Banning term-time holidays – is it really necessary?

by , Assistant Travel Editor Transport & Travel 23 February 2012
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Headteachers currently have the power to authorise pupils’ absence during term-time, but that could all change. Do you think parents should be allowed to take their children out of school for a family holiday?

Sunshine drawn on school blackboard

I hate to admit it, but I’m a little scared of my daughter’s headteacher. So when she tells us not to take holidays during term time, we don’t.

We do what she wants not only because she’s an impressive authority figure who has the ability to make parents feel like naughty school children themselves, but because we don’t want our daughter to miss lessons.

That said, this year will be the first time we are confronted by the cost of going away in the school holidays as our daughter only started school last September.

Will truancy go down?

There’s little chance of the travel industry bringing down prices during peak times – the laws of supply and demand dictate that it will always be more expensive to travel during school holidays. So in a few years’ time when we’re worn down by the costs, we may well be among the parents asking for ‘authorised absence’ to take time off during term time to save some cash.

I’m pretty sure our headteacher would say ‘no’, and we’d do as we’re told, but other heads might agree more easily – and other parents might use the time to fly off on holiday.

And that’s why education secretary Michael Gove wants to end headteachers’ discretion to authorise up to two weeks’ absence, which is supposed to be for illness, bereavement or bad weather. The aim is to cut down on truancy, which I’m all for, but I’m not convinced this will help.

Teachers should have responsibility

Authorised absence is not supposed to be used for holidays anyway, but parents who are determined to save the cash are finding a way round it.

If headteachers’ discretion to grant time off is taken away, those same parents might simply invent other reasons for being away – such as illness. Will they have to produce doctors’ certificates each time, and will they be fined if they can’t? Who’s going to enforce that?

Also, isn’t the coalition government supposed to believe in devolving more power to local people? How does that fit with taking discretion away from headteachers?

I haven’t got an easy answer to the problem, but I think it’s something to do with parents having respect for teachers and valuing education. Perhaps those who want to take children out during school term should be required to stand up at assembly and explain the reason why?

How would you tackle the issue? Has Michael Gove got the answer, or is there another way?

16 comments

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Emily

I don’t have kids myself, but can speak from my own experience when I was at school.
I grew up in Ausralia, and my dad is English, so we have a lot of family over here. The only way we were able to fit in a decent-length trip to see them was to take time off during term time – which we did twice: once when I was about 10, and again whe I was about 16.
These were six-week trips to the other side of the world, which had the benefit of allowing me to get to know my extended family (we did not have much family in Australia on my mother’s side), and also to see a bit of Europe while we were here, thus expanding my cultural horizons (and infecting me with the travel bug – but that’s another story). It meant I took two weeks off either side of the regular spring two-week school holiday period.
Yes, I missed out on some school work, but the schools were quite accommodating at the time, helping me to catch up on what I’d missed, and I certainly don’t think any lasting damage was done from the time I’d missed – indeed, I think the benefits of travel and interacting with family far outweighed the drawbacks in my case.
That said, if we were talking about missing a couple of weeks of school every year to save a few quid on a trip to the Costa Del Sol, I’d find it much harder to argue the ‘for’ case.

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richard

As I have no faith whatever in this “government’s” ability to run education properly – particularly with the measures already imposed – I object to any government interference in the Head Teacher’s ability to choose who can and can not go on holiday during term time.After all he knows personally how much the child will or will not suffer. Gove hasn’t a clue.

It is the poor that will suffer – the rich can afford to go at peak time anyway – the poor often can’t. This is even more true now. But I would agree that holidays at exam time should be banned.

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Em

Sorry. It’s not acceptable to take a child out of school, simply to save money on an off-season package holiday that is available at other times of the year, albeit at an inflated price.

If the reason for the absence is purely economic, how is that different from a farmer’s child taking time off school to help out during the busy harvest season, or keeping the child at home to save cash on bus fares?

