Child let off school for pagan festival
By Julie Henry, Education Correspondent
Last Updated: 11:21pm GMT 16/02/2008
A primary school allowed a mother to take her child out of lessons to
attend a summer festival because the family say they are pagans.
Newington Green Primary, in the north London borough of Islington, gave
permission for the three-day absence last June after the mother of the
six-year-old argued that the child should be allowed to attend the
celebrations because of her faith.
Paganism, which is based on the belief that there is divinity within all
living things, is not generally recognised as an official religion. The
family visited the solstice festival that is held each year in Avebury,
Wiltshire, near Stonehenge.
"When she asked originally, the school turned her down," a source said.
"Then she said she was a pagan and it was a religious festival, and they
said OK, because they give other children time off for religious
holidays." Jennifer Slocombe, a learning mentor at the school, confirmed
that the parent's request had been granted, but said that since the
incident there had been a clampdown on absences.
"The three days were put down as authorised absence, but we have
subsequently explained to all parents that they will not be given
authorised holidays within term time unless there is a very good reason
for it," she said.
"At the end of June and beginning of July last year, too many parents
were taking children out, so across Islington there has been a massive
boost to try to get attendance up."
Children are not supposed to take any time off school, but headteachers
have some discretion to authorise absences, usually in the case of
illness, medical appointments, bereavement and religious holidays.
Nick Seaton, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said:
"This is the kind of situation we get into by bending over backwards to
try to please everybody. One of the main duties of parents is to ensure
that children miss out on as little school as possible and, on balance,
I don't think they should be missing school for this."
According to the 2001 census, there are more than 30,500 pagans in the
UK, although their numbers rise to nearly 40,000 if wiccans and druids
are included. A spokeswoman for the Pagan Federation said: "We are a
substantial minority religion and in terms of religious equality, pagans
should have the same rights as everyone else."
The Government has launched numerous crackdowns on parents who take
children out of school during term time, particularly for family
holidays. Schools have been told to list missing days as unauthorised.
Nationally, more than 250,000 pupils regularly take at least one day off
school a week. The Government claims that overall absence rates are
falling, showing that schools are getting tougher in giving permission
for children to be absent.