We always welcome a Letter to the Editor to share with our readers – unsurprisingly they don’t always reflect the views of this publication. If you have something you’d like to share, get in touch and of course, your considered comments are welcome below. This from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. Ed
I have followed the arguments put forward by Mr Platt and the Isle of Wight council and the Department of Education with a great deal of interest. The rights and responsibilities have been debated with a great deal of skill by eminent lawyers. Both sides argue that they know what is best for children.
It seems to me very odd that the one voice lacking in all these debates has been that of the children – any children in fact. You might ask why would you want children to speak for themselves, because they lack knowledge or the experience. These decisions do have an enormous impact on children, as any teacher faced with this issue could probably give chapter and verse.
Before package tours first took off, absence from school was either through sickness or truancy and sometimes for funerals or other family issues. The Local Authority employed a “truant officer” who, together with a beat constable, would round up persistent offenders.
Price hikes during school holidays
In the course of forty years foreign holidays became the norm, and tour operators increasingly took advantage of the inability of the family to travel during term time – hiking up the prices during school holidays.
It was very much a postcode lottery whether or not the Head would turn a blind eye to a foreign holiday during the term.
Diversity of backgrounds
The increasing prevalence of such requests started to become an issue. I was at a school with a wide range of student affluence and life styles. We had an affluent area dominated by middle-class professionals and one of extreme deprivation, with single parents or households where neither parent was in employment.
We had child carers who played a role quite different to that played in the classroom. We had ‘looked after’ children and some from children’s homes and some where the only hot meal they got was at school courtesy of free school meals.
We also had children who had extra curricular lessons, swimming, dancing, riding, rugby etc. Funnily enough the children didn’t always group themselves by class or affluence.
This whole debate resonated with me when I remember one family who were quite comfortable. There were two boys and a girl, all of whom I taught. This was my first experience of dealing with term time holidays. In January one year they all disappeared on a skiing holiday. The following May it was in the middle of revision and this time to the USA.
In the following academic year I was told that they were taking a week in October to add to the half term. As Head of Department, I spoke to the Head Teacher who said he would ask the father to see me to provide holiday work. I looked at the planned lessons.
When we discussed it the gentleman looked at my lesson with some concern to see that one of the children would be having a chemical experiment using a bunsen burner and some magnesium, and in biology, another was dissecting a full set of heart and lungs.
He asked if we would be repeating it and I had to respond in the negative. I explained the curriculum and the fairly tight requirements of the syllabus and provided work sheets.
Disruption to syllabus
A few more parents started to want to remove their children, some from GCSE classes. The Head had set a precedent and was reluctant to rein in the requests.
The 95% rule was hardly applicable in October when no-one had any idea whether or not further unavoidable absences would occur during the academic year.
Vulnerable to bullying
Members of my staff were concerned at the disruption and not only in academic terms. I hadn’t quite realised the informal consequences of some of these absences. One teacher reported a nasty case of bullying when a child appeared late in January with a winter tan.
We implemented the anti bullying policy to the letter, but as any teacher will tell you that is not always a success in practical terms. This young lady was not exactly tactful when recounting her holidays experiences including via Facebook and although most of the class ignored her, some did not.
Pupil anxious about term time holidays
It culminated for me when I began to notice that a boy in my Year 10 class was becoming very withdrawn and not performing well, especially after returning from term time holidays.
Before I could talk to the parents I had to take him out of class in tears. We had a long talk. The problem? His best friend – one of three children of a single parent – had not been on holiday in years since before their father had left them. He did not want to go on holiday in term time anymore. He was one of the three children whose parents had more or less started the ball rolling.
I had no choice but to talk to the parents who were angry that their son did not appreciate the wonderful holidays. I handed the whole issue over to the pastoral team who told me they were between a rock and a hard place.
Consider the unintended consequences
In conclusion to a regretfully long letter, I would ask parents who advocate their rights perhaps to be a bit more considerate of the sometimes unintended consequences and look at the wider picture.
It maybe should be that we ask the children too.