This is probably my most frequently asked question!
Auditions are usually held outside of school hours; shoots are another matter. There are 7 days in a week and only 2 of those are a weekend. This means that there is a higher probability that a child will be called for a shoot on a weekday, which will of course mean time out of school. A child requires a licence to work at any time and this licence is applied for to the local education authority to where the child resides. There is no coincidence here, as one of the many child protection matters taken into consideration for an application would be any affect such employment would have on the child’s education.
The law does not insist a child attends a school. Indeed, you can home educate if you wish. What the law does state, however, is that the child must have an education and if they achieve this from a school, then they must attend regularly. They need to be aware of authorised and unauthorised absenteeism. Children are permitted a certain number of days off in a school year, provided a few factors are met. If the child is not known to social services, holds a good attendance record, or there are no exam dates coinciding with the proposed shoot dates, there should be no reason for a licence to be declined. The parent is required to obtain a letter confirming that they have been informed the child will not be attending on a given day, and this letter is to be emailed to the council by the agency, or school. The parent is not asking for permission, but seeking acknowledgement that the school have been informed, thus proving they are not just taking a day off.
I have only ever had a couple of schools decline such requests and every time it has been due to it being a new Head Teacher concerned about their stats, or them not understanding the regulations. With the pressures laid upon Head Teachers currently, I can only sympathise with their position. If they are not fully aware of the child employment regulations, then of course they will decline a day off to any child. I should say, however, that on each occasion the issue was quickly resolved by a quick call from myself, or the council, explaining what was required and why. Once they realised it was a legal requirement and handled by their education department, they were instantly more accommodating and signed the letter for the parent.
My advice would be to avoid such confrontations further down the line by speaking to them before the event. Mention to them that you have joined an agency, and one who works strictly within the law. Explain that clients try to keep things outside of schooling hours, but should a shoot ever fall on a school day, then the agency will obtain a licence to work from your local education authority and as much notice would be given as possible. This way you will be able to address any issues prior to a booking and perhaps allow your agency time to speak to them to help explain the regulations which they may not be entirely familiar with.
Schools are usually very accommodating with these experiences and understanding of what is entailed. What school wouldn’t be proud of one of their students appearing in the West End, or in the next Burberry campaign! They just need to ensure they are doing things correctly, which is why you have an agent and why we have licencing laws in place.