Friday, 18 March 2011

Term time holidays: are they such a bad thing?

Two weeks ago, we took Monkey to Barcelona for the weekend. Primarily, it was because he wanted to see his Daddy run in the marathon but he also wanted to go to the Nou Camp and see FC Barcelona play. The fact this fell just before his birthday meant we could do some negotiating regarding presents and party and so the deal was struck.

Obviously, it's term time so he missed a couple of days of school. Thankfully, our school is fairly relaxed about absences and as long as you have asked for permission on the right form, they will grant permission if you've not exceeded the 10 days limit for absence in any school year. And yet, I have heard tales of other schools stating that they will not grant permission for any term-time holidays at all and some go as far as issuing fines for unauthorised absences. Seriously?

This gives the impression that any parent taking their child out of school in term time is depriving their child of a proper education and are somehow failing. But is that really the case?

Monkey learned so much in the four days he was in Barcelona. It was the first time he'd been abroad and be old enough to appreciate all the things that were happening. When we first landed in Spain and were finally in a place where Brits were in the minority, his eyes were as wide as saucers. He could hear people talking and not understand a word they were saying. All the posters and billboards had words on them that he could no longer read. He'd never considered before that being in a different country really was so totally different. As it happened, his teacher had given him a reading book about tunnels which we took with us - and then he went down more tunnels than he'd ever seen before, which helped him understand the pictures and words he was reading. Then, we saw a massive drill that was digging a tunnel to allow high speed trains to come into the central station nearby. He went back to school to tell the teacher all about all the tunnels he'd been in and what they were like.

It wasn't just tunnels - Monkey experienced what was, to him anyway, a whole new world. New food (he ate copious amounts of calamari, tomato bread, patatas bravas and pasta salad), new language, sights, sounds and people. At school, he'd have been doing some reading and some topic work on fruit - so we took him around La Boqueria market so he could see all the fruit, amongst other things, on display. In fact, he learnt so many things, I swear he grew an inch or two whilst we were there.

OK, so not every holiday is a city break to a place that has so much that can be considered educational. But I found a quote from an Ancient Greek philosopher Euripides which is as true now as it was thousands of years ago. “Experience, travel - these are as education in themselves”. Whether it is a trip to the seaside in the UK, a city break, a beach holiday in Europe or further afield, it provides new experiences for a child, which surely, they must learn from.

I appreciate why they say children should not miss school - largely for reasons that are more disruptive to the school and fears it will hamper the child's progress - but if it's managed carefully and planned, surely it can't be detrimental? And how much more disruptive to a child's learning must unplanned absence for illness be? Persistent lateness is likely to be more disruptive to the child's progress too, if not more so, as it will affect more school days than a week or two of authorised absence.

So, why do some schools frown so much on term-time holidays? Or is it because the pressure on them to deliver on targets for attendance as well as academic performance mean there is little margin for error? Surely it pushes parents to lie to the school and say their child is ill instead! Many families are now finding that taking a term-time holiday is the only way they can afford one. (I won't go into the whys and wherefores of the price of holidays during school holidays; that's a whole other post). Taking children out of school to spend valuable time with their families that they would otherwise not have is likely to be a largely positive experience that has the potential to benefit their school work.

Or is it just me that thinks that? Am I just being a rebel?

For the record, I'm not planning to take my children out of school regularly although this was the second time they had been out of school this year, due to attending a family wedding in Devon that took place on a Friday. Last year, Monkey missed no school days at all, not even one for sickness. Next year may well be the same - the way that the school holidays have worked out, we can take a holiday this summer during the last week when most schools are going back so prices have dropped quite sharply. All the same, I don't think that if we choose to take them awayduring term time, I will worry too much about any harm to their progress at school.

Because they have so much to learn, the world is out there. And unfortunately, the world doesn't come to them inside the confines of a classroom.
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