Education Quandary

'Our children have different half-term holidays so the only way we can go on a planned family visit is to take one of them out of school. Is this justified? Why don't schools follow the same holiday dates? It would be so much easier for parents'
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The Independent Online

EDUCATION QUANDARY WITH HILARY WILCE

HILARY'S ADVICE

What works for the Blairs – they took their children out of school to go to the Seychelles – will work for other families. Schools are allowed to grant a pupil up to 10 days of authorised absence a year (and 10 more, in exceptional circumstances) and although they discourage this, sensible parents need to weigh things in the balance.

It's obviously not a great idea to take a child out of school for a huge chunk of time, or at the beginning of the school year, or when exams are looming, but other than that a few days of lost schooling are not going to be the end of the world, especially if the pay-off is good family time, or some other worthwhile experience. (In fact they may well learn more than they would have done at school.)

Parents who do this, though, need to make sure their children understand they are missing school only because of a special circumstance, and that they must make up missed work on their return. Parents with too cavalier an attitude towards school attendance not only interrupt their children's learning, but also pass on an insidious message that school really isn't that important. Parents who take children out of school without permission need to know that the lost days will be marked down as unauthorised absences, which don't look good for either the pupil or the school.

When it comes to schools having the same holidays, parents have been wanting this for years. But it still seems a distant dream. A commission has spent the last few years chewing over the shape of the school year, and has proposed that all schools move to a six-term pattern. No term would be longer than 38 days, with two terms before Christmas, and the summer holiday would be about five weeks long.

Local authorities are looking into it, and many may ultimately adopt it, but it will take time for the snowball effect to gather, and meanwhile there are plenty of other things standing in the way of harmonised holidays. Some teacher unions are desperate to hang on to the long summer holiday; some city technology colleges already have their own five-term year; and independent schools are likely to continue on their own sweet way, with terms geared more to the needs of boarders than to local schools. In addition, the six-term plan retains enough flexibility in the choice of holiday dates to still drop parents in the you-know-what.

As for the Government, it wants nothing to do with it at all. It's a matter of local choice, it says. So the muddle, it seems, will continue.

READERS' ADVICE

I teach part time in Herefordshire and my children attend school and nursery in Gloucestershire. This year our February half terms are different, so when I return to work after my break my children will be beginning theirs. I appreciate that other working parents face these problems more often, but I chose to teach so that when I had children it would not be a problem.

We have a cottage in Brittany and try to get over there every school holiday, but this term it is proving tricky to find five days which will cause least disruption. We have been canvassed by Gloucestershire local education authority as to our views about having a four-term year. We are interested, but will Herefordshire consider the same? Will it become statutory and be decreed from central government or will it be down to individual local authorities?

Sarah Tindle, Gloucestershire

I work in a family-friendly organisation, where three of my team of four have school-age children. This inevitably means that we cannot all always take only school holidays as leave. Observing my KS2 daughter's panda-eyed exhaustion in the last few weeks of every term I have no hesitation in taking her away a week early for a family holiday on those occasions when I draw the short straw in the holiday rota.

Rosemary Slater, London

Lots of parents take children out of school because they get cheaper holiday deals in term time. The Government has talked to the travel industry about the prices it charges in school holidays, but nothing will come of it until the companies agree to stop exploiting their captive family customers.

Diedre Russell, Yorkshire

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

Every time I see my daughter and her friends staggering off to school with their heavy bags on their shoulders, I worry about them growing up with permanent lop-sided hunches. Why do children seem to have so much to carry around all the time? What does it mean for their growing spines in the long run? Can anything be done?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 17 February, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail h.wilce@btinternet.com.

Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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