Wednesday 17 July 2019

Colette Fitzpatrick: Stop pretending that taking kids out of school for fun in sun is 'educational'

Colette Fitzpatrick
Colette Fitzpatrick

Colette Fitzpatrick

When I was younger, I’d have to have my head hanging off before I’d be allowed to miss school. Absenteeism was as rare as hen’s teeth in our house.

My pal would get the day off if she promised to empty the dishwasher. Being sick in our house didn’t count. You had to be really sick.

If you were well enough to lie on the couch and watch TV, you were certainly well enough to go to school.

There was never a question of taking us out of school to get the jump on the cheap package holidays on the costas.

When we did do the big foreign holiday every two years, my parents just soaked up the July premium.

I had planned to do the same and did so last year, but last May, the five-year-old repeatedly asked me what days he was going to be in school. His teacher wanted to know.

All of them, I said. He’d ask again. And again.

In fairness, his teacher was merely responding to experience. She knew a sizeable chunk of her class wouldn’t be in for the remaining week or two.

She had the curriculum well covered by mid-June and it was only revision for the last two weeks.

It seems the price difference is well into the hundreds by taking your holiday a week or so earlier, and many parents aren’t prepared to take the hit, so some teachers plan accordingly.

By the way, it’s not illegal for parents to take their child out of school during term time, but  if they miss more than 20 days in a year, it must be reported to the National Educational Welfare Board.

However, the Irish National Teachers Organisation has warned that real damage can be done when children miss chunks of their early school life.

I see the point. Teachers think carefully about the sequence in which children should be introduced to subjects and different areas within them.

They design the lessons and homework with that in mind. If your child misses a day or a week, they may have missed out on an essential step.

If a teacher is conscientious, they might well feel obliged to get the relevant homework to the child or even give up their lunch break to go over what they missed.

In the UK a parent got a rap on the knuckles from the Supreme Court for taking his child out of school for a Walt Disney World holiday in Florida, because of a law that dictates that parents can be fined if their children do not attend school regularly.

I hope no parents here ever fall foul of the law like that, but I also think they should be honest about why they’re doing what they’re doing.

It’s guff to suggest that it’s some sort of cultural/educational/broadening of their horizons trip. Where are these parents taking their kids – the Costa del Museum?

The rest of us go on package deals to destinations with menus with pictures of the food.

Places where the family can complain about the rest of the family and where we’re one dead battery away from a conversation breaking out.

It’s only educational if you find sunburn edifying and happy hour illuminating.

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