Why you shouldn’t take the kids out of school to go on holidays

Irish schools unlikely to object too forcefully over kids missing week or two

Taking the kids out of school for holidays? Principals and teachers are human and they understand. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Taking the kids out of school for holidays? Principals and teachers are human and they understand. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Bringing your children to a supermarket to add up prices, examine ingredients and understand the value of money has educational merit but you are unlikely to let them miss school for the experience.

Some parents argue that going on holiday during term time can be educational - whether the education is found in the language and culture of a sun holiday or along the endless corridors of the Louvre - but critics outline important reasons why such special occasions ought to be discouraged.

On Thursday, a father lost a landmark legal battle at the UK’s highest court over taking his daughter out of school for a trip to Disney World . Five justices at the Supreme Court unanimously allowed an appeal by education chiefs against an earlier ruling that Jon Platt had not acted unlawfully.

In Ireland, primary schools are unlikely to object too forcefully to families missing a week or two, particularly where children have good attendance records and where the necessity to pull them out of class is driven by the cost of peak-time holidays.

Unlike in the UK, they do not face financial fines for such behaviour and will not be prosecuted for truancy offences because they take their children on a week’s sojourn in Spain.

But there are arguments why it shouldn’t be done.

“Holidays are quite long anyway and when children have that length of break away from formal education it can take them quite a long time to get back into learning,” explains Áine Lynch chief executive of the National Parents Council Primary, the representative organisation for parents of children attending primary school.

Ms Lynch explains the two central problems with absenteeism, no matter the reason. Firstly, there is the message it can give to young children; if it is ok to miss school to go on holiday, it may also be acceptable in other circumstances. Secondly, parents should give a clear and consistent message of the importance of formal education from an early age.

“Parents are under pressure because we all know how rapidly the cost of holidays goes up as soon as schools break up,” she says.

But time away can affect children’s learning, particularly for those who find school more challenging than others.

As for the notion of “travel as education”, the supermarket analogy is offered by Ms Lynch.

“All of life is learning and we can always argue the point but it has to balance with school and if that wasn’t the case then we wouldn’t have institutions like schools,” she says.

“Children do better when both of those pieces are working together.”

In Ireland, there are laws governing serious truancy but not for families who miss a week or two to travel out of peak season.

In its guidelines, Tusla, the child and family agency, say taking children out during term time makes it “difficult for them to catch up on work later on”.

“As a result, they may fall behind with school work and lose confidence in their abilities. We strongly advise parents do not take their children out of school for holidays during term time.”

In 2015, the agency reported 154 court summonses issued to parents for truancy offences, relating to 102 children. However these are likely to refer to serious cases, generally where a child has missed far in advance of 20 days and where a serious issue of concern has been identified.

“Schools will tell you that the benchmark for taking action is a lot higher than 20 days,” explains Peter Mullan, assistant general secretary at the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), who says parents regularly contact schools to say they are going on a family holiday, particularly around May and June.

In his time as a principal in the early 2000s, about one third of students missed term time to travel. Teachers tend to take a pragmatic view.

“Parents needn’t worry about approaching an Irish principal if their child has good school attendance and saying they are taking a holiday in June,” he says.

“Schools will take every case as they find it. Principals and teachers are human and they understand, they will have a degree of sympathy with [the issue of holiday prices].”

However, not wanting to play down the importance of regular attendance, he adds: “One week’s absence out of a school year is not going to make that much of a difference but if it’s a holiday every term it can make a substantial difference.”

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