It seems in recent years that around the Easter holiday, stakeholders in children’s education in the UK get in a fuss about…holidays. Specifically, the cost of a family to try and get away to sun-soaked destinations for a week or so to bond, de-stress and build wonderful memories as a family. Of course, the default stance in the UK is that children should not be taken out of school for holidays during term time. The official rules read as such:
Holidays in term time
You have to get permission from the head teacher if you want to take your child out of school during term time.
You can only do this if:
- you make an application to the head teacher in advance (as a parent the child normally lives with)
- there are exceptional circumstances
It’s up to the head teacher how many days your child can be away from school if leave is granted.
You can be fined for taking your child on holiday during term time without the school’s permission.
Now, it is clearly stated here that children should not be taken out of term time but there are exceptions, as there quite rightly should be. The issue comes when people interpret these rules in different ways. Recently, this has come to a head with a recent court ruling against a family who took their children out of term time. Now, before I dig into this a little deeper, I’m not sure why this has caused such uproar amongst parents. The guidelines are pretty clear, the sanction explicitly stated (down to the actual amount) and it’s pretty much common knowledge anyway. As a parent myself, I know that I usually would not be allowed to take my children out of school. However, because it has been enforced, everyone is now questioning this rigorous stance (everyone will probably have forgotten about it in a month).
Over the day or two afterwards, I heard all sorts over the radio about this news. I struggle to find any sympathy for the parents I heard, not because I didn’t agree, but because their reasons for why they should be able to take their children out during term time were confusing at the very best. I’ll list a few here:
What some parents say
“It is just not fair for parents”
Right okay. So…therefore we should inhibit your child’s learning and have them miss hours of progress they could make in their education? Is that fair on them? I relate to this – I don’t think it is fair that I can’t take my children on holidays for prices that other people would be able to pay, or could even afford! However, the stakes of what they will be missing make this a difficult argument.
“Fine doesn’t matter”
This is sadly true and probably why we don’t hear about this rule much. Any parents who are fined for taking their child out of school receive a fine for £60 (if it is paid within 21 days). If the government really want to enforce this law and make attendance in schools increase, the sanction needs to be a larger penalty then what they are gaining. A quick bit of research by The Guardian stated:
“The results are predictable but no less frustrating for parents: every single holiday cost more in August with the average holiday costing £905 more than in July and £1,310 more than in June while in one case the price of a holiday jumped by 126% between June and August, a £1,903 difference.”
So a 60 quid fine starts to look a little more tempting…
“If my child is on track for where they need to be why can’t they miss some days?”
This one made my blood boil. The nerve of this parent to say that the rules shouldn’t apply because their child is (in Maths and English) achieving what they should in school. This is dangerous talk. I am careful to say that they are not saying their child is doing better than others (although if the recent KS2 SATs results say anything, which is debateable, then it’s only a very minute majority that are achieving what they should). However we are opening very dodgy ground here – what about children with SEN? The issues with this mentality go on…and if parents are going to state their rights are being taken away because they can’t take their child out during term time, then how much more are schools in control in their child needs a certain teacher assessment from their teacher! No – bad idea!
So – as this is quite a divisive topic I took to Twitter (in a most reliable method) to see if I could uncover any opinions. Not much response but:
This was quite interesting. Three main messages are here for me:
- Almost an identical percentage of parents and teachers felt that children should be allowed a certain amount of time during term out of school.
- A higher proportion of teachers felt that children should not be allowed to take time out of school
- A proportion of parents (although very low) felt they should be allowed to take their child out of school for any amount of time, whilst no teacher did
Interestingly, there is one thing that unites all sides of the debate in this – they are all seeking the best for the children. So to explore all stakeholders I want to briefly look out how each of them are indeed aiming for getting the best for the most important benefactor in all of this – the child.
Teachers (and Governors)
There will be some teachers who are worried for their data – particularly Year 2 and 6 teachers – when children are taken out of school during term time. I’m one of them, I just had a child taken out for 3 weeks before Easter claiming exceptional circumstances. I worry for them in the SATs. However, hopefully, I’m sure most teachers want every child in every day because it is in their job role to help all children make as much progress as possible and help them achieve all they are expected to.
The poll I ran on Twitter tells an interesting story though – that not all teachers believe what is best for the child is to keep them in school. 32% did, but the majority felt that they should be allowed a certain amount of time. Also, the 4% who selected other basically said they should be allowed but for very understandable reasons in close discussion with the Headteacher, so I see that as 68% say children should be able to be taken out (but some feel with a good reason). So does that mean that the best thing for the child is not necessarily keeping them in school through the whole term? Or perhaps to enable the child to live a whole, complete life, some teachers recognise the need to allow children to be out of term time when occasion allows?
In this wide-ranging debate, I know that parents also want what’s best for their children. Most, if not all, recognise the value of their child’s education and want to work with the school to help their child achieve their attention. A lot of parents also want to be able to provide memorable experiences for their child but a number find it difficult to provide these at the costs that are found in the school holidays. I know my family will struggle. The question is this – is it not the parent’s right to take their child out of school? This is a very difficult question. If the parent has agreed to the relevant home-school agreement so the school can educate their child – don’t they agree then that they will endeavour to ensure their child attends school as much as possible? Then the schools agrees to take them on their role? I will not attempt to make a decision here but this question suddenly becomes very complicated///
Of course, the government wants the best for the children – I’m sure. They want all children to be in school all the time so that they make the most progress and become assets to the society they live in. As such, they have cracked down on guidelines to keep all learners in school during term time. I suppose that this group would be less aware or sympathetic to parents who want to take children out during term time but the question they have to consider would have to be this: How they keep attendance at a high whilst being flexible for families?
I suspect this group have less care for children’s learning but are devoted to providing life-changing memories. Now, it would be very easy for me to accuse holiday companies for being the ‘enemy’ here for taking advantage of young families, knowing full well they have to pay out for half-term dates. However, I am trying to be diplomatic here – perhaps they bump prices up because their services cost them more during this time due to high demand in the destinations they send customers to? Maybe. I hope so. Surely they don’t just do this to make more profit? If so, then I think instead of looking at cracking down on families, the government need to look to the root of the problem.
Being a teacher myself – this also means I will not be able to take my growing family on decent holidays at a decent price. But no one is worried about us teachers taking time off for our families to have more affordable breaks away…