I read with interest news of the victory in the high court for Jon Platt, who took his daughter out of school during term time. Rightly so, the judges in the high court agreed with Mr Platt.
When my children were at school, I proudly took them out during term-time for family holidays. These included to visit my gran in St. Lucia, around the time of her birthday (which was during term time), as well as for other family celebrations. My gran passed away seven years ago and those special memories that my children have of their great-grandmother are irreplaceable, giving them many stories of their own to pass on. In fact, many of the laugh-out-loud moments that we have as a family are when we reminisce about these holidays – from my sons remembering key events and speaking with a St. Lucia accent to learning the odd word in St Lucian patois to bring their stories to life! My sons learnt so much about their culture and great grandmother, which can’t be replaced.
Schools are under pressure to make sure that children attend school – they are constantly under scrutiny. However, parents should not be criminalised because of this. Neither am I in favour of rewarding children for 100% attendance, which I have written about before. This approach penalises children who are poorly, have sensitive family issues, or have a special need or disability. Indeed, for example, it is important to note that every culture approaches bereavement differently. There will be more of a negative lasting impact if a child is not able to grieve appropriately over the loss of a family member.
The argument that children will drop a grade because of missing school for a holiday is one that I disagree with. As one person tweeted: “If you want to take your child on holiday in term time make them naughty then its free”, a reference to children excluded because of their behaviour. Of course, we should not glorify exclusions, but the tweet does put the whole debate into perspective.
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, commented: “Taking a family holiday is not the same as truancy and the Government needs to recognise this.”
The children’s commissioner on BBC Breakfast, Saturday 14th May 2016, made reference to holding the holiday companies to account. Yes, children’s commissioner, and please focus on safeguarding and protecting children and shout out loud about this.
My thoughts are that the Government should channel their resources into children who need protecting and their families. Last week there was another serious case review. There are still children in this country who are being abused and murdered. As a society we should continue to be aghast about this and make sure that every child is protected, providing teachers with expert advice on how to fully safeguard and protect children.
Yes, there are some children who miss school due to other reasons, which of course could be a potential child protection issue and schools should rightly take steps to protect children who fall into this category. The discussions and solutions should be to treat every case uniquely, based on the individual nature of every family. The number one question when children are off school should be: is this child’s safety, well-being and welfare at risk? More importantly, is this child and their family an ongoing concern and has there been a number of unexplained absences from school?
Anecdotally, I am hearing that parents are lying about holidays, claiming instead that their child has been poorly. Surely this creates a culture of dishonesty, and may even indicate a potential child protection issue?
There was a solution suggested, which was that schools should decide when they plan their holidays with a view to stopping holiday companies from increasing their prices. I’m not sure about this, as in my case where I have friends and family members in different parts of the country – we like to co–ordinate meet-ups during the holidays. Also, with some schools no longer having a sibling rule, or perhaps by choice (not by choice at times if a child has an additional need or disability) parents send their children to different schools. How on earth will parents organise holidays? This also affects those parents who don’t get a choice of when they are able to take their annual leave.
So how have holidays during school time impacted my children? My second son, having received the required GCSEs (government definition) and above is off to his first-choice university in September. He also has two part-time jobs and has never taken a ‘sickie’ – holidays during term time have not made him work shy. I asked him if he felt his holidays affected his education. His response: “Well, we missed school (obvs) at the time and there’s been no impact on my lifelong learning.”
It has been reported that as a result of Mr Platt’s case the DfE will change the law, ensuring that parents cannot take their children out of school. I hope that the DfE will discuss this with parents, schools, children and other stakeholders before they make any decisions – the DfE does have a habit of making ‘knee-jerk’ reactions.
If my children were still at school, I would take them out of school during term time for a holiday if it linked to a family celebration. My family will always come first and the importance of family should be central to children’s holistic education.
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