But there are rare circumstances where a child could benefit from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that falls during term time, and maybe warrants permission to be off school. Perhaps a parent is travelling on business to a foreign culture that isn’t a typical holiday destination and the family can go as well.

A good teacher may turn the absence to advantage, by ensuring that on return the child’s new experiences are shared and developed with the rest of the class. But describing how they spent two weeks by a hotel pool in Benidorm eating fish and chips isn’t going to cut the mustard.

That’s why it needs to be at the discretion of the head teacher and not a blanket ban.

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Sophie Gilbert

Absolutely and utterly agree with Em.

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Chris, Gloucester

Two weeks out of term time once a year will have minimal negative educational impact. Many kids go sick more than this every year anyway.
However why not think about the the 13 weeks teachers and students get every year. Surely a reduction and evened out spacing of that period could have a very positive impact on education. I’d suggest a positive impact far greater than the negative impact on two weeks term time holidays.

A change in approach along these lines would be positive for everyone, not just parents or children.
I might actually be able to take a holiday in August without paying through the nose or being subjected to “child overdose”.

You make some interesting points, Chris. Some of the articles I’ve read about this have suggested that many families – specifically the children – really benefit from having a holiday during term time. Not because it’s in term time per se, but because they wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to go on holiday at all. They come back having better family relations and teachers report that they’re better behaved and more willing to learn.

I know it’s a hard one to judge, and I’m not saying these holidays should be means-tested, but an outright ban doesn’t seem right to me.

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richard

Sadly though I agree that two weeks absence from school will make little difference to the child – we often run classes at lunch times to help the child catch up. – at no extra charge. I strongly object to splitting the long holiday into say four short holidays – I needed every minute of the six week summer holiday to recover from my 60 hour week (less than 35 hours paid for) – unpaid weekend trips with the kids during term time – extra unpaid lessons at Lunchtime. marking planning etc In all honesty I would not have lasted a year – I’d have left after the first year just as so many of my colleagues did. I even painted my classroom at my expense because it was so bad – I wouldn’t have bothered if I just had two weeks to look forward to.

Also must point out that all that would happen is instead of one long expensive period we would have say four shorter expensive holiday periods that the really poor still wouldn’t be able to afford. so a No No.

Have a number of positive experiences by allowing our usually poverty stricken parents at my slum school permission to go on holiday.during term time The effect on the parents who really couldn’t afford to go on holiday with their children at peak times was always positive – they tended to come to Parent’s Evenings – They listened to us when we had difficulties with their child at school. etc. etc. Remember this is a very slum school. Roughly 50% of all boys have a criminal record.and often rejected by “better schools” because of criminal records not intelligence,

Had a number of negative experiences when we didn’t allow term time holidays – Remember one child particularly – had been a criminal since 11 – but had been polite to teachers in school. His parents were anti-social and disinterested in school. So after the summer holiday – came back to find the 14 yo was in serious trouble – he had burgled several shops and houses. – I asked him why (I had his welfare to care for) He burst into tears (not the sort of thing that happened much in my school) and explained it was to gain enough money to help pay for the family’s fortnight’s peak period holiday – the difference between off peak and peak was the difference between a proper cheap holiday in the UK with his parents and siblings or running round the area unsupervised – Went to court as character witness to plea he needed a “second chance” He got it. The next year I pleaded that he should be allowed the holiday – he was allowed to go – The difference in attitude when he came back was amazing – he worked hard – his parents came to all meetings – he stopped breaking the law. He did go to college.

It should never be down to government – who (especially Gove) never have a clue what it is like to be poverty stricken and want a simple cheap holiday. It should always down to the Headmaster who knows the area the child and the parents

So I’m in favour of allowing some children to have term time holidays purely if it of benefit – not for just once only experiences – the rich tend to have once only experiences – The poor are often too poor to afford a peak time holiday at all. Particularly in these austere times.

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PJ

I really don’t see why the Education Minister is getting his panties in a twist about children missing the last two weeks of Summer term, unless of course the child is sitting final exams,because if the teacher is worth his/her salt they will “go over” what had been covered in the two weeks when children start back after the holidays.

