Parents' Holiday Requests Denied Whilst Teachers Take Leave in Term Timeby Jan Andersen on 12/09/12
My daughter is in Year 8 at secondary school, has an excellent attendance record and is performing exceptionally well academically. As a testament to her achievements, she has been selected to participate in the BBC School Report feature, due to be screened in March 2013. Since she entered the school in September 2011, she has never taken any time off for holidays or other social events during term time. She also invests a substantial amount of time into completing her homework assignments on weeknights and at the weekends and participating in extra-curricular activities, including helping at fundraising events to support the school.
It was with some optimism, therefore, that my partner and I duly completed the standard form to request a two-day absence for a brief trip to a German Christmas market in the third week of December; the final week of term when most schools are winding down for the festive break and when there are no crucial examinations. We viewed this as an additional opportunity for our daughter to support her education by enabling her to practice her German language skills, in addition to writing a report about how Christmas is celebrated in Germany, which will form part of her BBC School Report project. (Her English teacher was in favour of the visit and specifically asked our daughter to take lots of photos during the trip.)
My partner and I were surprised and disappointed, therefore, to receive a letter from the school (the day after we had submitted the form) stating that our request had not been authorised, along with the standard blurb about a penalty notice and fine being issued should we go ahead and take the holiday anyway. Interestingly, we also received a similar letter through the post that was intended for another family at the school who had requested time off for their two children to attend a farm show. This request had been authorised, although the family won't have been aware of the decision because their letter was sent to our address in error.
Whilst I appreciate that schools are not legally obliged to grant the statutory 10 days per year and it is down to the discretion of the headteacher, it is important to point out that parents are unable to make an equal judgement over teaching training days that take place during term time, or Assessment Days when children are given the day off.
I understand that where a child is struggling academically, or has a poor attendance record, then it is perfectly reasonable for a holiday request to be declined, but this is certainly not the case with our daughter. She is also more than capable of catching up on any crucial work that she may have missed in this "wind down" week.
In March 2012, the Daily Mail published a scathing article about a headmaster at a school in Telford who took a two-week holiday during term time whilst he turned down parents' requests for holiday leave and fined them 100 pounds sterling. Naturally, the school attempted to defend the actions of the Head, but it did seem as though it was a case of one rule for teachers, another for parents and children.
Upon receipt of the letter, my partner duly phoned our daughter's school and spoke to the assistant headteacher who had made the decision. When my partner asked her if she could explain why she classed a visit to a farm show as an "exceptional circumstance" when they had turned down an educational trip to Germany, she could not answer. In fact, she did not have a reasonable argument for any of the points that my partner put to her - very eloquently I might add. Despite her weak stance, this teacher refused to back down, so my partner informed her that from now on we would take a different view about our daughter's active involvement in extra-curricular activities and would be taking the holiday anyway.
My partner later commented that our daughter's excellent English skills were attributed more to my homeschooling efforts than the teachers' abilities at her previous school, which frequently sent home notices and newsletters that were littered with spelling and grammatical errors. On one occasion, our daughter had to tell the teacher that one of the words on her spelling test list was incorrect. Had she not informed the teacher of this, our daughter's correct spelling of the word would inevitably have been marked as incorrect. Bearing this in mind, children do not always miss out educationally when they are absent from school.
Over the past few days I have communicated with numerous parents who have been in a similar situation, but who went ahead and took the holiday regardless. Some of the parents phoned the school on the first day of absence to say that their children were ill, whereas others were happy to have "unauthorised absence" noted on their children's reports.
It appears to me that denying these requests seems to be a pointless exercise and is almost certainly an attempt to obtain a good Ofsted report than a concern about a child's educational welfare.