200,000 people—and Dave Hedley from Nottingham, who started it.
We all agree that we want children to attend school regularly and as much as possible. The reasons for persistent absence need to be addressed, but there are clearly a variety of views on whether the existing Government policy is the best way to achieve that.
The Minister made the point that a lot boils down to our view of the difference between “exceptional” and “special”. The more that can be done to make the Government’s view of exceptional circumstances clear, the better, so that we can have real clarity. However, what I pick up from headteachers, as many Members have said, is that the real issue is about Ofsted. Where headteachers exercise their discretion, Ofsted appears to take a different view. Anything that can be done to help Ofsted support headteachers a bit more will, I am sure, be much appreciated.
Personally, I still believe that it is strange for us to trust schools to set their own term dates, as the Minister said, but not to trust headteachers to decide what is right and best for individual pupils. I encourage the Minister to look at the situation again, not only to clarify it but to see whether we can bring more common sense and flexibility into it, allowing headteachers to exercise their discretion. They are the ones who know pupils the best.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered e-petition 129698 relating to penalty fines and authorised absence from school.