Schools powerless to stop parents taking kids out of school for holidays
JOHN NICHOLSON/ FAIRFAX NZ
Schools fighting to stop parents taking their children out of school for holidays are almost powerless to do anything, a Wellington principal says.
Any student absence during term time is regarded as truancy by the Ministry of Education. Figures from last year show 10 per cent of truancy figures are the result of children going on family holidays.
Wellington Girls’ College principal Julia Davidson said she had already written 300 letters to parents this year about students going on holiday.
“We aren’t allowed to condone it, but we are realistic about it – flights are cheaper during school terms,” she said.
READ MORE: * Family holidays make up 10pc of truancy
Parents could be charged $15 a day and up to $150 for a first offence by a school’s board of trustees for condoning their child’s truancy. But Davidson said this involved a “ridiculous amount of work”.
“How would we do that? I haven’t got time to impose fines on parents.
“Fifteen dollars a day? How much of our time would it take and at how much cost? Fifteen dollars a day wouldn’t cover anything, so why would you do it?”
In England, parents can be fined £60, and face prosecution if they don’t pay within a month.
In 2014, a total of 16,430 people were prosecuted in England, and were fined an average of £172.
The hard line has resulted in 200,000 fewer students missing school than in 2009.
“In Britain you can’t do it. You can’t be away,” Davidson said. “But I doubt the ministry will say that [here] and if they did, so what? We live at the bottom of the world and we like to experience summer overseas.”
“WE CAN’T SOLVE IT”
Deputy principal Wayne Mills, from St Patrick’s College in Wellington, said his school disapproved of parents taking students out of school, but could not stop them.
“Parents apply and we usually approve it, but we don’t like it. We can’t solve it and, at the end of the day, parents will do what they want to do.”
He said teachers had no responsibility to catch up a student who missed out on work while they were away.
Newlands Intermediate Principal Angela Lowe said the problem was not such “a huge issue” for her students.
“At an intermediate, we are less bound by the secondary school curriculum and we can look at an overseas trip as a fantastic learning opportunity.”
Ministry of Education acting deputy secretary Steve Stuart said a school’s board of trustees decided on truancy prosecutions against parents, and these had to be brought before a court.
“Prosecutions are a last resort, used only for persistent, parent-condoned truancy when all other options to support a return to school have been unsuccessful.”
Although a board did not have to inform the ministry about prosecutions, Stuart said it was “extremely unlikely that any school would bring a prosecution for taking children on holiday during school term, as this does not constitute persistent truancy”.