We did a rebellious thing recently, and took our children to Mallorca during term time, despite Education Secretary Michael Gove's ridiculous new rule banning us from doing so. The reason for our rule-breaking was because as a family we had never travelled abroad, and I was getting desperate for some sun.
Since our eldest daughter was born we have taken holidays close to home. The thought of taking very small children on an airplane, or them getting ill, or being allergic to mosquitoes, or sunshine, always put the fear into me.
But after seven years of holidaying in beautiful – but grey and wet – Wales, sitting on beaches wrapped in fleece blankets, watching as our feet turned blue while standing in the sea, and sitting in soft play centres drinking crap coffee, with the rain beating down outside, I finally broke, and decided that we were all ready to leave these shores for a short while.
So I went online (while sitting in the soft play centre in Wales last summer), and booked a holiday for autumn. By travelling three days before the school officially broke up, we got ourselves a holiday for half the price. Money is tight and so this made all the difference.
We were completely upfront and wrote to the school telling them of our plans to go away, excitedly detailing the educational benefits. But under the new rules, our headteacher was unable to approve my children's absence and it was marked down as 'unauthorised'.
A teacher from Bath (who doesn't want to be named for fear of losing her job) thinks that, in this instance, being upfront isn't always the best tactic for all involved. She says: "While prices remain drastically lower, queues shorter and resorts less crowded in term time, parents will keep taking their kids out of school."
She goes on: "Parents and schools have a choice; the headteacher either believes the stomach flu phone message from a ski lift in Austria and codes the absence as illness - thus protecting attendance figures and keeping the parents happy. Or parents legitimately request a term time holiday which the school must legally unauthorise. The parents feel aggrieved and the school is harshly judged for 'truancy' in its next inspection."
I have to admit that I did feel aggrieved. As someone who is a bit of a worrier, and overly conscientious, to go away with bad feeling from the school, and the threat of a fine from the local authority, really upset me - but not enough not to go or to stop me from being completely over excitable at the school gate.
Betty, my six-year-old, had just one day off last academic year, and in over two years she has never once been late for school. She always gets her homework in on time, always wears the correct uniform and always has brushed hair.
We always tow the line, so why should we be penalised for wanting to take our children for important family time away? Why has Mr Gove put us all in this impossible position? His argument that by missing a few days from school will harm a child's education is ludicrous, insulting and short-sighted.
It has been difficult to find anyone with any sympathy for Gove's view. The closest I got was a teacher who pointed out that there can be some (minor) disruptions to the curriculum if children randomly skip the country.
She told me: "We've become quite used to parents asking us to set work for their child when they go on a family holiday during term time. And the work either isn't done and the children need extra support to catch up. Or they do a 'project' on their trip to tropical Tunisia which they present to their peers who have spent the past two weeks shivering in the November sleet."
While I have some sympathy for this view, the benefits of the occasional term time break far outweigh these downsides. My kids' school offers a fantastic learning environment, and I cannot fault it in any way, BUT the education that my children received during our trip went way above and beyond what they could possibly have learnt in school for those three days.
They experienced a different culture, the people, the food, the language, the plant and animal life, the climate, and driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. And all with their chilled out mummy and daddy, who didn't have washing or cleaning or work to worry about, and got to get a suntan and drink Piña Coladas.
I can't put it better than one local parent who gets straight to the heart of the matter: "School is good. Being away from school, especially when at primary school, can be good too. The two aren't mutually exclusive, and to penalise schools for 'allowing' absenteeism is nonsensical. The decision should lie with parents, not with the teachers."
So, Michael Gove, if you want to do something really useful, then how about regulating the holiday companies and ban them from bumping up their prices to unaffordable prices during school holidays? Or simply give us back our 10 days authorised holiday during term time...
The many new experiences my children had will probably stay with them forever. Going away during term time was the only way we could make that possible. And from my point of view, everyone needs to float around on a lilo, and bask in the sun with a beer every so often - a canoe on the River Wye in the drizzle with a warm cider and a wet bottom just doesn't cut it sometimes.
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