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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

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

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19 Comments

  1. East Cowes


    9.Feb.2017 3:32pm

    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, stop and half term dates).

    Most kids on the island can’t afford holidays, and so much of that adds to the haves and the have nots by pulling kids out of school rather demonstrably. The impact that it has on everyone’s education is huge. It’s one thing to take a child out for bereavement of Nana’s funeral, but Disney World (for those who can afford it) can wait until half term. America doesn’t even have half terms so if you’re rich enough to go there for holiday, you can still get bargains.

    Reply
  2. Suruk the Slayer


    9.Feb.2017 3:56pm

    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 the final decision as to whether the absence would be detrimental to the child (and/or their classmates), neutral or beneficial left with the school. If the school agrees, the child get granted the absence. If the school disagrees, the the child gets denied the absence and the parents get fined heavily if the go anyway (in the order of a few thousand pounds).

    The problem with the current rule and its £60 penalty is that there is no point parents who want to take a term time holiday discussing the proposed absence with the school as it will be automatically denied.

    They go anyway and (before the Platt case) just look on the fine as an extra cost. The first thing the school will know about it is when the child doesn’t turn up one morning. This causes *more* disruption for the child and *more* disruption for their classmates.

    Reply
  3. Vix Lowthion


    9.Feb.2017 3:59pm

    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 do that if they’re in it!

    However, this is now a court case with a legal technicality – are you as a parent a *criminal* for taking your child out of school without authorisation? This is very different to arguments about whether 100% school attendance is essential to make progress, or whether family holidays are hugely beneficial for kids. It’s about whether the government has the power to fine and take parents to court on this matter.

    I fully support schools in getting pupils there for the maximum amount of days they can. But I don’t think fines and court cases have a place in this – they’re not fair and they are destroying the relationship between school and parent.

    We need to tackle this problem through flexible term dates and/or working with the holiday companies to spread the cost of holidays. That’s the way forward.

    Reply
    • East Cowes


      9.Feb.2017 4:07pm

      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, etc. take the mick during high seasons because they can. Remove some of the high season then the market will flatten more.

      Reply
    • Suruk the Slayer


      9.Feb.2017 4:08pm

      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 welfare of a child in this respect instead of the current blanket ban which take no account of the child and his/her particular needs.

      Reply
    • Vix Lowthion


      9.Feb.2017 7:59pm

      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 all stick and no carrot. It treats families as if they are guilty until proven innocent. Schools deserve better than this.

      Reply
  4. 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 the weather is likely to be cold and wet. The summer prices reflect the real cost of maintaining a property for let and all it entails, out of season prices are lower because it’s better to get something rather than nothing. I can’t speak for the habits of large companies or trips abroad. It’s a balance.
    Having said that I entirely agree with the letter writer. My children, now all grown, attended school unless they were ill and in bed! They frequently had 100% attendance certificates and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I did the best I could for their qualifications by getting them into school every day I could.

    Reply
  5. billy builder


    9.Feb.2017 4:54pm

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

    Reply
  6. Rhos yr Alarch


    9.Feb.2017 10:01pm

    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…

    Reply
  7. mark francis


    10.Feb.2017 12:22am

    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 or after stacking the deck chairs for Kenny Kemp.

    Reply
  8. m coakley


    11.Feb.2017 6:15pm

    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 why they didn’t opt for term time holidays. It had become a contentious issue in a school dominated by the tourist industry. Their answer was that they spent weekends camping; both children enjoyed surfing at weekends; both children participated in school overseas exchange visits, one was part of a choir that toured and another toured with a football team. They researched ways of ensuring that the children didn’t “miss out”. They were both of the opinion that education was not only a right but a responsibility. There would be many times in later life when their children would be restricted from taking holidays as and when it suited them and they had to learn to take the rough with the smooth.Their children were lucky that their parents had a steady income.
    I asked them if they shared the view that holidays in term time could be valuable in educational terms. They agreed that it was a moot point. The mother said she could always find reasons why a trip to Disney, or a winter holiday in Tenerife after the Christmas rush could be educational but she said that it was just an excuse and no-one really believed it and that it was usually more for the benefit of the parents.
    I asked another couple who had traveled to Norway in January to ski. They were adamant that traveling alone justified the absence of two weeks. I may be prejudiced but I had difficulty in deciding which of the two was more credible.

