Monday, 2 September 2013

Holiday in term time and risk the fine?

Here's the big question many of us parents consider when their children are about to start 'full-time' school.  Does it really matter if you take children out of school in term time for a family holiday?

We all know that a holiday - whether in the UK or abroad - will be significantly more expensive during the school holidays and with families more cash-strapped than ever before, surely a week or two isn't going to hurt the education of a well attending child, or is it?

A chart that S's new school produced at the open evening for new parents, suggests that even a small amount of time out of school can affect performance.

  • A child with 95% attendance levels will meet the educational standards expected for the term
  • A child with 85% attendance will make significantly less progress, almost half of that of the 95% attendance
  • A child with 100% attendance will double the expected progress of a child with 95% attendance
I found this quite an amazing statistic. Who would have thought it?  

The school allow no absence at all for holidays during term time. If a child is absent for holiday, they will be reported to the Local Authority and a fine will be issued. More than 10 days off and they will be excluded from school.  Harsh or fair?

Education is important, I'm sure we all understand that but what of the educational value of a holiday?  It's not necessarily all beach and sunshine. Many adults like to take their children to visit different cultures, see historical monuments, eat new foods, etc.  Take Rome.  Surely seeing the landmarks in and around this city is educational too and far more interesting than reading about the Roman Empire in some musty old school book?  Well, yes, I'm sure it is. However, what about those parents who cannot afford to go abroad.  Should they be allowed to take their children out of school too to holiday at home?  What is the educational value to that?  You see, a head teacher would have to make that choice if 'certain exceptions' were in place.  That would effectively mean that children from less well off families would not be allowed term time holiday wouldn't it?

So, where do I stand on all of this?  

During S's pre-school years, we have taken her out for holidays abroad out of term time.  This is pre-school remember and it was our choice that she did this 'social' activity. We were under no obligation to start her at school until the term in which she is 5.  So, it didn't really matter as she wasn't at a crucial stage in her schooling.

We have also taken J out of school in term time, with the permission of the school, for a week's holiday.  We wanted to go away before all 3 girls were in full-time school and we could probably no longer afford a school holiday break!  Selfish?  Perhaps but J had a 100% attendance record, knew she had to catch up on an entire week's school work plus do the work that was set for when she got back. She did this and is still one of the top children in her year.  Did it do her any harm?  No, none whatsoever but perhaps we are lucky that she is so dedicated and determined. Yes, she did have to work a bit harder to catch up but she did it and was prepared to put the work in.  Later this week she begins Year 10 so would we take her out of school for a holiday now? No. She is working towards her GCSE's and I think every day of school is now important for her.

What about S in primary education?  Surely a week of school missed here when they are mostly playing with sand, colouring, and perhaps starting to learn a few letters and numbers isn't going to hurt?  I honestly don't know.  The school policy is no holiday so we have to abide by that or move schools.  Is it potentially harder for a younger child to catch up?  Who knows.  Would missing the letter 'A' during one week's absence ruin her school life?  I doubt it.  I'm sure the school would go over the letter 'A' multiple times and so would we but maybe there is the key, would all parents?  Isn't education important to all parents? 

But surely the holiday companies are to blame for the increase in numbers of parents who take children out of school during term time.  The flight is the same, the hotel/apartment is the same but the price increases exponentially.  As an example, a holiday we took for a week to Mallorca during school time in May cost £1,800 for the 5 of us.  The same holiday in the May school holiday rose to £3,000.  How is that even remotely fair or reasonable?  Faced with a £60 per child fine or a £1,200 increase in price - which do you think most people would choose?

Of course wealthier families will have a holiday abroad whatever the cost but what about the rest of us, most of whom are finding ever increasing food and utility bills are eating into anything that we could remotely call 'savings'?  Is a holiday abroad going to become something for the rich only?

From 2015, schools will be able to set their own term dates. This could mean the end of the long summer holiday and perhaps longer holidays at different times of the year? Should we all give a sigh of relief? I don't think so for a minute. The travel companies will simply 'extend' their 'high season' to cover any new holiday periods so no doubt the high prices we're used to seeing will suddenly begin in April and end in October, you can just bet on that!  Also, travel aside, what about parents, like myself, who will have 3 children all in different schools at that time?  What the heck will happen to us?  I could have one breaking up here, one there and one on another date, all going back at different times with only a couple of weeks overlap.  Nightmare!

I honestly do not know what the answer is but it clearly is an issue that has no simple solution.  

I would be interested to hear other people's thoughts.

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