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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 11th July 2016.

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Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 4:30 pm, 11th July 2016

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are hitting the wrong people with this policy. The children of families who, because of the economics and the price, can afford to take them on holiday only during term time are possibly the ones who need such holidays the most in order to enrich their experience of the world, to strengthen their family relationships and to expand their knowledge and appreciation of the world, but they are the ones who are being excluded from such highly valuable experiences by this policy.

By stating that a family holiday is not a valid reason for an authorised absence from school, we are not addressing the real issue of persistent truancy. The assumption that absence is the main cause of falling attainment is just that—an assumption that has no evidence to support it. Stephen Gorard, professor of education at Durham University, has said:

“There is an association between the proportion of absence and the aggregate level of attainment of students who’ve had that level of absence but it would be wrong to assume that it was necessarily causal. We don’t know that the absences are the reason for the lower attainment. They could both be indicators of something else such as background characteristics and of course it’s also possible that children who aren’t doing well at school after a time begin to drift away and perhaps take time off. It could be that the causal mechanism is the other way around.”

This policy cannot be considered in isolation. We cannot just take a narrow approach that says, “This is the way to ensure that children attend school regularly,” without considering the wider impact on other aspects of family life and society.