Do you feel as though you need a holiday right now? Yes! Are your children of school age? Yes. Then apparently you should think again.
Spring is here and we look forward in hope to the sort of summer weather that we had in 2013 – full of warmth and sunshine on consecutive days and even weeks. It’s been a tedious and wet winter. Even those who aren’t normally affected by these dismal climes are commenting on the amount of rain that we’ve had to endure. It’s seemed very persistent for a very long time.
For those fortunate enough to have the money available, who might be considering a break from the inclement weather – perhaps an Easter break to southern Europe or even further afield to the USA or the emerging resorts in Africa might be feasible. Others might be considering where they’d like to spend their summer holidays.
And “spend” is the appropriate word.
Going away on holiday is an expensive luxury. Taking a trip during the school holiday periods is an expensive and often prohibitive luxury that even relatively affluent folk can’t afford in these days of greater austerity. It isn’t helped by the travel and transport companies cashing in on these busier times. Prices are hiked up because of the fact that children can’t be taken out of school during term time – unless parents are prepared to be fined.
Legislative changes mean that parents can now be fined if they want to take their children out of school during term time. The fine is £60 per child for a week off school. Prior to this, head teachers had the discretion to “allow” parents to take their children out of school for up to ten days per year. Now, they can only give permission for “exceptional” circumstances.
So what should parents do? Take their children out of school, risk the fine and enjoy a break away – or go away during the school holiday periods when the costs are extreme . . . or just forgo the holiday altogether?
One argument is that it depends on your interpretation of the word “education”. If your interpretation of education is as limited as the Secretary of State’s interpretation, then you will probably think that taking your child on holiday in term time might be disruptive to their “education”. If, on the other hand, you see a family holiday and a visit to a new place in the world as an integral part of children’s learning, then you might be more inclined to book that flight.
Attendance at school is important for a child. That’s why it’s compulsory to have your child registered at a school or for home-schooling to take place. Taking a child out of school for regular, prolonged periods of time or having sporadic attendance, with frequent days off here and there, can also be detrimental to their “schooling”. Having a child away on holiday can create more work for teachers – setting work for them to complete in their absence or affording time to the child when s/he returns.
However, we should consider the other important aspects of life and child development that aren’t necessarily going to be achieved through school. What of a child’s wellbeing? What of their need to share experiences with their family? Taking a trip to a museum or walking round a foreign town may not be “schooling” but it’s certainly “education”.
For a child, what is the value of……
- Spending time with your parents?
- Walking round a market in a foreign country?
- Using your senses to see, feel, taste, hear the sights, sounds and experiences of a place different to home – be it in this country or abroad?
- Seeing your parents having time to read a book – for pleasure?
- Feeling the warmth of summer sun?
- Learning how to relax – to take time out, to stop, to meditate?
- Learning the customs and traditions of another place?
- Deciding what to do for themselves?
- Negotiating with the family about activities for the day?
This list is endless – and it’s all about education.
Recently, on social network sites, we’ve come across some thoughtful parents who are in a real quandary about what to do. They want to take their children on holiday but are unwilling to do so because of the cost on the one hand and the stigma of this new fine on the other. One person looked at the cost of going away for a week at the beginning of July (term time) compared with a week in August. The difference for their family of two adults and two children was £1500!
The CentreParcs group inflate their price for a two-bedroomed apartment by £500 for the summer half-term. You pay £1478 for a week if you go on 23rd May but only £978 if you go the week before. Doing the maths – you still pay less even if you’re fined. How can this be right?
Some companies, such as “Holiday Villages” even follow the English National Curriculum at their holiday venues so that all activities can be put on a tick sheet and returned to school should the need arise!
The Guardian recently produced a question and answer sheet on the question of term-time holidays.
This is a clear and concise summary of the situation that parents face. However, we have a problem with the final comment.
Any long-term solutions?
Parents could accept that their child’s classroom education is far more important than a week in Europe, no matter how many museums they visit. That’s especially true for young children: the evidence is unanimous that early-years education is vital for future attainment.
Sorry, but we can’t accept this. Yes, early years education is vital for future “achievement”. However, a child’s education can be a week in Europe. Even if you’re firmly in the Gradgrind camp on education – learning, memorising and regurgitating facts – then a week away from the classroom can provide a wealth of factual learning. Thanks to the wonders of technology, further factual learning can take place when your child is back at home too.
Classroom education is important but it’s not more important than other learning that is vital to a child’s wellbeing and intellectual stimulation. It’s particularly less important if the child’s personal interests aren’t being considered. It’s particularly less important when the prescribed curriculum becomes tedious and disengages children from learning. (And we fully acknowledge that this is not the case in good schools where the individual needs of the child are fully catered for.) It’s particularly less important when the education they receive in school isn’t developing all of their intelligences – social, personal, physical, spiritual, intellectual and instinctual.
We all need to accept that education is far greater than schooling. Once we have got this firmly embedded in our brains, then our attitude to term-time holidays might be slightly different – and legislation should reflect this thoughtfulness too. We need to consider precisely what we value.
The sad truth is that some children, whose parents are willing to accept this fine, will miss out on important aspects of school if they choose to go away a week or two before the end of term because it’s often during these times in the school year when teachers and managers are frequently prepared to be more flexible in their offerings. The restraints of the National Curriculum are lifted. Visits out of school, school fairs and sports days, end of term drama and musical productions, more artwork and outdoor activities are often left to the end of term rather than being an integral part of the school year – all the sort of activities that truly develop social and personal intelligence. If a child is taken out of school during these times, they miss the camaraderie and the opportunities that these activities offer.
The other sad truth is that this debate is insignificant to the majority of parents who can’t afford to take their children on holiday at all. How and where are their needs being met? Who is going to take them on an aeroplane or a ferry to listen to a foreign language first-hand? How are they going to learn the importance of being together as a family –relaxing and enjoying one another’s company? Who is going to take them to the national museums or parks where the cost of transport and a light lunch out can be prohibitive?
For these children, we need to consider what is on offer in school as an alternative to the experiences of family holidays. We do, however, need to do something to ensure that family holidays aren’t considered a luxury item for those who can afford it, and we need to get rid of this divisive fine that has recently been imposed by a government that seems to think that “education” only happens within the boundaries of an educational institution.
Truly there is more to life and to learning than spending every available hour on preparation for high-stakes tests and exams in order to raise ‘attainment’ and in order to reach arbitrary targets – which is the real agenda of those who take issue with ‘unauthorised’ family holidays. Let’s be honest here – if any child’s life chances are seriously affected by an extra week’s holiday during term time then there is something seriously wrong with our system of education, and indeed wrong with our society. It makes us wonder what happens to children who are victims of illnesses that cause them to miss a week or more of their schooling. Maybe we should fine their parents for allowing them to get ill.