The blanket ban on term time holidays

Helen Weedon says teachers should be able to use their own judgement on term time leave.

With councils across Wales imposing blanket bans on term time absence, parents are up in arms! “Why should little Johnny miss out on his vastly expensive trip to Disneyland this year?” Oh, but we wanted to cruise along the Amalfi Coast all term!”

For years, even decades teachers have struggled in classes where half of them disappear for a lengthy holiday and they have been powerless to stop it and now all of a sudden they have been handed a dream ticket, the chance to say “sorry there is nothing I can do!” And if the parents ignore them, they get slapped with a great big fine and all is well with the world. I mean, if they can afford to go to Florida or skiing for two weeks in term time, perhaps in the summer they can do what the rest of us do and get a little caravan in Tenby or somewhere similar?

Mind you, I suppose that means us mere mortals who cannot afford to jet off to far flung and exotic places can no longer afford that caravan in Tenby in term time, not with the £60 fine per child per parent per break…I have three so that would be £360 on top of the cost of the holiday! For those who can afford to go abroad, even if that means going in term time, surely that gives those children a whole load of additional experiences they cannot get in their own country. Experiencing other cultures and languages is extremely educational and cannot be ignored. Not to mention that, far from being relieved with this “dream ticket”, the teachers are for the most part against the ban.

In actual fact there are a vast array of reasons why people cannot go on holiday during the school holidays. There seems to be too much emphasis put on foreign holidays and cost. For some it is simply the choice between the cheapest holiday possible in the UK or no holiday at all. For others, cost doesn’t even come into it. I’ve heard from people in retail, the tourist industry, nurses, and others, all of whom simply cannot get the time off work during holidays, especially where others also have children and that time needs to be covered. For those people, if they don’t take their children out of school during term time, exactly when do they get quality family time?

I’ve also heard from others, such as one lady with an autistic son. For her to take him on holidays during the six week would have a disastrous affect all round. Another lady was hoping to take her daughter with cerebral palsy to meet others with the same condition at a charity event. However, this means taking her other two children out of school for the day and it means she is currently facing a huge dilemma. Something like that seems so important and life-enhancing even for her daughter, and her family, that surely no-one with any sort of compassion would refuse.

And that’s the problem. The powers that be have just picked up a gigantic sledge hammer to crack the walnut of term time absence. I’ll admit that some parents probably do not care enough about their child’s education, some kids miss far too much school, and generally those same kids probably have a lower attainment too. But this blanket ban makes everyone else suffer and it takes away the opportunity for the head teacher to act with sense and compassion, which for the most part in my experience they want to do. I am not looking for some carte blanche here, the headteachers can still refuse but at least we could work with them, explain the reason for the absence, and they can make a decision based on each individual request.

I’m particularly fortunate that my kids go to a great school with supportive staff and are very rarely absent, but even if I had a real need to take my kids out of school for just one day, they are not allowed to authorize it, no matter what. How can that make sense?

Helen Weedon is a freelance PR consultant and mother of three school age children. She is based in Ceredigion and has been actively working with a campaign to reverse the blanket ban on term time holidays.

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