29/03/2018 15:20 BST | Updated 29/03/2018 15:22 BST

School Term-Time Holiday Rules Are Stifling Children’s Creativity

Activity and the arts aren’t things that are peripheral, to be dropped the minute academia gets tough

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23 years ago I stood on a stage in the middle of the busy Italian town square of Arco, on the shore of Lake Garda. It was one of those humid, holiday evenings. I stood up, with the school band behind me and played the solo line to Duke Ellington’s ‘Take the ‘A’ Train’ on my trumpet. It was one of the best moments of my childhood. Many of the band members are still friends today and we speak fondly of the fantastic opportunities for music we had at our school as well as the fabulous gelato shop on the square - I got mine ‘sulla casa’!

I played the trumpet from the age of nine. It often meant taking time out for music exams whilst at primary school. I had my grade 5 by the time I went to secondary school in order to help secure my space at the local grant maintained Christian ecumenical school (I was a little out of catchment and not quite middle class enough but could play the trumpet).

Sadly the same opportunities might not be afforded my own children if they had a passion for music, dance or sport, which meant they needed to be absent from school.

The news today that the RAD has noticed a drop in numbers of children being able to attend dance exams during school hours due a lack of clarity on term-time absence rules has saddened me. The same has also been reported for other schools of dance and also for music examination boards. 

I’m someone whose life has been massively enriched by my experiences in music, dance and sports. 

I probably took for granted the support from my parents towards my music (trumpet lessons at 8am on a Saturday anyone?) and the fact I probably skipped school for exams, then later, entire chunks of school whist preparing for school concerts. But music has enriched my life in so many ways. The disciplines of practice; of those exams when you don’t do so well (when you haven’t practiced enough); of turning up; of supporting others; of playing in harmony with others; of having fun! 

I am a parent to a seven-year-old for whom I’m acutely aware that the next few years will play a pivotal role in finding and encouraging his passions. I am also a parent to a four-year-old who I know already will need educating and inspiring beyond the remit of the state primary school which her brother attends. To learn that passions may be stifled by a lack of clarity on absence rules makes me lose faith in the system that I’m actually really grateful for and have benefited from. My children are educated well as a state priority but occasionally there needs to be a little realism and humanity in the system.

In addition to the precedent it sets about school versus extra curricular education, I can’t help but feel it’s another nail in the coffin to kids’ movement, or the lack thereof. It’s not lost on me, as someone who is involved in breaking down barriers to activity, who is involved in local government policy on activity levels in the community, as a small fitness business owner currently piloting a new class to help get school aged children more active and as a consultant for Active Essex currently working on a campaign to get everyone more active, that these rules are discouraging kids to move even more! It’s no wonder it’s so hard to encourage grown ups to get moving or learn new skills when we’re implying to our children that it isn’t as important as ‘proper’ work.

But as well as this, I’m deeply passionate (and I don’t use that word lightly) about enriching children’s lives with a love of activity and movement. That we need to help them find ‘the things’ which enable them to find their happy. Activity and the arts aren’t things that are peripheral, to be dropped the minute academia gets tough. In the same way as I get irritated when my son’s PE lesson gets dropped because ‘it rained’, or ‘the hall was in use’, or ‘it was a busy week’, I am saddened for the kids who are begrudgingly sat at school when they could have been moving, expressing and igniting their passion in a dance exam because someone wasn’t clear on the rules.

I completely understand the need for regular attendance, education, standardisation and quality, and that both the government and schools have a duty of care to children, but let’s sort the detail out and give head teachers flexibility so kids can still thrive and pursue a passion with the occasional morning off for an exam.

Music and dance aren’t just pretty things. They can make or break characters.

Not all parents are willing or able to make the sacrifices required for a child who has a passion. Not all parents understand the need to encourage a love of a hobby or ‘a thing’ in order to help nurture a child. But be it sport, music, dance or drama, if a parent and child are together on the importance of whatever it may be in a child’s life and they are also willing to work together to stay up to date with school work, surely they should be able to miss a morning for what is essentially extra curricular education?

Every year I stand in Waltham Abbey Church and play the ‘Last Post’ on Remembrance Sunday, it’s my way of giving back the music love and education I have benefited from. Last December, I played it at my trumpet teacher’s funeral, and yes, I even skipped the afternoon off work to do it.