Education secretary Michael Gove has been invited to this year’s Great Yorkshire Show as organisers call for common sense to prevail in a row over schoolchildren attending.
Traditionally, headteachers have turned a blind eye to families taking their children out of class to attend agricultural events like the Great Yorkshire Show (GYS) and the Nidderdale Show.
But now, after tough new rules were introduced by the Government to clamp down on term-time holidays, parents can be fined up to £60 a day for such “unauthorised absences”.
Organisers of the GYS say they have seen a marked difference in ticket sales this year, with parents too afraid to attend for fear of putting a black mark upon their child’s record.
They have now written to education secretary Michael Gove to invite him to attend this July’s show, in an attempt to prove its educational value for children and families alike.
“They have taken a very strict line on this,” said Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society which organises the show. “There should be the benefit of common sense.
“In typical fashion, the rules were written to stop people going on a holiday in term time.
“Unfortunately, the pendulum has now swung to the point where even one day off is now questioned. That is an over-reaction.”
The show has significant educational value, organisers argue, and is aimed at children and families.
“There’s a huge difference between one day off and a fortnight’s holiday,” added Mr Pulling.
“We’ve gone out of our way to make this a family event. It’s just disappointing to see an unintended consequence affecting something which is part and parcel of rural life.”
The Great Yorkshire Show, held in Harrogate over three days from July 8 to 10 this year, attracts more than 135,000 visitors.
In past years, many schools in the district have allowed children to take time out of lessons for such events, sanctioning it through ‘headteacher’s discretion’.
Some have even organised school trips, or teacher training days but, since the new rules were brought in last September, many schools are putting a stop to children attending.
A Freedom of Information Request (FOI) from the Advertiser series found that nearly eight times more fines were issues year on year in North Yorkshire in the first term of the new rules.
And in the Harrogate district there were 18 fines issued for unauthorised absences - compared to zero the year before.
Many parents have said they are prepared to face a fine so that their children can enjoy the benefit of the show, with one writing to the Advertiser series to say: “I suspect there may be an epidemic of illness in the schools which don’t have a training day.”
But Mr Pulling, calling on Mr Gove to attend next month’s event to see for himself its educational value, says the rules shouldn’t be so strict.
“The GYS is a great opportunity for children to learn more about food, farming and the countryside,” he said.
“We know that not only do we get a lot of schoolchildren, but families, and now they are being actively discouraged from attending. That is disappointing.”
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
An investigation by the Advertiser series has found that nearly eight times more fines were issued in North Yorkshire, year on year, in the first quarter of the new rules.
Countywide, there were 95 fines issued from September to December, compared to 12 the previous year.
And for the Harrogate district there were 18 fines issued - compared to zero the previous year.
A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said: “From last September, schools have not been able by law to allow pupils to be absent from school during term time unless they receive an application in advance from a parent that the child lives with, and there are exceptional circumstances relating to the application. It is completely at the headteacher’s discretion to decide what are exceptional circumstances.”
NIDDERDALE SCHOOLS FIND SOLUTION TO GOVE’S STUDENT BAN
Fears were raised at the start of the school year that the tough new rules may impact agricultural events - particularly in places like Pateley Bridge where the main show is held during term time.
The annual Nidderdale Show, to be held this year on Monday, September 22, regularly draws crowds of more than 17,000. It is such a big event in the dales that in previous years, many schools have either closed for the day or allowed pupils to attend.
And this year, as the tough new rules come into play, many Nidderdale schools have been thinking creatively about ways they can allow pupils to attend.
“The particular difficulty that the Pateley Show had has been resolved, largely by the schools, who are mostly arranging teacher training days or taking the students to the shows,” said show president, John Fort.“This is important. It gives them a different outlook on the world.”
There are huge educational benefits to agricultural shows, he said, from learning about the countryside, farming, and the outdoors, to where our food comes from.
And many schools agree. St Cuthbert’s Primary School in Pateley Bridge has scheduled a teacher training day, as has Dacre Braithwaite school and Fountain’s Earth.
Summerbridge Primary is still undecided what it will do, but last year the teachers took all the pupils on a school trip.
“It allows children to understand a little bit about the area they live in,” said headteacher Angela Mundy. “It’s a very valuable experience - either with or without their parents. Last year, when we made it into a school trip, the whole school benefited.
“Some of these children aren’t from a farming background - they were fascinated seeing the cattle close up.
“They were really motivated. If you live in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales it’s important to see these creatures close up.”
Nidderdale High School is to close its doors for a teacher training day, with staff expected to attend the event once their training is completed.
“We found that we had to make a very specific decision,” said Nidderdale High School headteacher Ian Simpson.
“We’re going to host one of our teacher training days on the day of the Nidderdale Show, so that every student that wants to go, can do.
“This is a significant community event. That link with the community is important.”