Tales from the Head's Office #4

Having retired as a primary head teacher & following the suggestion of my dear friend Paula this post is part of an occasional series about the highs & lows of my headship career. It spanned 13 years & included 3 schools. I hope you enjoy my tales!



I was a bit naughty with my Gallery post the other day when I went AWOL for a few days. I posted this but it got me thinking about a bête noir of mine (even though I’m no longer a head). It is children’s attendance at school.
Children are expected to attend school for 190 days a year. This is 380 sessions because schools have to take a register at the beginning of the morning & the afternoon sessions. Most schools will run an award system to encourage attendance. This may be in the form of stickers or certificates & will often include a challenge for classes. Many Friday assemblies will have a slot devoted to praising good attendance & this often leads to termly then annual rewards. I once had a pupil who had full attendance for 4 years!
A great deal of time, effort & money goes into this element of schooling. The educational welfare service is one of the most over-stretched teams that work with schools. The government has got in on the act over the years & schools now have targets for their attendance which are regularly monitored & are part of Ofsted inspections.
Now why is this you may ask? Many of you are really up with things & know how important regular attendance is to children of school age. Apart from the ‘formal’ teacher delivered learning (if they aint there they caint learn!) there are heaps & heaps of experiences that they miss if they are not there every day – forming friendships, getting to know the routines & expectations, putting all the learning from home into practice, learning to socialise with others etc.
Unfortunately, there are parents who do not see the importance of these things. They will keep children out of school because it is their birthday, or they need to have a haircut, or need new shoes (I kid you not!). They will keep them away all day for a dental check. It is only when they are presented with the figures that some (you’ll never convince them all!) realise the damage that can be done.
For instance 80% in most areas of life would be considered good. 80% in a test would certainly be a pass. A child with 80% attendance however, has missed the equivalent of 7.6 weeks of learning! That’s over a term! Even those whose attendance is considered OK at 95% have missed 2 weeks. Now depending on where they are in the school year, two weeks does not seem too bad. However, if they are the first 2 weeks of the year, the child will miss out on all the important information of the new routines, new books, equipment. They will miss making new friends & getting into work groups. If they are away at the end of the year, they miss all the goodbyes & celebrations which, if it is their last year in that phase, are really important.
Many parents have assumed that they are entitled to take their children out of school for 10 days. This is not true. Schools may grant permission for absence & authorise it but only after carefully looking at the general pattern of attendance. For a child who has had a day off every week for most of the year, a request for 2 weeks to go on holiday would not be approved. Although the holiday may provide many excellent experiences, can it make up for missing a quarter (that’s over 9 weeks) of school?
Hopefully, schools are now working with parents explaining the procedures & supporting where they can. Fixed penalty notices (where parents can be fined or taken to court) are few & far between. Please talk to your school if your child is unable to attend or if you want to take them out during term time. Unauthorised absence is not something anyone wants as it can lead to real stress all round!
What sort of system does your child’s school have for dealing with attendance? Have you felt guilty about taking them out? What about holiday firms that offer cheap deals during school term time? Share your thoughts here!

Please click to share


  • Pingback: Tales From the Heads Office #5 « What Will Julia Do Next?

  • When my eldest was in nursery we used to take holidays in the first week of October. We now go during the half term holiday, to a less luxurious accomodation in the same area as we always went.
    My two are in an infant school and the attendnace is always slightly below the targets set. For children this age they can hardly be blamed for their attendance as if the parents take them they will attend. As they grow up there is more likelyhood of truancy etc.
    I know that my 6 yo was upset at the end of last half term as she didin’t get a certificate for 100% attendnace because we kept her off one day after she was sick all night.
    Maybe she stil remebers when she pretend to be sick for a day off when in nursery and we made her stay in her bedroom all day (no TV).
    Very thought provoking post.

  • It’s like voting, we forget what our forebearers have done to get these “privileges” for us and not we take them for granted. Education is so important and your right if parents are not sending their kids to school for the trivial of reasons it is going to hamper it. My sister is getting married in September in NYC and I made the controversial decision to not take my kids with us as it would have meant them missing school. My parents and sister were upset but I really didn’t think it was fair on my kids. It would have meant a huge disruption to them so close to the start of term. I always love hearing the other side’s point of view. I look forward to more of your posts in this series!

