Sunday, 8 April 2012

The School Term Time Holiday Gestapo

This year, in spite of the fact that the holiday companies whack an extortionate premium on breaks taken during the school holidays, we booked our French Gite/Disneyland holiday for the first week of the Easter holidays.  However, we needed to travel down on the last Friday of term time to catch the Eurotunnel train.  Ashford is over 4 hours away from home and the gite holidays run from Saturday to Saturday so we needed to get a head start on our journey as we knew we'd be joining the mass Easter exodus of traffic on Friday afternoon.  With a toddler to consider, the prospect of being stuck on the M6 for hours was not desirable!

We phoned the kids' schools to explain the situation. We were reassured by both the Primary and Secondary school that it was no problem.  After all it was the last day of term and only for one day.  We dutifully filled in the holiday forms and the children made arrangements to find out about any work they might miss.  We did not take the decision lightly and weighed up the situation carefully.  We acted responsibly and sensibly.

Both my girls are high fliers in the classroom.  They are studious kids who always do what is expected of them and work hard, achieving good results.  Having one day off will make no difference to their education whatsoever.  In fact, substituting the last day of term for a week of being immersed in French culture, learning about the language and the history of another country is actually a huge benefit to them.  We keep diaries and scrapbooks and use our time abroad to really find about the things we experience.

However, on our return from our week away we received a letter from the Head of the secondary school.  It was telling us that the day off we took is now being registered as unauthorised and that we may be subject to a £100 fine.  I was utterly shocked that after we went to the effort of phoning and making arrangements for the day off, that they could not exercise any common sense in making a decision regarding my daughter's absence.  It's not like we took a whole week off in term was one day to facilitate us having a holiday that wouldn't disrupt their schooling. 

I wouldn't be as angry if this was an excellent school.  It isn't.  This is a school where some of the teaching leaves a lot to be desired.  One teacher actually sets up a webcam to watch over the class, leaves the kids with a worksheet and disappears.  How is that classed as being taught?  I seriously doubt that my daughter would miss anything that she couldn't catch up with independently.  There are a tiny handful of inspirational, dedicated teachers who I feel have a positive effect on my daughter's education. To them I am grateful.  To the rest I shake my head in desperation.

We also received in the post another letter from the school at the same time saying that Ella has been recognised as being Gifted and Talented in seven subjects.  That does not sound like a student who is struggling to cope with school and who would be affected by a day off.  The irony was not lost on me.

I understand the reasons behind not allowing parents to pull kids out of school every five minutes, but this anal approach to holiday-taking is getting silly.  A day off, or indeed a week off, is not going to be detrimental in most cases.  If schools are going to be so blinkered, especially in cases like mine where my girls are not struggling in the slightest and who have a good attendance record, then parents will start "throwing sickies" on behalf of their children.  Is a culture of dishonesty preferable to this red tape ridiculousness?  

I am a parent who has always worked hard on behalf of my children's schools, supporting fundraising, attending events and keeping communications open.  I feel that the school should be spending more of its time concentrating on the pupils who are struggling, who are unsupported and who need intervention.  Not backhandedly changing their mind on a decision that we received over the phone and sending a really snotty letter after the event!  It's cheap, unprofessional and generally makes my feelings for this school and their headteacher plummet further.

Thankfully, we have just received another letter offering Ella a place at a new school, starting in September.  I will not be sorry to see the back of this school and will definitely be seeking other arrangements for my youngest two when they move up to secondary school.  This is one family that has now been alienated by a ridiculous and unwarranted decision regarding taking a single day off in term time. I should have phoned on the day and said she had a cold.  


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