Holiday time

Last week, driven by the bleakness of January weather and the fog of sleep deprivation brought on by an attack of croup, we booked a week in Cyprus over Easter. We had to suck it up and book during the school holidays in order to fit in with Leigh’s term times. Not ideal, but I’m used to it.

You may have noticed that the issue of school holidays has been in the news a lot recently. More specifically, the issue of whether or not it’s reasonable for parents to take their children out of school for holidays in term time. The Sutherlands would argue that it absolutely is, and they have growing support from another one of those petitions that seem to be dominating popular involvement in politics nowadays.

There’s a part of me (the future parent of a school age child part of me) that has a lot of sympathy with them. Why shouldn’t I be able to take my son out of school for a couple of weeks if I so choose? He’s my son after all. And as a parent I know I’m going to provide all sorts of exciting learning experiences beyond the confines of the classroom – family holidays being a perfect springboard for these either by design or by happy accident. Holidays outside of term time are expensive (believe me, after ten years of teaching, I know), and who knows whether my future doctor husband will be able to take his leave when it suits the school anyway? Having had those ten years of being constrained by the school timetable – and particularly with Gove’s plans to cut holiday time for teachers and young people – I’m really not looking forward to the inflexibility of my son’s schooling dictating the experiences we can have as a family.

But then the pondering begins. Ignoring uncharitable thoughts about other parents not necessarily prioritising educational experiences when planning a holiday, I simply cannot let go of how important it is for schools and young people that we don’t sanction a free for all in families taking a holiday whenever it suits.

Thinking that two weeks out of the classroom won’t really have an impact on a child’s education essentially shows a total lack of understanding of what goes on in schools these days. Project work, inquiry based learning, development of thinking skills – hardly the sort of stuff that can be covered by a few hastily photocopied worksheets even if they ever were to make their way out of the bottom of the suitcase. Teachers spend hours planning schemes of work that will take their charges on a learning journey. Ten days of holiday is fifty hours of that journey spread across many different subjects – an awful lot to catch up on, and I’d argue pretty much impossible for even the most diligent of learners.

I’m not saying that fifty hours of learning in school is worth more than the two weeks of family time. In fact I’d agree that two weeks spent in Rome, say, with the right experiences offered and the right questions asked, could be infinitely more valuable in isolation. But the thing is that’s not really the point. Once you’ve decided to buy into the state education system, to take what a school has to offer and to trust them to educate your child, you kinda have to follow their rules.

Attendance is a key factor by which schools are judged – and rightly so when you consider the impact attendance has on young people’s achievement. I won’t go into the figures here, but they’re pretty stark. Schools and teachers are held to account for how well young people do in schools on a whole variety of measures, but they simply cannot do their job if pupils aren’t there.

And pupils do miss out too – whether it’s not being there to help their group complete a project, not getting to give a presentation they’ve been working towards for weeks, or just having less time to spend on a topic they’ve developed an interest in. I find it bizarre that parents can believe that nothing of value is missed in two whole weeks of lesson time. Doesn’t say much about their faith in the school – why bother to send their kids there at all?

Rather than expecting young people to cope with the disruption to their school experience, and teachers to juggle the knock on effects of pupils randomly missing a week or two here and there, I think we, as a society, have to look at the reasons why parents are looking beyond the thirteen weeks of school holiday time already provided. It’s pretty outrageous that those involved in the holiday industry think it’s ok to hike their prices up at the only time when families are able to travel. And it’s pretty unreasonable for employers not to demonstrate flexibility to enable their workers to spend time with their children. After all, it’s those children who are going to grow up to be the work force of the future, so they need their education!

Back to where I stand on this personally, as a parent, and one who loves travelling at that. To be honest, for a multitude of reasons I’m starting to think I might home school Arthur, for the first few years at least. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores right now – that’s the subject for another post. But if or when he joins a local school I hope it will be with my full support for the teachers and what they are striving to achieve. To expect a flexible two week window of your choice where you can remove your child from the school community – not just once, but every year of their education – is I think to miss the point of choosing to be part of that community in the first place. It’s just a shame that the wider society can’t put its money where its mouth is and demonstrate its support for education by removing the barriers that are driving parents to take such drastic measures in pursuit of a holiday they can enjoy with their family.

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