Wish You Were Here?

15 May


I did an interview this morning with BBC Radio Cymru.  It followed this story that half of all local authorities in Wales have instructed schools to no longer allow parents book holidays during term time.  While all parents know that they should not necessarily do this, there are actually provisions in Welsh Government guidelines to allow up to ten concessionary days a year.  However, the importance of attendance in the banding system has ultimately lead to councils clamping down on this practice.

Quite understandably local authorities, and schools, under pressure to show performance in the banding system have targeted one, almost easy, target to boost perceived performance.  How much of an impact, positive or negative, stopping a weeks holiday for a child will have in the long-term on actual attainment we will no doubt find it hard to see.  It something that is not easily disaggregated.  Attendance figures can however be quite easily summarised.

Improving attendance levels is a wholly important aspect of educational attainment.  Children can’t learn if they are not in school.  In that regards I am supportive fo the Welsh Government’s focus on it.  While I wholeheartedly disagree with the banding system it can be argued that in ensuring that attendance is one of the evaluation criteria it has had a positive effect on this issue.  We have seen year on year improvements in attendance levels, including before the introduction of banding, in Wales which is something that is not celebrated enough.  I do however continue to have reservations about the Welsh Government’s decision to introduce fines for parents in response to pupils absence.  There is a real risk that this could set parents and communities in conflict with schools.  What is more, in the context of taking a holiday in term time, how effective will a maximum £120 fine be as a deterent when there is a potential saving of upwards of £1000 to be had.

I do have a lot of sympathy for parents.  The difference financially of taking a holiday in the term time as opposed to in the school holiday is staggering.  In the majority of cases it is the difference between actually having a holiday or not.  I’m not even talking about a holiday abroad necessarily.  While the Gryffalo is not of a school age yet, given my good wife is a teacher, we’ve long been in the situation where we have to take our family holiday in the school holidays.  Looking recently at stay-cations in West Wales the difference between a cottage from one week to the next was around a £500 increase as it was during a school holiday period.

It is easy of course to attack travel agents, hotels and airlines for fixing their prices in this way.  However, it is a simple reflection that the tourism industry, like any sector, are ruled by the notion of supply and demand.  There has been discussion about changing the term time to adapt to this.  While there may possibly be an educational argument for examining the school structure, although not reducing the length of holiday, I’m not convinced this will resolve this particular issue.  Surely holiday operators will just react to the changes by restructuring their own prices.

There is also a case to look at the educational value of going on holidays.  The personal and social development of having a proper holiday, especially if that holiday is based in experiencing new environments, cultures, weather and language can be significant.  We shouldn’t necessarily dismiss the education, both social and academic, of a family holiday.

One point that was made by another contributor to today’s interview on the BBC, that I admit I hadn’t considered, is the impact working in specific sectors may have.  If your business is tourist or seasonal orientated it may be that taking a holiday outside the school term is impractical.

Now I am not suggesting that we should allow families to take a holdiay at will.  There is a clear educational impact that is not to be underestimated for missing school.  Those children out of school not only miss out on lessons themselves, but the time teachers will have to spend aligning their lesson planning with enabling absent children to catch up has wider implications for the rest of the pupils.

I do though think there is need to have an element of flexibility.  While during the crucial exam period, from ages 14 and above, it may be unacceptable to allow any time off school, at a younger age there may be scope to look at individual cases on a discretionary basis, considering the family circumstances, previous attendance records and potential educational value of the holiday.

What appears a straightforward issue is actually a far more complex one which sometimes needs a more subtle response.




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