  • I have never taken my son out of school and even worry when he has had the odd day off sick over the years. When I was a child I missed school on occasions due to bouts of bronchitis and it was so difficult to catch up.
    My mum recalls when she was at school she used to miss her English lesson every Friday because she had to go to the fish and chip shop to get the teachers’ lunch! I think of her missed education and ensure my own son isn’t disadvantaged. Allowing him a day off for holidays also instils the wrong work ethic too.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Tales from the Head’s Office #4 « What Will Julia Do Next? -- Topsy.com

  • I have never ever taken my child out for a holiday, I just don’t agree with it. I have, however, slept in on occasion and not been able to manage to get us there at a respectable time, I did this about 2 weeks ago. Other than illness though I wouldn’t normally keep my son out, he misses out on too much. In Ireland if a child misses more than 20 days school then the Dept of Education are notified, but I have never heard of them following up with anyone!

  • I used to always call the school and then ask to speak to the teacher, but recently was told not to bother. Just to send a note in when the child returns.

    • That’s a surprise because if you have not told them they do not know where the child is. They could be anywhere & you wouldn’t find out until the end of school when they didn’t turn up! I would query that advice about not calling in especailly with Ofsted & safeguarding.

  • Children should only be allowed to be taken out of school for weddings and funerals. As a TA I see the down side when a child has mssed days of school. They are not upto speed on projects, lessons etc. For instance a child was absent yesterday and today in the class I am assigned to and has missed the whole unit on co ordinations.
    If they are back tomorrow they will struggle to do their homework as its based on this area,
    Obviously sickness is allowed but come on parents lets get real

  • I’ve only taken DS1 out once and that was with the teacher’s blessing to see Terry Pratchett (he let DS wear his hat!) at a book signing. As you know I’m taking DD out tomorrow and you know why
    but it is a very rare thing. As an ex classroom teacher I know how disruptive it is for the child who misses school but it is also disruptive for the teacher who has to ensure that child catches up and has to spend time on that child which should, in my opinion, be spent on planning and assessment for those who are there rather than on holiday.
    I think it is important to encourage my children to be punctual and reliable. I’m not, however, happy with the reward system which has meant that my son, when he had flu last year, got himself in a right old flap that he would lose his 100% attendance record!
    Having said all that, I shall always regret not having done what sheepy up there is going to do when my children were younger!
    Great thought provoking post, well done!

    • Thank you Chris! I agree with you about V above & her fantastic trip! My head spins though att he thought of all the organising!

  • Poor attendance is one of my biggest bug bears (along with lateness, but that’s another blog post). I actually don’t think that the children should be praised or encouraged to “attend” but that the parents should be told that it’s attendance or hard knocks!! It’s lazy parenting IMHO and we are lucky to have a free school system – let alone schools at all.
    Home-schooling, illness, funerals and moving house aside – even some of the excuses in the comments are making my teeth itch. I work full time – not on benefits – I wish I could afford a holiday at all… Plus, if just a small percentage of the teachers suddenly decided to take advantage of the “cheaper term time holidays” then we’d all have something to say about the state of the education system.
    To me, education is important – I believe that we have some of it wrong (ages, timing of exams, length of holidays) but it’s a system that works for the majority of our children and it’s shaping the next generation – the generation that we are hoping will look after this world (and us) for years to come – and to impart their wisdom on the following generations.
    (disclaimer: for those offended my my comments here then it is up to Julia if she wants to delete my reply but they extend no further than this particular post – it’s how I feel about it. No-one in this world should agree on everything)

    • No need for the disclaimer! Thanks for expressing a view that so many of us support Nickie!

      • Thanks Julia – it’s just that it’s such a bone of contention in some place – especially when people don’t place massive importance on “traditional schooling”. I respect the fixed routine of school and sometimes think that parents of my generation (albeit limited) who were let down during their education years are passing that feeling on to their children.

