The controversy over taking children out of school for holidays poses wider questions about education. Should parents who take their children out of school to go on holiday be fined? That was the question at the heart of a recent court case where Isle of Wight council took father Jon Platt to court when he failed to pay a fine for taking his daughter out of school. The High Court decided in his favour, saying that as he had ensured his daughter had attended school regularly, there was no case to answer.
During the case, a number of authorities, including the government, stepped in to voice support for the council’s case, saying that taking children out of school for even one day would damage their education and that of others around them. But what kind of education are they talking about? Interestingly, the National Union of Teachers argues that there are valuable social and cultural benefits to going on holiday – benefits which are all too often overlooked. And when holidays during the summer are so prohibitively expensive, these benefits are in danger of becoming the preserve of the well-off.
What can be gained by going on holiday, then? Well, travelling abroad is an important learning experience for any child. Experiencing a new culture can fuel their natural curiosity to learn about the world, and can fire them with enthusiasm for those French lessons at school… Even just a holiday to the seaside offers the chance for children to do and see things out of the ordinary – to learn about sea life by looking in rock pools or to try different foods, even if it’s simply a traditional Devon cream tea. Why should these experiences only be available to those of the middle classes? Many holidays become cherished family memories which last a lifetime – far more memorable than that Tuesday afternoon literacy lesson they missed.
Simply having time to reconnect with parents and siblings away from the non-stop routine of everyday life is valuable in itself. Children who have parents who are more involved do better at school, and holidays which help to foster and strengthen family relationships are likely to lead to children who are happier, and more well-balanced and, perhaps, likely to do better in school. Relationships with family or friends who live abroad are also something valuable, giving children the chance to hear other perspectives of life and widen their horizons beyond their own hometown.
Little has also been said about families who want to gather together to celebrate their festivals together. All children have time off to celebrate Christmas and Easter – but what of families who want the right to celebrate Diwali or Eid? Must these children miss out on the chance of coming together with their family and community to celebrate a festival which is part of their cultural heritage – and what will be achieved if they do?
No one thinks it’s a good idea if children are continually taken out of school. But learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom. We need to look at the broader picture – and realise that learning comes in all shapes and sizes.
Alice McMahon went to school in Devon and is a graduate in languages from Oxford University. She spent a year teaching English in Alsace, France on her year abroad and has also taught English in Oxford and Sierra Leone. She has recently returned from Senegal, where she spent several months teaching English to students from across Africa.