Please note that the information given here is intended for general guidance purposes only and may not apply to your specific situation. It is based on our personal experience and research for an English primary school. The law is slightly different for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In England, taking kids out of school for a holiday during term time is a fiercely contested topic. Some feel that even a day off school disrupts a child’s education and class teaching, some argue that it’s too expensive to travel during the school holidays and therefore justified, whereas others believe that travel provides an education that cannot be taught in the classroom.
Whatever you believe, if your child is between 5 and 16 and attends a state school in England (private schools and kids aged 4 in school are exempt), it is likely that you won’t get permission to take your child out of school for a holiday during term time and will be fined.
Your local council can give each parent a fine of £60, which rises to £120 each if you do not pay within 21 days. If you do not pay the fine after 28 days you may be prosecuted for your child’s absence from school.www.gov.uk
The decision isn’t necessarily down to the headteacher, but rather the council. For instance, Derbyshire (where we live) is know to be extremely strict with only funerals or weddings of immediate family (or something along those lines) being valid reasons to take your kids out of school. I have known parents to be fined who have visited family overseas during term time (after years of separation due to lockdowns), and personally, a request we submitted for a Friday to celebrate the grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary held in Wales was rejected, despite being a church school.
However, families situated in other regions of England have had a much more lenient experience, allowing the odd day here and there, or even a week, if the child has good attendance at school. You will get an idea of how your local authority operates by chatting to local parents, or even asking the school directly.
Pulling a sickie
To get around the rules, parents sometimes email the school to say that their child is unwell that day and won’t be in school. Whilst this may feel ethically wrong for some parents (teaching kids the art of pulling sickies), this could mean saving hundreds in airfares and enable families to stretch their precious time off the hamster wheel. If you do take this approach, please ensure you practice some tact and avoid posting beach cocktail content to socials with ‘Happy Monday’ GIFs on a back-to-school Monday.
This process is doable for the odd day here and there, but what if you want to travel as a family for longer? The fines will add up!
Deregistering your child(ren) from school
As a family, we like a balance between school and long-term travel. Our boys thrive in the school environment, enjoy the social aspect and the extracurricular activities, and us parents appreciate the free childcare so we can work. However, travel is a huge part of our family and us parents feel a strong sense of responsibility in showing our kids a world beyond the school bubble. Travel is a long-term field trip opportunity to learn about and connect with other cultures first-hand and to understand our place in the world. It’s not your typical ‘holiday’, it’s worldschooling.
So how do we take our kids out of school to travel and avoid the fines? We deregister them.
In 2022 we deregistered our two boys from their rural primary school (year 2 and year 3) for the summer term to travel Morocco for four months, and deregistered them again in May 2023 to travel Southeast Asia for ten weeks.
How do us parents manage this around work? Well we both worked remotely from Morocco in 2022 (being a self-employed blogger, my work is super-flexible) and for our Southeast Asia travels in 2023, I will again work remotely, but this time Jay is taking unpaid parental leave.
How to deregister your child(ren) from school
To deregister your child(ren), you need to email the school to notify them that your child(ren) will be deregistered on a specific date. This is not a case of asking permission, you just need to provide them with the date. The school cannot question or refuse and they may not even reply; although it’s a very good idea to ensure you at least receive a receipt of email.
The Education Otherwise site has an example deregistration letter that you may wish to use.
You may want to provide some information about how you will educate your child(ren) whilst they are not in school (Elective Home Education). For us, our boys do online schooling with lessons in maths and English with Amy from Tuition Up as well as using the DoodleLearning apps. They also keep a travel journal. However, I also state where we’re travelling and that the boys will be receiving a fantastic education through first-hand experiences.
However, you do not need to justify your decision and you are under no legal obligations to attend meetings about it. Also, no notice period is required.
And that’s it? Just an email?
Yes, that’s it. Your school then need to complete paperwork their end, but you don’t need to do anything more.
Your Local Authority may be in contact with you to discuss your approach to elective home education, but there’s not a lot they can do if you’re overseas.
Getting your child(ren) back into school
And here’s the tricky bit.
Your school cannot hold your child(ren)’s place. So if your child(ren) attend a fully-subscribed school with a waiting list, you run the risk of them not being able to return to that school. Your child(ren) will, of course, get a school place somewhere, but it may not be your preferred choice. If they currently attend a school that they love and thrive in, whether to deregister them or not may be a tough decision to make.
However, if the school is undersubscribed, then there’s unlikely to be a problem re-registering them back into the same school.
We’re very fortunate that schools are undersubscribed where we live in the Peak District and they are good schools too. In fact, when we returned to the UK in 2018 after a year living in India and 101 days overlanding Africa, undersubscribed schools that we could pick and choose from was one of the draw cards for us moving to this area of England (we originally lived in Kent when the boys were first born). So our boys thankfully don’t have any problems getting a their school places back after we have deregistered them.
How to re-register your child
It is best to email your school when you know when you would like to re-register, as they will help you with the correct process.
Re-registering is generally done through your local council by completing an online application, but some schools handle this themselves.
Do note that you will be applying for an ‘in-year application’, even if you are planning to re-join the school at the start of the academic year in September. You can generally apply within one term in advance. But again, do check the process with your school.
Things to consider with temporarily deregistering your child(ren) from school to travel
Every child is different and you know your child best. Age, friendships, clubs, academic and social needs, plus school placement availability, may all affect how comfortable parents will be in deregistering their child.
If you are thinking about deregistering your child from school, I would recommend firstly speaking to their teacher and/or the head. Whilst you don’t need any permission from the school, it certainly makes life easier if they’re onboard with your decision. They may be happy to keep your child on any learning apps (such as TT Rockstars and Spelling Shed).
We’ve had a very positive experience deregistering and re-registering our boys at their rural village primary school in England. The boys really took to online schooling in 2022 during our Morocco travels and didn’t fall behind academically (in fact they came on leaps and bounds) and ‘slipped back into school life as if they’d never left’ (according to their teachers). Moreover, the extended travels allowed a true immersion into Moroccan culture with experiences that will stick with them for life (from witnessing the rituals of Islam, to learning French and Arabic phrases, to learning to surf, and so much more). It certainly gave us the confidence to do it again in 2023 for our Southeast Asia travels.
You may also like to read:
Taking parental leave to travel
Online schooling for family travel
How we afford to travel