Today, the Supreme Court ruled that dad Jon Platt must pay his fine for taking his children out of school during term-time. But would you be prepared to pay the fine, if it saved you enough money on your holiday? And is there anything wrong with letting your children miss a few days of school?
I’m a dad and a teacher so I can see the issue from two sides. I know how hard teachers and schools work to get children learning. But I think parents should have the choice to take their children out of school sometimes.
We’ve all had that sharp intake of breath when we’ve looked at holiday prices for when the schools have broken up. Most of us have winced when we’ve compared those sky-high fees to the prices a week or so earlier or later. It’s easy to accuse holiday firms of ripping off parents, though they would argue they’re simply operating a market controlled by supply and demand. Whatever the reasons, term-time holidays are cheaper and we’ve all been tempted to take them.
It leaves parents in a tricky position: do you go away during term-time, knowing your child will miss some lessons, or do you leave them there, knowing your treasured family break will cost two or three times as much? It’s not feckless or lazy, and it’s not a decision that parents take lightly.
Times are tough and money isn’t going as far as it used to for a lot of us. For some of us, a couple of hundred pounds can make the difference between having a holiday or not having one at all. For others, maybe it’s the difference between having one holiday or having two. And we’re not just talking about exotic destinations either – even a no-frills caravan holiday at home can skyrocket in price outside term-time.
When I’m teaching children, I always want them to make the best progress they can – it’s in the job description. And educators are under more pressure than ever to see results on paper or on spreadsheets – not just at exam time, but right throughout the year, from term to term. Sometimes, teachers’ pay rises depend on getting that progress for every pupil. I understand the weight of expectation.
And yes, sometimes missing a week of school might mean you miss a piece of learning. It might be something hugely important; it might be something you might never need. I’ve taught traveller children, for example, who miss weeks at a time, and have to catch up through packs sent by the schools away with them. It’s not ideal. But all the same, I always try and remember that what I want in the classroom isn’t always more important than what parents want for their children. You have to respect that decision.
There’s something else, too. Holidays are learning. Maybe not the book learning or practical learning that schools require for specific subjects – though there’s no harm in taking a few books away with you to read on the beach. But there’s learning in budgeting money when you’re away, paying for things, exchange rates, and so on, before you’ve even left your hotel room. You can learn a lot, see new places, become a more rounded young person, see different cultures, try new things and, more importantly of all, spend time enjoying your parents’ company. You can’t really put a price on that.
I’m not saying all parents should take their children out of school for 39 weeks a year, of course not. But I think we can forgive a week here and a week there. If pupils come back refreshed, invigorated, ready to learn and full of ideas, very little harm has been done – and perhaps a lot of good.