Academy headteacher adds 20 minutes to each day in order to reduce term time
Parents in Chiddingstone have flown off for some early summer sun after the village’s primary school embarked on its revolutionary two-week long half-term on Friday, a week earlier than other pupils.
The academy school’s decision to add 20 minutes to every school day in order to reduce the length of its terms has given parents hope of finding cheaper holiday deals.
Booking a vacation during school holidays has come to seem markedly more expensive in recent years when compared to the huge discounts on offer at other times of year. Such an imbalance has seen parents defying the rules by removing their children from school during school time.
Chiddingstone’s extended break comes a week after a High Court ruling that saw the ban on parents in England taking term-time holidays lifted.
Chiddingstone’s ingenious strategy means the Church of England school, which became an academy in 2011, can allow its 209 pupils to take a longer half-term holiday in May and October without reducing their attendance.
In the maintained sector, pupils must be in school for 190 days. Adding a short period at the end of each day gives Chiddingstone School an extra 60 hours; this equates to two weeks.
The headteacher Rachel Streatfeild said: “In consultation with parents and in response to parental feedback, the school has restructured its academic year. It has added an additional week on to the October and May half-terms, enabling some parents to take advantage of cheaper holidays.”
The move is also designed to reduce fatigue in the classroom, which she said had become a problem during last year’s summer term. “We do not have a problem with our parents taking their children out of school during term time, but we noticed that after last year’s term six the children were exhausted.
“The extended day ensures we deliver the curriculum more effectively and meaningfully. It also means that no term is longer than six to seven weeks, preventing children from becoming too tired at the end of a seven or eight-week term.”
The changes took effect from January this year and the new structure will be in place on a trial basis for 12 months before a review is undertaken. The staff are also considering holiday clubs.
Mrs Streatfeild, who took pupils on a school trip to Barcelona before the holiday, insisted: “The school enjoys a very positive relationship with our parents and we will continue to work in partnership with them to review the effectiveness of the changes implemented, to ensure that our educational standards remain outstanding.”
This month, Jon Platt from the Isle of Wight won a victory for parents after the High Court decided he did not have to pay a fine for taking his daughter to Florida during term time.
Online travel website sunshine.co.uk reported an 88 per cent increase in family holiday bookings in term time.
The Department for Education has said it intends to ensure the new legal loophole is rapidly closed. The rules state that children can only be taken out of school in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Parents face a £60 fine, which rises to £120 if it is not paid within three weeks. Those who still refuse to pay face prosecution, and a maximum fine of £2,500 or up to three months in prison.
Academies such as Chiddingstone can decide their own term times because they are no longer under the control of local education authorities.
There is no likelihood of the state sector following suit because children from the same family might be attending schools with different holiday dates.
The new formula comes hot on the heels of the Government’s U-turn on compulsory academy status for all state schools earlier this month.
Conservative MPs had voiced fears that small rural primaries could close if they lose the support of local authorities and are run instead by distant education charities.
Jon Platt argued that the fine he was told to pay for taking his daughter to Disney World for a week in April 2015 was not legal because she a good overall attendance rate at school.
The Department for Education reacted with dismay to the judgment, stating ‘children’s attendance at school is non-negotiable’, and insisting it would seek to change legislation in order to eradicate the loophole in the law.
The £60 fine was doubled when Mr Platt refused to pay it within three weeks, but he was let off when the case went to the Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court last October.
The local council appealed against the decision but Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall ruled that the magistrates had not ‘erred in law’ in arriving at their judgment.