Sep 182009
Truancy hotline road sign.

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about the hand-wringing and guilt parents go through when considering whether they should take children out of school to accommodate a family trip or holiday.

An article in the Times last month claimed that in the UK some 1.5 million school-days were taken for family holidays last year, 325,821 of them without the appropriate authorisation from schools.

Those are pretty big numbers… but I don’t necessarily buy the assertion that this is such a big problem.

Who, these days, can afford to take their family holiday during the school breaks… when prices for flights, ferries, accommodation, attractions and practically everything else are inflated to the max? Not to mention the fact that, if you travel in peak season (i.e. the school holidays) wherever you’re heading is bound to be crammed with throngs of tourists. Thanks but no thanks!

I can see how children bunking school without the school or their parents’ consent is a crucial issue that needs to be tackled head on, and how missing a stint during the latter years of secondary school, with exams looming, might not be the best idea in the world. But seriously, if a child is out for a week here or there during primary or early secondary school, what are they really going to miss?

Not a lot, I’d venture… and think about how much they have to gain.

Spending quality time with the whole family is an all-too scarce commodity in many households today, especially where both parents are working hard just to pay the bills. That alone would be worth missing a bit of school for, surely, but there’s also the educational element of travel to consider.

Introducing children to different people, cultures, art, history, climate and environment is all a lot more vivid, real and memorable than anything they’ll experience in an Irish classroom. As well as teaching them things first-hand, it also helps to reinforce what they’ve learnt in school, putting it into a real-world context that’s invaluable.

We’ve been taking the girls off school as necessary (always with the principal’s consent, I hasten to add) since they started, and their education hasn’t suffered a jot. In fact, I’d argue it’s been enhanced immeasurably by their travel experiences.

Take our last trip to Morocco for example… when they came back the principal asked the twins to do a short presentation on their experience of a Muslim culture to the rest of the class… watching them put together their little project I was amazed at how much they’d retained. Experiencing something first hand is infinitely more educational and engaging than reading about it in a book or being told about it in a classroom.

In Ireland the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) is the Government quango responsible for tracking attendance. School principals are obliged to report cases where children are absent for more than 20 days in one school year to the board, but within that limit it seems a common sense approach is the order of the day.

Allowing parents and schools to come to an amicable arrangement about planned term-time absence is a lot more sensible than the UK Government’s draconian, yet clearly ineffective policy of persecuting parents for taking children out of school.

The strap-line on the NEWB’s website boldly declares "… every day counts in a child’s education". I agree with that statement wholeheartedly… I just don’t believe that all education — or even the most important part of a child’s learning — happens in school.

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