My Department has not issued any specific guidance on this matter.
There have been examples on the Isle of Wight, and I am sure elsewhere, of parents being told that the Government have banned all term-time holidays, which is particularly difficult for those who work during the holidays. Will the Minister confirm that the definition of exceptional circumstances is made by the head teachers, and not the Government, the council or even the governing body, and that the normal use of language should be sufficiently clear for heads to make those decisions?
As ever, my hon. Friend is absolutely right: the decision as to what constitutes exceptional circumstances is a matter for the head teacher. It is important, however, to stress that children wherever possible should be in school and learning, and a drive to reduce truancy and push up the number of days and hours that children spend in school is at the heart of our long-term plan to raise standards in our state schools.
In 2013, Ofsted estimated that more than 10,000 children were missing from education—children more likely to have special educational needs and to be more vulnerable to child sexual exploitation. Will the Secretary of State look at ways in which the extent of the problem and the risk to the children involved can be better monitored, such as asking local safeguarding children boards to include in their annual reports information on children missing from school?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The work that she has done on emphasising how much better a job we can do to help vulnerable children and young people has been exemplary, and I very much take her point to heart. I stress that local safeguarding children boards have had a bad press recently but it is important that we use all the agencies at our disposal to try to ensure that the most vulnerable are in school, where they can benefit from great education and appropriate pastoral support.