Parents Stewart and Natasha Sutherland have been ordered by magistrates to pay £993 in fines and costs. Their crime? Taking their three children on a family holiday during term time.
According to a BBC report it was the family’s first holiday together for five years because Stewart Sutherland was unable to take leave during the school holidays. He works 12-hour day and night shifts as a Ministry of Defence guard and Natasha also works.
It seems nonsensical to me that these parents are being punished for trying to do the best thing for their children. Family holidays make for stronger, happier families, especially where parents work long hours like Stewart Sutherland. Everyone should have the chance to have a family holiday and if the only way to do that is for children to miss a few days of school then so be it, as long as it doesn’t interfere with important exams.
Family Holiday Association
Last year the Family Holiday Association, a UK charity which provides trips for disadvantaged families, published the results of research in to the effect of holidays on families. 84% of the participants said that their holiday had improved their quality of life. 77% felt happier after their holiday. Sadly, the charity’s website says that there are many families in the UK who can’t afford even a day out, let alone a holiday.
School holiday price hikes
One reason why parents want to take their children out of school during term time is financial. The travel industry is merciless in hiking prices during the State school holidays. Before the rules got stricter I used to take my children out of school, with permission, every year for a few days before the May half-term holiday in order to visit our Sicilian relatives. By taking an extra few days the whole family could fly to Sicily for less than the price of one airline ticket during the school holidays. In my experience children never seem to learn much formally at the end of term anyway and spending time with aunts and uncles and cousins in Italy is an education in itself.
Children can learn loads on holidays closer to home too. A family at a school I know used to camp at the Glastonbury festival every year as their annual holiday. Their two children had permission to miss school for this, as I understand. One year these children each returned to school with a diablo (a traditional juggling toy) from a circus skills workshop they’d enjoyed at the festival. Before long virtually every child in the school was spinning a diablo at break times. The teachers were delighted with the effect these toys had on their pupils hand-eye coordination and ability to concentrate. As I see it, two children missed a few days of school and the whole school benefitted from what they learnt on their trip.
Low income families penalised
The current system of forbidding term time holidays penalises those on low incomes. Many State school parents can afford to pay the fine for taking their children out of school during term time. Parents who pay to educate their children privately can avoid the school holiday price hikes completely because the independent school terms are much shorter than those of State schools. In contrast those who can afford neither a fine or the holiday price hikes but could probably stretch to a break in term time are being denied the chance to take one.
I know that the Department for Education’s line is that school absence is damaging but I think parents and teachers should be able to use common sense to decide whether holiday leave should be granted. In an ideal world children would never miss a day of school for any reason. But to focus on that objective dogmatically and offer no flexibility means that many children who otherwise would have the chance of a family break will never have a holiday: and that’s just wrong.
What do you think? Have you ever taken your children out of school during term time to go on holiday?