Personally Speaking: I pay to send my children to school, not keep them at home

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The Independent Online
Believe it or not, as you read this, my two daughters aged four and nine, are still on their Christmas holidays from school. They go back on Monday.

They both attend a private primary school in Buckinghamshire, which like so many private schools, has its own quite idiosyncratic calendar.

It can make life very difficult. All their friends who live in the vicinity have disappeared back to (state) school, so I am left with two children who are by now aching with boredom. They've had over a month off school - which was OK at first, what with all the excitement of Christmas and the New Year, but now - even though of course they would both hotly deny it - they are more than ready to be back with their schoolfriends .

Their school holidays seem to stretch into infinity. A month at Christmas and Easter, and a yawning chasm of two months in the summer. As a parent who pays through the nose for the - admittedly excellent - education they receive when they are there, I'm beginning to feel a bit miffed about these long extended breaks.

After all, it isn't just the cost of the school fees - entertaining two girls under the age of 10 is also not a cheap business. Even I, with mountains of work piling up, balk at the thought of parking them in front of video after video so I can get some work done. So it's off to the zoo, to the pictures, or to Kidszone in nearby Aylesbury.

I actually found myself the only person in the world at the Cotswold Wildlife Park last week - it was pouring down with rain, all the other children had gone back to school and I was frankly at the end of my tether for things to do. So we spent a rather morose two hours staring at penguins, who stared back at us as if to say, "Are you mad? Don't you know how wet it is? Why aren't these children back at school?" The zoo wouldn't even let me in for half-price, so that was another twenty quid down the drain.

There are only limited things you can do in a Christmas holidays when the weather's been so wet. We've seen The Borrowers ( and very good it was too), we've seen Spiceworld (no comment) and the last ace up my sleeve is George of the Jungle. We've done the pantomime - and exhausted the good will of grandparents, who have proved invaluable at taking them off my hands for a couple of days.

Just how can private schools - many of which now charge over pounds 2,000 per child per term - really justify these whopping great breaks? Dick Davison, the Joint Director of the Independent Schools Information Service, ISIS says that generally, independent schools have much longer school days and that overall, teaching time in the state and independent sector does tend to even itself out.

To be fair to my daughters' school, my eldest doesn't now finish until six, because she does her prep at school. Her school day begins at quarter past eight, and often with additional clubs and activities she isn't home until eight. Even my four-year-old is at school from 8.30 to 3.15 every day.

But one of the biggest problems during the holidays is maintaining the momentum of study. As a result of the long school day - and the fact that they also do two hours of sport every day - my eldest daughter is frankly exhausted by the end of the term. All she wants to do is flop down in a chair and watch Pet Rescue forever. She isn't given homework to do during the holidays, or at weekends. This means that her brain has pretty well solidified by the time she goes back to school. Likewise my youngest, who is beginning the process of learning to read. In term-time, we read religiously together every night - but in the holidays things slip. She's done pretty much no reading at all for a month now, and will no doubt have to go back to Ginn Level dunce at the beginning of this term.

Dick Davison scared me witless by saying that the trend now is for a shorter summer term - because the public examinations have been moved forward - resulting in a much longer autumn term. At some private day schools in London, he says, the autumn term now has a two-week half-term to compensate. God forbid.