Viewpoint – Fixing the date of school term times

Headteachers have been told they can set their own term dates to stagger school holidays and help families avoid sky-high holiday costs during the school breaks, but does this work if you have children at different schools and at different education authorities which have different term times. Does it complicate child care issues for some families and will we see an increase in parents taking children out of school during term time and face being fined as in the case of a Lancashire woman who took her daughter out of one school for a family holiday to be with the rest of the family?

Mark Anderson, headteacher Maghull High School

We are pleased that our governing body has the flexibility to set our own holiday dates but in doing so we are always trying to minimise the disruption caused to parents and make the spread of teaching time across the year as sensible as possible. This is quite a challenging task for us as we serve families not just in Sefton but also in Liverpool, Knowsley and Lancashire. Paid childcare can be horrendously expensive for families and is often a necessity and, in my view, more of an issue than the way in which travel costs shoot up in the school holidays. Easter is always the biggest problem and its timing can have quite an impact as students and teachers are working hard in the run-up to examinations. Different local authorities still don’t seem to be able to quite agree on when the spring break should happen and this year it’s been especially hard for teachers who live in Lancashire or Wigan where the schools that their own children attend have had very different holidays to ours. The vast majority of parents try very hard to avoid holidays in term time and I’m not convinced that fines are the best solution. One of the growing trends in the last few years seems to be requests for time off to attend family weddings where the ceremony is held abroad or midweek.

Martin Hill, school governor The Blue Coat School

The recent drive has quite rightly been for all schools to ensure that all children and students receive the best education and that teaching is not disrupted by unnecessary absences. There is good evidence that absences have a detrimental effect on children’s education, particularly in the long term.

One of the main reasons for absences has been when parents, often because of the high costs associated with peak holiday periods, have taken their children out of school during term time. I believe that most headteachers are alive to this, but have a difficult balance to strike. One way forward is for all educational establishments in a local area to work more closely together to try and ensure that holiday times coincide across the catchment area. As a governor, I would encourage this approach, but would reiterate the longer term benefits of children maximinsing their attendance at school.

I would also be in favour of a national approach by Government to try to negotiate with travel companies to adopt a more balanced pricing policy throughout the year.

Maria Winters, parent

Family holidays during school breaks are expensive enough for parents who are then financially penalised for having to take one of their children out of school to attend a family holiday. Arbitory decisions made by headteachers to change what were once static school holidays, further complicate holiday time for families, especially where families have children in more than one school, as in our case. We have a child in primary education with one authority and a second child in secondary education with another authority, but, unfortunately their term times do not always match. Without doubt my children would be so much worse off in every way, including educationally, if it was limited to when and if we could holiday as a family, as I believe that they would have missed out on so many experiences. As a parent I absolutely believe the best, most stimulating and memorable education does not always happen in the classroom.

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