Letter: Parents urged to consider the unintended consequences of taking holidays in termtime

This reader – a former teacher – shares her view of pupils being taken out of school during term time for family holidays. She explains the unintended consequences, which include not just missing parts of the syllabus.

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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.

Missing voices
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.

Real-world examples
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.

Image: bek-photography under CC BY 2.0

Thursday, 9th February, 2017 3:12pm


ShortURL: http://wig.ht/2eZh

Filed under: Education, Island-wide, Letter to the Editor

Any views or opinions presented in the comments below are solely those of the author and do not represent those of OnTheWight.

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19 Comments on "Letter: Parents urged to consider the unintended consequences of taking holidays in termtime"

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East Cowes
Hear, hear! Term time is for school, and there are many educatonal and psychological reasons for that. What really needs to be done is to stagger half terms and school start and end dates a little so that the holiday companies don’t gouge prices. With the exception of Christmas and Easter, there is flexibility to do that within a county (so each county has their own start,… Read more »
I actually agree with everything the author of the letter has written. And that is why the current rule on term time holidays is wrong. Not all term time absences are bad, some may, indeed, be beneficial. The only people who know this are the the child, his/her teachers and his/her parents. So the decision on whether to grant an absence should be between those three, with… Read more »
Vix Lowthion
As a teacher and a parent, I completely understand how much pupils miss if they are ill or they take a week or two off for a family holiday. It takesup time for me as a teacher to enable students to try and catch up, and as a parent I want my children to get as much out of school as possible – and they can only… Read more »
East Cowes
I’d said above about how the schools (better by county so that parents don’t have children with different term times) should stagger half terms (thus making it difficult for the travel and tourist industry to gouge). But negotiating with them to spread the cost of holidays wouldn’t ever work, lest it ends up being like a payday loan scheme with ridiculous interest rates. The ferry companies, airlines,… Read more »
Well said, but I still fail to see how the current one-size-fits-all rule is an improvement over the old system where the school decided if an absence was appropriate. As a teacher, I am sure you have come across instances where a week or two away from school would be beneficial, rather than detrimental, to that child’s education. Would you rather not have a say in the… Read more »
Vix Lowthion
I think if we properly funded Educational Welfare and non teaching staff in schools, we would be able to rebuild the relationship between parents and schools by demonstrating that we know their child and family and we are there to support. Unfortunately as a teacher there are enough challenges to achieve academic excellence that I find my pastoral role is somewhat left behind. This fining policy is… Read more »
As a person involved in the holiday trade I’m tired of getting the blame for hiking prices in holiday time. Certainly in this country prices are higher in the summer time as this is when people want holidays… when the weather is good. If I was to even out my prices for the whole year I would go out of business, people don’t want to holiday when… Read more »
billy builder

Well said, to attend school is a right, but also a privilege, don’t squander it.

Rhos yr Alarch

I don’t think it is at all true that unscheduled holiday absences only came into being with the advent of package holidays. It was generally understood that those whose parents ran a B&B would take their fortnight’s holiday outside the peak summer season, and therefore in term time…

mark francis
http://www.cityam.com/article/1393295362/holidays-cost-more-peak-times-reason-basic-economics Why do holiday firms want to make a profit? (although in the case of Thomas Cook- they don’t) Cheap holidays are not a human right. My parents used to tell me that a week at Christmas with Auntie Hilda in Romford was a holiday. My mum told me if I wanted to go & lie around on a beach to cross the road to Sandown Esplanade… Read more »
m coakley
As a former teacher I too agree with this letter writer. I have worked in traditionally tourist areas. It’s again a dichotomy that some parents engaged in the tourist industries wanted to take holidays in term time while others found ways to give their children “holidays” in ways other than removing them from school. At a PTA evening I asked the parents of two children I taught… Read more »
Jon Platt
The assumption that absences from school for term time holidays has a negative impact on attainment is simply not supported by evidence. Many times, as part of this debate / legal battle I’ve tried to explain that the evidence points another way and several leading academics have supported that position. This is a link to an FOI request by Professor Alan Barr annotated by Dr Beccy Smith.… Read more »
@ jon platt You tend to be rather selective with the information which you use to make your points. I would expect that independent schools who open for a lesser amount of days would still cover the same amount of work; it’s just that they have pupils who are able to absorb and learn the information quicker. State LEA schools have to cater for the full range… Read more »
m coakley
Mr PLatt I don’t think I ever suggested that absences in term time had an adverse impact on attendance. I am sure that someone as well versed in the theory of educational attainment as you, would be well aware that there are multiple factors associated with levels of student attainment. The sources you quote have obviously focused on absence to the exclusion of all others. I agreed… Read more »
m coakley

Sorry my first sentence should have read adverse impact on attainment and not attendance

Jon Platt

The research was carried out by the DfE. It was the most comprehensive analysis ever carried out. It involved 2.4 million children. It doesnt show causation BUT does show a positive correlation between absence on holiday and improved outcomes. There may be many complex reasons for this but trying to use THIS data to justify criminalising thousands of parents shows how weak the argument is.


@ jon platt

You state a positive correlation between absence on holiday and improved outcomes.

Perhaps you might like to explain Item 10 and 11 in the court case of 13th May 2016.

Why would you have not authorised this holiday absence?


“(3) Authorised holiday absence has almost no effect (4) Except that those pupils who take no authorised holiday absence at all are likely to do worse than those who do take at least one day” The key word here is “authorised” When Head teachers had the discretion to authorise term time holidays they did so based on the child’s attendance and attainment and mostly would have taken… Read more »
lorraine bailey

I value my children’s education but there are so many factors involved in a holiday and it’s not just down to the children.It could be the climate of a country,i.e how hot or how wet,it could be how busy it may be or whether the parents can both get time off at the same time.I feel a little flexibility would not hurt anyone.