When 13 Weeks Holiday Just Isn’t Enough!

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Martin Curtis

Martin is a primary school teacher with almost 20 years experience, having held senior leadership and local authority positions. He spent a number of years out to set up his own business, but has always maintained an interest in education through tuition and supply teaching....
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Should children be allowed term-time holidays?

For a week in the summer term I had six children on holiday. One fifth of my class were taken out of school by their parents for a week or more mid-term (in the middle of June). Why do the parents do this? What message is it giving the children and what problems does it cause?

It is all about the money!

I am a teacher and so I know what happens to the price of holidays when school is out. It does seem to be bordering on criminal but it is supply and demand and many people are willing to pay the prices, so they persist. The fines issued are a drop in the ocean, a term time trip to Florida could save £1000 per person so a £60 fine is just seen as part of the cost by many parents. I cannot imagine a government willing to intervene in this market any further so we need to adapt our behaviour.

However, parents please take note, saving money on a holiday is not a reason to remove your child from education so please do not put it on the holiday request form!  If you cannot afford to go during the holidays then you cannot afford to go.

Where do you need to go to have family time?

Spending time together as a family is vital but the location of this isn’t. Whilst going on holiday abroad is much cheaper during term time, it isn’t free. I know that the price I would pay for a week in Spain during term time would still buy me a reasonable break in this country during the school holidays. So family time isn’t actually the issue, it is the location of the holiday. Lots of parents seem to think it isn’t a holiday unless it is in another country and this mind set needs to change.

Why not explore some of the wonderful places the UK has to offer or even stay at home and picnic in the park? Children won’t remember the location, they will remember the fun they had and who they were with. 13 weeks is enough time to have family time if you are flexible with your idea of where you spend that time and what it should involve.

Are you really broadening their horizons?

Okay, taking children to other countries gives them valuable life experience and will make them global citizens. I was a passionate traveller in my younger days and I do believe it has influenced the way I look at the world. Holidays do broaden horizons. Unfortunately, I do not think sitting around in an all-inclusive resort in Spain with lots of other Brits and being served by a waiter from Eastern Europe really does the job.

Having spoken to many children returning from their term time holiday, it is clear that for the vast majority the closest to a cultural experience they came was the world pavilion at Epcot Centre or the Spanish night at the resort entertainment complex.

What message are parents giving their children?

By going on holiday during term time the message parents are telling their children that school isn’t important. That trip to Spain or Disney or wherever else, living a ‘celebrity lifestyle’ is the only thing that really matters. This undermines so much that we are trying to achieve as teachers.

Parents aren’t aware that it isn’t just the days when they are not in school. The day before they don’t focus, they come back out of routine and they may miss a piece of work which is being built on.  Often children have a notable change in attitude and regression after a holiday.

Please do not expect your child to give education the effort it requires when you have demonstrated that it is well below the need for a foreign holiday on a scale of importance. Even worse, I actually heard a parent say that the reason they were going away in June was so that they didn’t miss the fun stuff at the end of term!

What about the class?

When you have six children out of 30 away for a week you have to amend your planning. You keep saying to yourself ‘so and so would really benefit from this, I’ll do it when they get back’. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as planning a standalone week different children are away at different times and for different lengths of time.

Then there is all the time spent catching children up. Is it fair on the children who haven’t missed any time that the child returning from holiday requires the attention of the teacher or LSA?

How does the child who gets taken to Clacton or Blackpool or any other British Seaside resort during the school holidays feel? It is difficult to explain to an 8 year old that the statistics show they are more likely to achieve 5 good GCSEs because their parents didn’t take them on holiday during term time.

They do not realise that their holiday probably cost roughly the same as their friend’s trip to Spain and it is because their parents prioritise their education that they cannot have the same holiday.  All they want to do is be able to compare stories of aeroplanes, beaches and water parks.

Are there any exceptions?

Of course, there will always be a family who have a really strong reason why they really must take a child out of school during term time. Schools look at requests on a case by case basis. However, most of the circumstances parents put on their forms would not qualify for special consideration. These cases would be a very tiny minority and usually for short periods only.

Is there a solution?

No!  The only true solutions are too radical to even consider. Could we increase fines or add tax onto term time holidays so they were more expensive? I don’t think this is possible and even if it were the unintended consequences would cause even more problems. Moving or staggering school holiday times? The companies would be very quick to adjust to this and I doubt it would have a long term impact on price, it would merely increase profit as they could charge higher prices for a longer period. Plus, this would be difficult because of our academic year which I cannot see changing.

There are some local solutions, schools grouping their training days together for example, but this isn’t perfect as many families attend or work at a number of different schools.

The only solution is to change attitudes and expectations. Good attendance is 100%. Going on holiday does not have to be abroad. Education is more important than a foreign holiday. The question is, how do we get these messages across to the people who need them?

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