by Silvia Martelli
As prices for trips abroad reach their peak during the school holidays, it has become increasingly popular to take children away during term time. However, in 2006, after studies proved that missing lessons impairs children’s learning and attainment, the issue of a growing number of students having term-time holidays was addressed for the first time by the government. The Education Regulations were put in place into force, establishing that, in “special circumstances”, head teachers could grant a leave of absence of up to ten days for a family holiday.
Furthermore, in “exceptional circumstances”, they could grant an extended period of leave. Otherwise, parents could be fined £60 for the unauthorised absence of a child.
Shortly afterwards, schools reported that they were experiencing trouble with parents who were mistaking these guidelines as a right to two weeks’ annual holiday during term. Overall, the regulations were not very effective. In 2012, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, said: “We need to do more to discourage holidays taken during term time: the rate of these absences in primary schools is double that in secondary schools.” In September 2013, tougher regulations established that head teachers in England were only able to give permission for a pupil to miss school in “exceptional circumstances”.
Last week, the issue of term-time holidays came back into the news, when a BBC investigation showed that 35 councils in England have lessened policies on fining parents for term-time holidays, following a successful high court appeal by a Isle of Wight father against a £120 fine. But is it really the best idea to make it easier for kids to randomly miss school days?
We have all had that classmate who, in the middle of the semester, would disappear for a few days, or a week, sometimes even for a fortnight to then come back to school all tanned and smiley. Possibly, at times we were that classmate ourselves. Back then, it felt natural to dislike him for having a great time while we were double taking notes for him and confirming to the teachers that his fever was not improving, and that the recent facebook picture of him in the Bahamas had been taken the previous summer. When we were that kid ourselves, it was our own job not to feel miserable on the way back home and then catch up with everything we had missed at school (homework and lessons, not gossip). Hence, it feels quite natural to wonder whether skipping school to go on holiday is appropriate, fair and truly beneficial to the students.
In my opinion, it is not. This isn’t simply out of jealousy towards that classmate who jetted off to exotic places nor is it because of the struggle of catching up with school work, it is because, at the end of the day, school requires a true commitment. As cliché as it may sound, education is among the greatest opportunities, or better put, privileges, we are given in life. As such, it should be addressed with the appropriate seriousness and dedication. Allowing children to miss random weeks of school from a very young age could have a detrimental impact. Indeed, when parents take a child out of school, parents can lead their child to believe that they do not take their education very seriously. Consequently, the child will very likely disregard the importance of education, of a commitment to it and of consistent attendance.
Taking children on holiday during the term can be also considered disrespectful- towards teachers, undermining the fact they are working for the pupils to let them best learn and thrive. In addition, it can be very disruptive both for the child in question and for their classmates, as they will have to catch up when they return.
Indeed, not only may the child face difficulties in engaging with the lessons due to a lack of knowledge of the previous ones, but they may also make the class run a bit behind schedule.
There can obviously be exceptions to this, but overall I believe that term-time holidays create a high risk of developing an unhealthy attitude towards education. Finally, granting the possibility of missing a fixed amount of days per year will always be easily confused as some extra legitimate holidays that every student should have; yet, if every child happened to go on term-time holidays at different times it would be hard, if not almost impossible, for lessons to proceed smoothly.