Do term time holidays have long-term consequences?

Term time travel: Good or bad idea?
Term time travel: Good or bad idea? Photo: Getty

I've been planning a family holiday for a while now. Somewhere exotic where we can all relax and regroup. Sun, sea, and sand – you get the drift. But when I started looking at flights to South East Asia my heart sank. All of the flights that fall within the Easter school holidays were significantly more expensive than those in the weeks that followed.

And so, I was met with a dilemma – should we scrap our plans for a family holiday, or, should we consider taking our young daughter out of school for a week?

I'm not the first parent that has been met with this problem. Carolyn Tate, a mother of three, says that she takes her kids out of school every year for a family holiday, and cost is a significant factor.

So are there any consequences to missing school? Tate doesn't think there is anything to worry about. "I really don't think they are missing anything important," she says.

Tate has been mindful about when to take holidays and has ensured that her children are not missing exams or crucial exam preparation. In balancing out the pros and cons, she believes that family holidays are important for children.

"I think it's worth it. The children are usually exhausted by mid-November and aren't learning anything new anyway. It's a great time for us to get away together, reconnect, and recharge our batteries before the madness of Christmas," Tate reasons.

Of course, travel in itself is part of education and many parents feel that offering their children a chance to experience a different culture is worth missing the odd week of school for.

This was certainly the case for Daisy Finlay, a mother of three, who took her eldest daughter out of school for a week during term time last year. "Her teacher gave us worksheets for her to do with the instruction that they need not be completed. She said that kids often learn more on a holiday than they would from the worksheets anyway," Finlay recalls.

In contrast to these anecdotal experiences, new research from the UK claims that taking a child out of school for seven days could severely impact their education.

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The research, commissioned by the Department of Education, compared the GCSE (end of school exams) results of children who'd had absences with those that had not. They found that there was a significant difference.

The UK's education secretary told the Telegraph that the results justified the UK's crackdown on term time holidays. "The myth that pulling a child out of school for a holiday is harmless to their education has been busted by this research. Today [principals] across the country have been vindicated – missing school can have a lasting effect on a pupil's life chances," she said.

In Australia, policy regarding term time absence varies from state to state, but in most cases, parents can apply to the school if they wish to take a child out of class for a holiday.

K-6 Education consultant Denyse Whelan says that it is important for parents to consider what their children will be missing. "Deciding you want to 'save money' and take the kids on their two week holiday to the Gold Coast annually in February can do the kids a disservice. It's really important for kids to get into the new routine for the school year, become involved in sports selection, get to know their peers and the like," she says.

However, in cases where parents have been mindful about when to book term time holidays Whelan says that she doesn't oppose them. "Generally I am in favor of the practice where it is more the exception to the rule and a child is not going to be disadvantaged socially or academically," she explains.

Whelan also notes that for families with relatives living overseas it might be necessary to take term-time holidays so that children can be involved in family reunions or special events such as weddings.

For parents considering a term-time holiday, Whelan suggests educational activities such as keeping a trip diary and reading every day, so that children can keep up the momentum of school-based education.

The reality is that parents know their child and have a good grasp of where they are at academically. Therefore the potential consequences of missing school vary from child to child.

In my case the decision was made for me. G, my conscientious five-year-old was horrified at the idea of missing school and said that she would rather go to school than go on holiday. I will remind her of this when she hits her teens.