    Reply
  9. Jon Platt


    12.Feb.2017 8:31am

    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. I urge people to read it in full if they genuinely care about evidence based policy.
    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/evidence_for_school_absences#comment-75725

    It appears to me from all the research I have read that 190 days is NOT the optimum number of days that a child should attend school. Independent schools are open on average 167 days so a child with 90% attendance in a state maintained school attends school more than a child with 100% attendance at an independent school. Free schools and academies aren’t regulated at all in terms of the number of days they must be open, it would be perfectlying lawful for them to open 150 days a year. But if you are a parent of a child in a state maintained school, the government want your child in school 190 days and anything less than that would be criminal. I’ll leave you with Professor Barrs summary of the evidence.

    The four conclusions I draw from these data are that:
    (1) Long periods of absence are dominated by pupils’ illness
    (2) Children who have long periods of illness unfortunately tend to perform significantly worse in the tests
    (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

    Reply
    • @ 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 of abilities and speed of learning and thus will have a slower speed of lessons; Indeed some very able pupils find that the speed of tuition is very slow for them and need to be stretched more. Others find that they need a slower speed of tuition to be able to grasp the knowlege.
      The LEA standard is set to cater for all pupils and the 190 days is the time that is allowed for those schools to try to teach pupils of all abilities.
      One thing I learnt from school is that it is not the time taken to get from point A to point B, but the route and content that is important.
      When registering a child at school, you are made aware of the attendance arrangements when doing so and if they are not to your liking then you are able to put your child in an establishment that meets your criteria if that is important to you. Mass education has rules that apply to all and 190 days spread across forty weeks is the LEA standard.
      The Island has a pitiful record when it comes to non-attendance at school and the aim is to encourage both pupils and parents of the need to attend all sessions. Just because your child may be able to get cope with missing some days does not mean that all children are similarly able to cope. Are there to be different rules for different ability pupils?

      Your arguement for attendance as stated above is facile.

      Reply
  10. m coakley


    12.Feb.2017 4:32pm

    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 with the letter writer that parents should perhaps be more aware of informal consequences of taking their children out of school in term time.

    Reply
  11. m coakley


    12.Feb.2017 4:33pm

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

    Reply
  12. 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.

    Reply
  13. “(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 a view from the child’s teachers. Those that they authorised therefore were far more likely be for children doing well.

    I would be interested to know what the attainment was for those children with unauthorised absence. Of course for the last 3 years all of this type of absence has been unauthorised so its impossible to take a view on how it has affected attainment.

    I would ask a question of those parents who wish to see a return to the system of discretion. Would you, on applying for term time holiday authorisation be refused this under the head teachers discretion say to hell with it and go anyway? If the answer to this is yes then it would be my view that your priorities are slightly skewed.

    Adding to this context though is the fact that the government has slashed funding to schools so the number of support staff in schools is diminished. This means that when you return from your 2 week holiday it is considerable harder for the staff to help that child catch up on elements of the curriculum that they have missed.

    Timing your holiday with the last week of a term so that less curriculum is missed because of other things going on at that time (school plays, sports days etc) has some merit. However if a school is struggling and is under a tight inspection regime from HMI or Ofsted then this last week lull is in reality on a lull of a day or two.

    This is a highly emotive subject and the actual argument is often muddied by the language used. I’ve stated before that I believe that the head’s discretion should be returned however parent MUST respect the head’s view or else face fines that negate the financial benefit of taking the holiday in term time. School’s need to be equipped to deal with the fact that there are occupations that make it impossible to take leave in the summer and set aside resources to help those children catch up, however they need additional financial resources from the government in order to do this.

    Reply
    • lorraine bailey


      6.Apr.2017 9:11pm

      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.

      Reply

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