  • itsasmallworldafterallfamily

    I try really hard to keep them in school, but we have missed a few days. Twice we’ve taken them out to visit their cousins in Germany, for a couple of days at a time, because their cousins have completely different holidays to us and we feel it’s important for them to see each other at least once a year. I’ve also taken them to the dentist in school hours, but never for a whole day. And I wouldn’t take them out for a week or two just to go on holiday.
    One the whole I agree with what you’ve said, and the problems I had this morning with getting the 5 year old into school after a week of chicken pox followed by half term have only underlined that a break in routine isn’t good for anyone.
    Having said that, we are taking them out of school for almost the whole of next year to go travelling because I genuinely believe that school isn’t the be all and end all and that life’s too short to not grasp these opportunities.

    • I’m very envious of your world trip & there is no way that experience should be shelved in place of school. It is making sure that the balance is there & that the experiences are valid. Going for a hair cut is, in my opinion, not but some of my parents didn’t see it like that!

  • Good to have a teacher’s perspective on this. I plead guilty. I’m taking my two out next week so we can go to the beach to see my sister and family (ok, we live abroad so they never see family…). But I did have a real problem for a lot of this year. My son is autistic, and in England or France, he’d be part of a program at school. Here, he goes to the French school but they don’t have a program. Instead he goes to a centre for autistic children for about six hours a week, and we pay for someone to accompany him at school one day a week. The result is that he’s exhausted and for most of the first semester he just wouldn’t go to school 2 days a week. He’d refuse, and there was nothing we could do to make him! It was horrid, if only because we both work and we never knew whether we’d be able to go to work on any given day. Finally we settled with the teacher that he should stay home on fridays. So he now misses one day every week but goes reliably the rest of the time (or maybe he’s missed a couple of extra days since january). All in all it’s been a major headache and I can see that allowing this solution was a difficult compromise for the teacher to make. Next year we’re hoping to have someone accompany him full time, so at least he’ll get more out of his time at school! Sorry for the long rant , I think I needed to say this!

    • Goodness – I don’t know how you have managed! I think consistent time off from school that can be managed ie work set for when he is able to do it is fine. It is vital he has the contact with the autistic school so that his very special needs are being met at least for a short time.
      I say again – you are doing a magnificent job!

  • My daughter is in year 1. So far I’ve only had to ask permission to have her out of school for her great grandfather’s funeral.
    I am the kind of mum who sends not very well children in to school as I don’t want them to miss it! I only ever missed 2 weeks of school and that was when i moved house and we went on holiday before the move.
    Until Jan I was tied to school hols myself as worked in schools. Now I’m benefits I can’t afford holidays whether or not they are cheaper in term time 😉
    My 3 y old will be missing 7 days of nursery to go to Scotland with my grandparents but he is still below school age so that’s OK.

  • I confess I have had two very different experiences of this. Yes, I have taken my child out of school twice in what is only her first school year.
    The first time was around 2 weeks into term, when we went to France for my husband’s grandfather’s 90th birthday party. This was completely against my better judgement (rightly, as it turned out – the poor child took a long time to settle in because of all the upheaval), but based on what I can only term emotional blackmail from my MIL – a retired teacher, by the way! – who insisted the first year was not that important. Better stop there as I still get angry about the whole thing.
    The second experience was earlier this year when we went on a ski holiday with friends. Strangely enough, this was again egged on by an ex primary school head teacher – the first to moan about parents taking their children out of school during term time before she had children herself. Yes, I felt guilty, but the school were also very good about both instances. I do also feel that she did at least learn something on each trip.As to whether I’d do it again? Let’s just say the same friends are trying to persuade us to go skiing again next year…

    • I understand how difficult it must be when they are new experiences. Often the retelling when they get back is excellent learning for thge rest of the class. I’d probably frown about the second ski trip 😉

  • hmm interesting perdpective, I dont have any worries about taking my boys out of school, but then they are only 5 and 3. I do believe that they learn as much with me. If I had my way I would consider home schooling them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.