Grieving Sheffield youngsters returned from their grandad’s funeral to find a warning from their school that their absence was unsanctioned – and similar behaviour in future could lose them their places.
Andrew and Danielle Overend-Hogg took their children Teagan, aged nine, Isla, five, and Elsie-Mae, three, to Cumbria for the funeral of their grandfather James, Andrew’s dad.
But they fell foul of rules at Handsworth’s Ballifield Primary because the Catholic ceremonies stretched over two days, and the pupils missed a week of classes.
New regulations introduced by the Government last August to crack down on term-time absences means children are allowed leave only in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
And headteacher Sheila Hague said the school had no choice but to issue a warning, as only one day off for a funeral is allowed under the guidelines.
Considering the circumstances it had been decided not to impose fines on the family, she added.
But Andrew said the school had taken no account of the youngsters’ distress – with the death of their grandad after the loss of their grandmother just eight months earlier.
“It’s almost as if they are saying if you have to suffer the death of a grandparent it should happen out of term time,” he said at the family home in Athelstan Road, Handsworth.
“I’m really disgusted. If it’s all about Government regulations then it seems the grief of a family has no relevance at all. It’s all about figures in an Ofsted report.”
The family left for Ulverston in the Lake District on Monday, then spent Tuesday organising the funeral service.
A wake was held on Wednesday with the requiem mass and funeral taking place the next day.
The family then returned home on Friday to find the school’s letter.
Andrew said they had filled in individual leave forms which included details of where they were going and staying, and with details of the funeral.
“It wasn’t like this was a holiday,” he said. “But the letter we received was so cold, there wasn’t even any ‘sorry for your loss’.”
Danielle said: “Surely a close family funeral must count as exceptional circumstances, but it seems Ballifield doesn’t agree.
“It’s been an awful time for the girls – first they lost their grandma and were absolutely devastated, and now this. I find the school’s behaviour ridiculous.”
Mrs Hague said the school’s room for manoeuvre was quite limited due to the Government directive on the issue.
She said: “This hasn’t been logged as unauthorised absence and it won’t attract a fixed penalty,” she said.
“It was a standard letter that was sent out, which is rather black and white, but we followed guidelines which cover all our family of schools in this area.
“Everyone is allowed a day for a funeral but this was a longer affair.
“We are sorry the family feels upset but we have tried to be flexible, taking into account the previous good attendance records of the children.
“But we also have to be careful not to open the floodgates to other situations that may occur.”