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 an excellent point on an issue I am only too aware of. In Cornwall, and I suspect in other parts of the country, families are forced to take their holiday just at the time when we need more NHS staff. Hospitals and other services struggle to maintain staffing levels for that very reason. The Government need to take a joined-up approach and consider the impact not only on the Department for Education but on other organisations, such as the NHS.

We are still waiting for the Government’s response to the recent court ruling, and it would be helpful if the Minister could provide an update today. If, as he has previously stated, his intention is to reinforce the rule, can he confirm that that will require primary legislation, as the court indicated? If so, will he confirm that the process will include a full impact assessment of both the economic and the social impacts and that the family test will be rigorously applied? Will he confirm that he will consult widely not only with schools but with family groups and the tourism industry?

Along with families across the country, I hope that the Minister will now choose a different response. The petition calls for 10 days of authorised leave each year for a family holiday, but I am not sure whether that is necessarily the correct approach. The right approach is to return the decision to the discretion of headteachers, who should be allowed to make the decision based on their knowledge of the children and families involved. Headteachers should be given the flexibility to decide, in co-operation with parents, what is right and best for the children in their school. Once again, I ask the Minister to reconsider the Government’s position on this issue, to recognise the very real concerns of parents and to accept that this policy was rushed through without the consultation and assessment that it should have had. Take this opportunity, in light of the recent court ruling, to think again. Accept that truancy and persistent absence are different from a family holiday. Repeal this ruling and return flexibility and common sense. Allow families who want nothing more than to spend a week on holiday with their children the right to do so without the fear of being made into criminals.