This information seeks to help clarify the meaning of ‘exceptional circumstances’ and outline some guiding principles to aid the head teacher’s decision-making process while giving parents a consistent and fair approach to requests for any term-time absence.
The fundamental principles for defining ‘exceptional circumstances’ are that they are ‘rare, significant, unavoidable and short’.
- Term times are for education. This is the priority. Children and families have 175 days off school to spend time together, including weekends and school holidays. The head teacher will rightly prioritise attendance. The default school policy is that absences will not be granted during term time and will only be authorised in exceptional circumstances.
- The decision to authorise a pupil’s absence is at the head teacher’s discretion based on their assessment and merits of each request.
- If an event can be reasonably scheduled outside of term time then it would not be normal to authorise absence for such an event, for example:
- holidays or other travel, including as a result of parental work commitments, are therefore not considered ‘exceptional circumstances’;
- leave which is taken because of the availability of cheaper fares or other costs are not regarded as exceptional circumstances;
- claims of illness as a reason for a delayed return, particularly after normal school holidays will not be considered unless accompanied by travel tickets dated before the school opens or other agreed dates. Medical documentation from abroad will not normally be accepted unless accompanied by travel documents indicating travel dates prior to school reopening.
- Absences to visit seriously-ill relatives or for a bereavement of a close family member are usually considered to amount to ‘exceptional circumstances’, but for the funeral service and travelling time only, not for extended leave. Absence will only be authorised if the head teacher is satisfied that the circumstances are truly exceptional.
- Absences to attend parents' own wedding may be exceptional if the head teacher is satisfied that there is a persuasive reason for holding the wedding during term time and there will be an onus on parents to show clear evidence that this absence is absolutely an exceptional circumstance. In difficult family situations the head teacher may use his discretion in granting leave and each case should be addressed on its individual merits, taking into account the overall welfare of the child.
- Absences for important religious observances are often taken into account, but only for the ceremony and travelling time, again, not for extended leave. This is intended for one-off situations rather than regular or recurring events.
- The needs of the families of service personnel will be taken into account if they are returning from long operational tours that prevent contact during scheduled holiday time.
- Reasonable adjustments for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities will be made and may result in a leave being grated as an exceptional circumstance.
- Families may need time together to recover from a trauma or crisis, including where an absence from school is recommended by a health professional as part of a parent or child’s rehabilitation from a medical or emotional issue.
- When making absence-related decisions, the head teacher will consider:
- a pupil’s record of attendance for the current and previous academic years;
- time of absence being taken in the school year. If the request is made to extend the beginning or end of a school holiday period, it is unlikely to be considered exceptional.
- The head teacher can determine the length of the authorised absence as well as whether a particular absence is authorised.
The following factors may also help the head teacher to reach a decision:
- number of school days being missed;
- any exceptional term-time leave requested and/or taken in previous academic years for a similar purpose;
- whether alternative care arrangements been considered by the parent to limit the time away from school;
- impact on any interventions, assessments or referrals being undertaken with the child or family, for example, family support, social care assessments, CAMHS, SEN;
- the potential impact that the absence will have on the child;
- whether the absence falls within any key stage national tests or exams.
How to tell us about exceptional circumstances:
- A parent should complete an application form for term-time leave in good time. The parent with whom the pupil normally resides must make the application.
- Leave may only be granted where proper procedures have been followed and the permission given.
- Tickets and/or other travel arrangements should not be booked prior to discussion with and agreement of the school.
- Parents should not confuse telling the school with having permission.
- Where the school and the parents fail to reach an agreement and the child is then absent from school the absence will be marked as unauthorised. Unauthorised absences are an offence and can be liable to legal action or a fixed penalty fine.
- Extended absences may put your child’s school place at risk.
- In the event of an emergency when you have to take leave urgently, taking children, then you should inform the school or have the school informed immediately. Leave of absence cannot be granted retrospectively and evidence other than your word may be asked for.