Saturday 10 December 2016

Should parents take their children on holidays in term time?

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

School's out: Jon Platt outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where he successfully challenged a fine issued for taking his daughter out of school for a family trip to Florida
School's out: Jon Platt outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where he successfully challenged a fine issued for taking his daughter out of school for a family trip to Florida

For many parents the savings are too tempting to resist. They can halve the cost of a foreign holiday by taking their kids out of school during term time. It may be an irritant to teachers and principals, but the cash-strapped parents may believe that there is little to be lost by missing school, particularly at primary level.

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Some parents will even argue the case that lolling about on a beach in Majorca can be more educational than sitting stony-faced for another few days in a classroom.

In England in recent days, Jon Platt, a father who took his daughter out of school for a trip to Disney World in Florida won a landmark ruling after he had been fined because she missed school.

In England, parents who take a child out without permission are fined £60 (€80), and can even face threats of imprisonment if they don't pay up.

However, in the latest case, the High Court ruled that because the girl's attendance record was regular apart from the holiday, her father had no case to answer.

In Ireland, the rules about term-time holidays are much less strict. The Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) expects term-time holidays to become an issue this year.

"It is very likely that it will become a problem again this year as the economy recovers," says Larry Fleming of the IPPN. "These holidays were very common before 2008, but then declined during the recession. The reasons for parents taking their children out of school are financial.

"For some holidays, the rates are doubled at the end of June when schools go on holidays."

While in England, parents have faced stiff penalties, here pupils have to miss a lot of days before the authorities take any notice. Teachers may disapprove of these vacations, but there is little that they can do about them.

Irish schools are required to maintain attendance records for all pupils.

But they are only required to notify the Child and Family Agency, the body responsible for school attendance, if a child is absent for more than 20 days in a year.

"Most of the children taking these holidays are nowhere near the 20 days, so it doesn't really become a major attendance issue," says Fleming.

However, he says term-time holidays can cause problems for teachers and principals and can become an irritant.

"Parents tend to take the children out in May and early June. At that particular time of the year, schools are often holding standardised tests in maths and English.

"If they are on holiday, teachers may have to give them the test before they go away or after they come back, and there may not be time to give adequate feedback to parents.

"Children can also miss out on events such as school outings and sports days. These are the sort of events that they look forward to."

Checking holiday prices, it is not hard to see why parents bring their children on these breaks.

At time of writing, a typical holiday for a family of four with Falcon Holidays in Santa Ponsa was €800 cheaper in June than in July, after primary schools break up.

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