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Should you take children out of school for holidays?

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BEN BENTLEY looks at the controversial issue of taking pupils out of school during term time for holidays.

BEN BENTLEY looks at the controversial issue of taking pupils out of school during term time for holidays.

We're all going on a summer holiday. . . or maybe, on second thoughts following a word from the headteacher, we're not.

The sudden and instantly preventative rise in the cost of foreign holidays during school breaks means that for many Shropshire parents the only option is to stay at home. Or take their kids away during term time and face the consequences- a dilemma facing an increasing number of families.

But what are the rules? The practice of term-time breaks is frowned upon by most schools and banned by many. At least officially.

Some schools fine parents for taking their children out of the classroom, others allow a degree of compassion under their own discretion or due to special circumstances.

Shropshire Council schools have issued a total of 40 penalties to parents for taking their kids out of the classroom this academic year.

It's not the fault of the schools, which presumably can't be seen to condone what some might describe as a bout of truancy in the sunshine. Teachers say the practice can be disruptive to lessons.

On the other hand, for the hard-pressed parent struggling to give their kids a 'normal' childhood and some valuable family time - something that seems to be diminishing in proportion to the rocketing price of holidays — there is a decision to be made: should we stay or should we go? The issue hit the headlines last week when the Grove School in Market Drayton revealed two pupils missed GCSE exams because they were taken out of school to go on a family holiday.

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Tim Wallace takes his six-year-old son Jamie on family ski holidays with a circle of friends. In term time this family holiday works out at £350 per person; at half term or end of term the same holiday costs in the region of £1,500 per person.

He says: "We take our son out of school during term time and I personally see nothing wrong with it at the right time.

"We have taken him skiing every year since he was born. We simply wouldn't be able to go if we had to pay term time prices.

"We go as a large family group. He would lose out if we couldn't go. The group won't go out of term time for expense as well as crowds reasons."

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And not even a financial penalty will prevent parents from taking their children away, largely because, even accounting for the fine, the holiday in term time works out cheaper.

Tim adds: "Our school has a fine if people take their child out of school unauthorised in term time.

"We will pay the fine as even with £50 per parent - yes mad isn't it, 'per parent' - it's cheaper to do that than pay half-term prices."

And anyway, Tim argues there is educational value in the holiday.

"Our son has achieved his first French ski school medals," he says. "From his point of view, being quite under-confident, it gives him a huge boost. And he learns a lot of French.

"He keeps a diary, a scrapbook of his holiday and does reading and writing, so he's doing what he would be doing at school too."

Tim does, however, choose times to go away when important tasks and tests are not missed.

Overall, the issue of term-time holidays is a vexed one. So much so that many parents are anxious that should they comment on record, there may be consequences from the school, that they risk being called into the headteacher's office and asked to write lines: "I will not take my children on holiday during term time, I will not take my child on holiday during term time. . . "

Exceptional reasons

One parent, a 35-year-old working mother whose young son attends school within the Telford & Wrekin area, says: "We're taking our five-year-old out of the classroom and on to a plane on Monday.

"His primary school has a policy of not approving absences in term time unless its for exceptional reasons. We did request permission but it was refused.

"But we are going away anyway to Spain and have written to the school informing them. We have been told we won't be fined, but it will go down on his record as an unauthorised absence."

She says she wouldn't be taking her son if he was in secondary school, or preparing for exams, but believes the early stages of his education would not be affected.

"The airlines and tour operators are making it almost unaffordable to travel away during the school holiday period - the same flight in August is quadruple the cost, our villa would be double, times that by two adults and two children and a two week break in the main school holidays ends up costing nearly as much as a small family car!"

Adrian Hughes, a retired teacher from Welshpool, sees both sides of the argument.

He says: "Being retired now, I rejoice in the opportunity to go away when the schools are in session - cheaper prices, fewer people around.

"My wife - another ex-teacher - and I do also mutter under our breath when we see school-age children on holiday in term time, because when we worked it was quite disruptive to have kids away from classes, particularly in the run up to exams, as it affected the continuity not just for those children but for the class as a whole . . . 'We'd better not start the next topic while X and Y are away'.

"I think it's much less of an issue in France, for example, where education is much less influenced by what parents want!"

Headteacher John Rowe of St Mary's School, Albrighton, says: "We don't make it easy for parents to take their children on holiday in term time but we don't apologise for that - it makes parents think about what they are doing."

Mr Rowe says there is a direct correlation between performance and attendance and children can miss out on vital stages of work, even at the end of summer term when it's perceived, perhaps incorrectly, that days are dominated by egg and spoon races and wind-down projects.

He says parents can apply for up to 10 days of authorised leave but it's not seen as additional holiday time and mums and dads have to prove exceptional circumstances.

"If the leave of absence is to take part in a major sporting tournament, for example, yes they miss school but what they are getting is something extra, we need to be sensitive to that," he explains.

Parents such as Tim Wallace don't condone taking kids out of school willy-nilly, only when it's less disruptive to lessons and of benefit to the child.

But he adds: "People are going to continue to do it regardless of rulings."

  • What's your view about taking children out of school for term-time holidays? Tell us in the comment box below

What the councils say

Shropshire Council

What parents need to know. . .

  • The law says that parents do not have the right to take their child out of school for holidays during term time
  • Parents cannot demand leave of absence for the purpose of holidays as a right.
  • They are asked to consider seriously the educational implications for their children before making application
  • The headteacher does not have to authorise holidays in term time other than in exceptional circumstances.
  • Exceptional circumstances can only cover a maximum of 10 days in a school year
  • Taking an unauthorised holiday could result in each parent receiving a Fixed Penalty Notice costing up to £100 for each child.

Janice Stackhouse, Principal Education Welfare Officer for Shropshire Council, said: "The attendance data for the autumn 2009 term again demonstrated that the attendance rate of Shropshire children is better than the national average.

"In England the combined absence figure for maintained primary and state funded secondary schools was 6.13 per cent whilst in Shropshire the figure was 5.72 per cent. Shropshire's excellent attendance rates are due to the commitment of families, schools and the council to ensuring that the children of the county are able to benefit from the education to which they are entitled.

"Whilst the majority of families and carers to the county's tens of thousands of school children ensure they attend school regularly, in the cases where they do not the council will intervene with support and advice. In those cases of unauthorised absence the council will take firm action to support the schools and the children. Holidays taken during term time can have a negative effect on both the individual pupil and the other pupils within the class and therefore we encourage parents and carers not to take children on holidays during term time. During this academic year 39 penalty notices have been issued for holidays taken during term time."

Telford & Wrekin Council

In line with Telford & Wrekin Council policy, Apley Wood Primary School this month sent out a letter to parents which summed up the position. It said:

  • Unauthorised holidays may be subject to a penalty notice fine of £50 payable to each parent for each child, increasing to £1,000 each if not paid within 28 days.
  • Failure to pay this fine may lead to court proceedings.

At the start of June, Apley Wood School informed parents that it had received 154 requests for holiday, totalling 842 days - which equates to more than two-and-a-half school years.

Currently in the borough, headteachers do not have to authorise holidays in term time other than in exceptional circumstances. Exceptional circumstances can only cover a maximum of 10 days in a 12-month period.

However, from September a number of schools in Telford & Wrekin will no longer authorise holidays in term time.

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