A few years ago, a friend of mine requested permission to take her daughter Emma out of (private) school during term time. She and her partner were planning to take the kids overseas, a rare family holiday when they could take leave from work.
Happily, the principal was very understanding. She immediately sent back a polite response: Certainly. And what school will Emma be attending upon her return?
I loved the principal’s reply. I thought it was hilarious. (My friends, unsurprisingly, found it slightly less hilarious.) Bear in mind that Emma was in Year 6, which is a fairly significant year for students. They actually do need to buckle down and learn before they get to High School, when the proper, serious schooling begins.
But Emma’s school did not allow leave during term time for any child from Kindergarten up. And that, I feel, is a little excessive.
I know that teachers will probably disagree – so I feel a little nervous saying this – but school in the early years isn’t all that unmissable. Preschool is even less so. If kids miss a few days of school to attend a family holiday it’s unlikely to affect their grades, let alone their future careers.
And taking holidays during term time can be hugely beneficial to parents. Flights and accommodation are far cheaper when you travel away from peak periods, and this can make a significant difference to families on a budget. Some parents simply can’t take off work during the school holidays – hospitality workers, for example.
What’s more, sometimes celebrations are held interstate or overseas during term time: weddings, births, milestone birthdays and so on. In my opinion as a parent - rather than an educator - it is more important for kids to be present at family festivities than in class practicing their spelling. Kids can catch up on spelling. They cannot catch up on Auntie Nina’s wedding.
And then, of course, there is the simple, intrinsic benefit of travel. Now, I’m not convinced that a beach holiday is particularly educational, unless you’re teaching your child to swim and make sandcastles. However, an overseas holiday can be an invaluable experience, offering a child the kind of cultural enrichment they will never get in the classroom. You can learn about ‘Countries of the World’ for a term, but you will never get the sense of another country until you go there.
I was fortunate enough to travel around the world with my parents at the age of eight. Although a lot of that experience has faded, to this day I remember driving through Europe far more clearly than I do any day in primary school.
I can understand teachers’ frustration at kids being removed from school during term time, and of course each case needs to be considered on its merits. But it seems a shame to deny a child a life changing experience in order to stay in class and do maths.
Emma’s family, however, chose to reschedule their trip. They went during school holidays. Like everyone else.