Diary of a parent: Term-time holidays

Written by: Diary of a Parent | Published:
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The impact of holidays on young children can be extremely positive – something schools (and ministers) should recognise...

We have an enlightened headteacher at my daughter’s school. I say this because I have yet to hear any family denied a request for a term-time holiday at virtually any point in the school year.

I once asked him why he was so lenient, when the school’s absence figures might be adversely affected.

“Simple,” he said. “Children need experiences, they need to feel what it’s like to get on a plane and feel the sun on their faces when they get off two hours later. They need to build sandcastles and taste different food, and maybe pick up a few words in another language.

“But more than anything, they need to spend time with their parents. It’s very important.”

He added that, of course, he didn’t expect year 6 parents to want to remove their children during SATs, but he was otherwise flexible with reasonable requests.

I describe him as enlightened but actually his approach shows great empathy, common sense and a deep understanding of how children learn and develop.

My family is very lucky to be able to afford to go away at least once a year and we have relatives living abroad we can stay with. What has been noticeable with each holiday – whether in this country or overseas – is the change in our daughter when we return. On each occasion she has either gained some new skill, discovered a new interest or just grown in confidence.

On her first holiday away, in Cyprus, at the age of three, she made a friend from another country. Neither could speak the other’s language, but such an obstacle posed no problem to their blossoming friendship. They still played and got along.

Now, at the age of seven, our child is adaptable to new environments and open to new experiences. Whoever said that travel was the greatest educator was right.

The Isle of Wight court case last year, in which a father won his action against a fine imposed by the local authority, was a temporary victory for us ordinary parents. Many of us cheered silently when magistrates considered Jon Platt’s decision to take his child away reasonable, as her attendance record was good. It was not surprising that term-time absences went up afterwards as families enjoyed time together unencumbered – for the time being at least – by the prospect of being fined.

I have always found it insidious and insulting that ministers would believe us all to be feckless parents, because to me that is what the term-time ban suggested. There is something mean and spiteful about restricting term-time travel, while refusing to intervene with the tourism industry to make getaways during school holidays cheaper.

I imagine that the likes of Michael Gove had a picture in their minds of mums and dads lolling around by the pool bar, drunk, on an all-inclusive, while the kids become feral. Maybe ministers believe only the wealthy and well-heeled spend time while away visiting museums or exploring old ruins or learning something new, like how to snorkel or ride a horse. How wrong they are.

This doesn’t even begin to take into account the pressures of family life. In recent years, with wraparound care, extended school days and often the need for both parents to work, it has felt as though successive governments would like us to spend as little time with our children – and them with us – as possible.

I have a friend who is married to a soldier. Last year he returned home for a couple of months from a tour of duty overseas and she asked to take her son out of school for a week for a much-needed family holiday. The child simply needed to spend time with his father. The request was refused.

Another friend was told that her grieving daughter could have only half a day off for a grandparent’s funeral. The situation is different but the principle the same. I wonder how much that child was able to concentrate at school and how much she actually learned during the other half of the day, when basic human compassion would dictate that she would have been better off in the comfort of her family. In cases like this, the ban on absences goes way too far.

With the summer holidays approaching, and parents looking to save a few hundred pounds or trying to fit in a break around their work schedule, perhaps heads could consider whether sports day or end-of-term events are really more important than the new experiences a family holiday might bring. It’s important to us.

  • Diary of a Parent is written anonymously by a mother living in the South of England who has a child in year 2 in primary school. Names have been changed where appropriate. Email your views and questions to editor@headteacher-update.com.

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