Q. Can we take a child off roll and then put them back on again, instead of treating their temporary absence overseas as a ‘holiday’?

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A. In principle, yes, but it should be done with care.

This is a good example of a situation where it is difficult to know exactly what to do because not all children necessarily live here all the year round. I recently came across a whole group of children in the same area whose parents are attending university degree courses in this country. The families go home for the vacations, which of course are longer than the school holidays. This was leading to a large number of absences in the schools’ records. These were mostly authorised but, in some cases, penalty fines had been imposed.

That strikes me as unnecessary and may risk confrontation with perfectly reasonable parents whose lifestyle just doesn’t fit the rules. If the child is not currently in the country, it is appropriate to remove them from the admission register and keep no further attendance record until they return. The problem may come when the parents then want to readmit them. If the school is not full this shouldn’t be an issue, though some local authorities and schools do seem to expect a rather lengthy procedure simply to put them back on roll. However, if there is a waiting list for places, it would seem only right that the place might be allocated to another child in the meantime. Perhaps no guarantee should be given and the parents may need to recognise that other children may have a greater claim in their absence.

My advice would be to look at all the circumstances individually and, if absences can reasonably be avoided in this way, that would seem to be in everyone’s interests. The child must actually leave the country for this to be the right thing to do, so some evidence from parents, like a flight ticket, would seem reasonable.

In my experience, these parents are not seeking to avoid their educational responsibilities – often quite the reverse – but a written agreement that the child will be readmitted as soon as they return should be put in place to avoid any misunderstanding and ensure their children do not become missing from education later.

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