The current hot educational debate in the UK centres around the legal prosecution that families may face if they take their child out of school during term time for a holiday. This is not simply about truancy (a real issue that does need dealing with…) but focuses on families that take their child(ren) out to enjoy an annual family holiday.
As a parent and a teacher I find the arguments in favour of this prosecution quite weak. Firstly, let’s ignore the disruption caused by absent teachers, substitute teachers and strikes. These undoubtably cause upset to a child’s education. Let us focus on the obvious.
Schools, by their nature, have (on average) three lots of 12 weeks split up by three main holidays (Christmas, Easter, Summer). It’s a constant that everyone understands. Yes, it is not ideal (and many are calling for more, short breaks rather than three long ones…) but let’s use the current scheme as our basis.
It is easier for busy working parents (especially those on shift work) to dip in and out of that fixed timeline rather than schools trying to shift things. Most working parents do not have the luxury of selecting their ideal slot for a family holiday. You have to plan in advance and many employers will spread annual leave over a working year to avoid bottle necks.
Schools have cut back on the amount of external trips they do, mainly due to financial cutbacks and the rising demands of red tape (Risk Assessment) which makes teachers less inclined to get involved. So, if a parent has the opportunity to take their child(ren) to a foreign country, to experience another culture, to be immersed in another language, to see different Art and architecture….at no financial cost to the school, shouldn’t schools embrace that? Surely it is enriching a child’s education and directly feeds back into the curriculum in many areas. International or not, a family holiday helps bonding and cements the focus on quality family life.
The other real-world factor is that travel and accommodation is massively more expensive during those key holiday times. Tourist operators know that. A few weeks either side of the Christmas holiday, for example, can save a family thousands. I know when I’d go….
There has to be balance though. I think it’s correct that school Heads should be able to ask parents to give, say, a months notice if they want to withdraw a child for a holiday during term time. It shows premeditation and planning. Weddings, funerals etc. would need to be by negotiation if falling outside of a weekend or needing foreign travel. A Head must have the power to work in partnership with parents, not be driven by dictate on all issues. Common sense and trust by both parties is key and I would hope that no Head will refuse a genuine request for help to either celebrate a family wedding or mourn the passing of a loved one.
The last argument offered in favour of this is just ridiculous. The suggestion made is that a week off school could cause a child to reduce their GCSE grades by up to 25%. Really? Well, if teachers are deliberately putting 25% of the syllabus into one week, that the child happens to miss, then we have a far bigger issue than simply a family holiday. If a child breaks a leg and is off school for a few weeks a good teacher will ensure that homework is sent, textbooks are referred to and the internet used for that child to try and stay on top on what they might have missed. Surely the same can be done if a child legitimately gets away on a family holiday? So not a lot is missed in real terms.
It seems that the issue is more about Ofsted KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) that Heads are expected to ‘hit’ with regard to pupil attendance rather than the real need to forge partnerships and develop a sense of trust between schools and parents. All this action does, I suggest, is drive a wedge in between.
That can’t be good.