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Dr Adam Boddison: "The main objections to taking children out of school are focused on the potential negative impact on progress"

Playing truant?

Dr Adam Boddison asks if the increase of parental prosecutions for school truancy is something that we should be worried about

Posted by Stephanie Broad | August 14, 2015 | People, policy, politics

The increase of parental prosecutions for school truancy seems to be a worrying trend, particularly given the fact that a significant number of the children truanting are not ducking out of classes in the traditional sense of truancy, but are actually missing school to attend family holidays. Is this something that as a society we should be worried about?

A good starting point is to consider the reasons why parents take their children on holiday during school term time. The two primary reasons are likely the cost of holidays outside of school term time and the difficulty in parents being able to secure leave to coincide with school holiday time. Given the current economic climate and that fact that families are stretched financially, it is not surprising that holidays during school term time are a serious consideration for parents. 

The main objections to taking children out of school are focused on the potential negative impact on progress and outcomes and the practical implications for the teacher in supporting children to catch up with their peers when they return. 

The reality is that education is now about far more than reading, writing and arithmetic. There is a need for children to develop creative interdisciplinary skills through engagement with real-world contexts so that they can address the big challenges that we will all face in the future; for example food security, global sustainability and cybercrime. It could be argued that developing an awareness of international cultures, even through holidays, is part of the wider learning process.

The increase in the number of free schools and academies has had an impact in this area, since they are able to set their own term dates. In some cases, radical models have been implemented such as using five terms in place of the traditional three terms, with a shorter summer break and longer breaks at other times of the year. On the one hand, such solutions provide greater flexibility to parents and allow them to book holidays at reasonable prices. On the other hand, this inconsistency between schools can be highly problematic; for example, if two siblings attended different schools with different terms dates the window of opportunity for an authorised holiday is limited further still. 

One solution might be to embrace holidays during the school year by developing a more flexible school system. For example, a system could be established in which children who have a high attendance rate (say above 98%) could be permitted leave during the school year on the condition that the children produce a portfolio of work to catch up on what has been missed. This would have the wider impact of encouraging school attendance across the year. Technology may have a role to play here as well, with the recording of lessons becoming increasingly used in schools and this could be used to support children to catch-up. 

In any case, it is clear that fining parents for doing what they think is right for their children is not going to solve the problem. Indeed, it is believed that some holiday companies are considering paying fines for families. A pragmatic and developmental solution is needed to address this complex issue. 

Dr Adam Boddison is Director of the University of Warwick’s Centre for Professional Education (CPE)   

What is your school’s approach to term time holidays? Let us know at    

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