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Opolopo

I’m married to a deputy head teacher, you don’t know what the stresses are unless you are a teacher or married to one. They really do deserve the holidays. But every time a holiday comes it costs a fortune. Just for 2 plane seats it costs £500 more, than a week later. My wife doesn’t blame hard up parents taking there children on holiday in term time, it saves quite a lot, and 2 weeks out so long as its not exam time makes little difference. My wife retires shortly and we can’t wait for the savings and also the silence of a peaceful holiday.

Just read that schools are also giving out small fines to parents of truanting kids – to the tune of 16p per day: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/304593/16p-fine-for-skipping-school

Can such a small amount really be an effective deterrent?

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anon the mouse

“A child has a right to education not to school.” – Leicester City Council School appeal panel board, 2009-2010.

and on that basis I do take my child out of school for holidays, and I always ask for any schoolwork she will miss so that she won’t miss out on her education.

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John Ward

Every silver lining has a cloud in front of it unfortunately. The present position where only a small number of children are off school in term time suits us fine. It means we can have better holidays for the same price and that our enjoyment of a holiday is not ruined by annoying children. Pre-school children are not much of a nuisance because they tend to spend a lot of time asleep, go to bed early, and are mothered continuously. Generally foreign holidays are still a luxury and luxuries are not universally affordable. For those that cannot go abroad it’s better that the main school holidays fall when the weather is finest. As for teachers, they are lucky that their employers facilitate their absence during the summer period – many employees do not have that choice because of the seasonal nature of their occupation.

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Claire

I take my three children’s education very very seriously, I find it really sad as a two parenty family both of whom work full time have never been able to take them abroad on a holiday. This is because we cannot afford to go in term time. I think people who say that parent’s taking their children on holiday during term time are doing it to save money are niaive. It is not about saving money but about hard working people getting a well earned/ deserved break with their nearest and dearest.

Before anyone argue’s that I can do this in this country during the school holidays….. give me a break the weather is so unreliable you end up cooped up in a caravan watching the rain. The other thing I find infuriating is the lack of real school work that goes on in the last week of term especially on the run up to the summer holidays!

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Mrs Ringwood

I work in a school dealing with the attendance and issuing fines to parents who have requested holiday leave yet the principal has denied the absence so therefore a fine is issued, after we send parents a letter unauthorising the holiday request. If parents can proof that they are going away for personal reasons such as a death in the family or wedding then the absence can be approved. As an academy we don’t want the unauthorised absence on our statistics yet we don’t want the absence in general, however due to the expensive costs of holidays during half term it is becoming very difficult for parents to meet the price tag and as the fine is cheaper than the holiday then parents would rather pay the fine. I really thing something needs to be done more with lowering the cost of holidays during half term then parents would take their children away during the correct time as opposed to requesting leave and their children having to miss an important part of their education yet in order to spend precious time as a family I really cannot blame parents for taking their children out of school for a family holiday during school time. If holiday organisations etc can afford to cater for holiday makers during out of peak times why can’t they during half term. I do believe that if a fair price was considered then all families would take their children on holiday during half term holidays which would then stop parents being issued fines and schools attendance going into persistent absence or special measures, education and academic results would rise because the children are in school at the governed time as opposed to on holiday! I would just like to point out that despite me working for a school and helping with this futures generation I too cannot afford to go on Holiday during half term and haven’t been abroad for 3 years, due to the cost and i am not allowed time off from work to go during term time either! This matter really needs to be put forward to the powers that be in order to come to an agreement that suits all families.

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J Nicholson

Could someone just clarify for me: I’ve read on a website that the fines are per child per day of absence, so a 2 week holiday would constitue a fine of £1200 per child if both parents are fined. Is that right, or is it just a fixed penalty for the period of absence?

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Louise Rimmington

So how is it fair that the schools can take kids out on trips to Spain, Rome, Andorra skiing ect all in term time yet contradicting the new policy of parents taking their own children out in term time? Pot and kettle spring to mind

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