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If you took a holiday.

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 coordinate 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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  • andrea turner

    I totally agree with all of the points you’ve made Laura

  • Penny Webb

    Some really good points Laura

    With exclusion i totally agree – one of my grandsons (the one with Aspergers) was excluded from school for well over a year – it took forever to get his min 5 hours tutor support – and even then it did not meet his needs.

    If one day is harmful – why then do schools close for polling?

    Why do they have day trips to fun places like Alton Towers or Drayton Manor Park? Or even residential trips to various places? Then there are trips to the cinema or theatre – some times with long bus journeys.
    I am sure the schools will be able to explain the benefits of such trips (and I agree with them)

    In my opinion the educational benefits of visiting other places here in the UK or abroad are far more beneficial than a 30 hours school week – which actual time for ‘learning’ once you have taken out breaks, admin tasks, watching others in group tasks, lining up and so on, is only around 20 hours a week.

    Everything a child does can be beneficial, I used to take my children on holiday in term time (as was the only way we could afford a holiday) we talked a lot and even made little books about our adventures to show in school to peers (But photos could serve the same purpose)

    And the social and emotional benefits of spending time with family is huge – for the whole family

  • Alison Stewart

    I lived in Scotland until January 2015 and two of my sons attended primary school at that time. In Scotland there is no financial penalty for taking children out of school during term time and there was no obvious mass exodus school caused by children being taken out of school to enjoy a cheaper family holiday, which I suspect would be unaffordable for many if taken during the holidays.

    One thing I have noticed is that in Scotland if a child misses school they don’t miss out on on their learning because it is child centred so continues where they left off before they went on holiday or were ill.

    Conversely, in England my children’s classes are taught in ability groups. If they miss a day, the group continues on without them and that piece of work is missed and unless revised at a later date may never be learnt. Imagine it. Sorry sir I was away the week they taught fractions because I was ill with chicken pox!

    Nevermind the children who miss work because of illness or holiday what about the ones that are not able to learn at the rate of other members of their class? The learning continues without them too!

    Finally, the enforced 48h absence following the last time a child vomited on the off-chance that they have norovirus is too extreme. Parents should be able to use their own judgement. It is pretty obvious if the illness is a virus. When a child is forced to take 48h off because they happened to be car sick coming home from grandma”s on Sunday is ludicrous. Why aren’t teachers subjected the 48h rule and why isn’t the enforced 48h absence not taken into account when measuring attendance?

  • Jane Fear

    Agree wholeheartedly Laura, education happens in so many places, not just a classroom! We experienced an earthquake on ours last year, try teaching that!

  • Deborah Read

    One child of mine missed approx 50% of years 10 &11 due to illness. That child got GCSEs, A levels, BSocSci, MSocSci and PhD. Now teaches at university. I think that shows how much of school is in fact “make work” and not really education at all. I think it was Micahel Bentine of the Goons who said he was educated during the holidays from Eton – not entirely in jest.

  • Julie Harris

    I made every effort to arrange our holidays in school holiday time and my children missed only a couple of days due to that. It was normal when my children were little. Nobody expected to be able to take holidays let alone in school term. My children didnt like going on holiday during school term. They worried about what they were missing and wanted to be at school when their friends were and on holiday when their friends were. There are cases where parents don’t have a choice but equally parents who won’t even try to plan round school terms. I taught teenagers some years ago. Had clear outcomes to meet and every day somebody was absent and expected to be updated when they returned. It was extremely difficult to keep the whole group progressing and ensuring they completed. I felt so pressurised anyway and absentees added to the stress. I think people are forgetting the job the teachers have to do. It’s okay for children whose parents are motivated and will help them but often it’s the children who’s parents aren’t motivated. It’s a difficult one and i dont believe having an attitude of “if i want to I will” is helpful to children. It gives them the wrong message however I don’t believe fines are effective or morally right either.

    • Laura Henry

      Thanks, Julie interesting points.

      In the blog there are a number of reasons why pupils miss school, not only for a holiday.

      Also, there are children who miss school, due to internal arrangements. i.e. sports fixtures, etc. Which is organised by the school. They to have to catch up with the teacher having to repeat/recap work.

      The ideal solution, would be to look at every child.

  • Julie Harris

    I know that Laura but your blog title refers to holiday.

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