The issue of term-time holidays has, yet again, been up for debate in recent weeks. With the High Court verdict on Jon Platt’s legal battle come renewed calls for an easing of the rules regarding term-time holidays.
This is a really difficult issue. On the surface I’d be inclined to say that parents should absolutely have the right to remove children from school for a limited time so that the family can enjoy a holiday. The potential benefits are many and children can either do some school work while they are away or catch up on their return. However, this isn’t a view shared by the Department for Education, which has, understandably, stated that it is “disappointed” with the High Court Judgment. It said that:
“The evidence is clear that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.”
The Department for Education Research Report being referred to can be downloaded here.
It is easy to accept that the link between overall absence and attainment is a negative one, but that every day counts to such an extent seems hard to believe. There are many factors which may impact a child’s ability to learn on any day, even when they are in school, for example their emotional state, the number of children in the class, their ability to access the learning on offer, their health, to name just a few. No-one could claim that there is a magic balance between school days and non-school days that is the same for every child, every year. There is also the uncomfortable fact that children are still excluded from schools, thereby missing their regular school experience, whether they access learning in a pupil referral unit or not. OK, exclusion is only on the grounds of behaviour, or at least, should be, but many have argued that children who take time out for family holidays are accessing learning too. Perhaps not in every case, but in many.
That said, we cannot run an education system that pupils drop in and out of. So we have to look for other solutions. It is essential now for the Government to look at taking action on the excessive price hikes inflicted by some holiday companies during school holidays. And perhaps a compromise can be reached whereby a limited amount of time can be granted during term-time provided it doesn’t happen at key times and some educational intention for the time out can be demonstrated.
Good attendance is, of course, vital for the educational well-being of any child. But there is a bigger picture here, and if parents want to give their children educational experiences beyond those currently offered in schools, shouldn’t that be applauded? It’s certainly food for thought.
There is another dimension to this issue, and that is time out granted to teachers during term time. I recall being told I couldn’t attend my graduation day because it occurred during term time (a compromise was reached whereby I took unpaid leave for the day). And as a governor I remember many discussions about requests from teachers for time out for funerals and weddings in particular. My view was always the same. I’m yet to meet a teacher who takes advantage and the day we lose sight of the need to preserve and protect the sense of humanity in our schools will be a very sad day indeed.