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I can live with a fortnight in Majorca

There is snow falling as I write but the longer days bring hope of winter's end. After months of darkness, I would welcome a break in sunshine and heat. The temperatures in my newspaper suggest Barbados or Miami, or perhaps the Seychelles where it's 30 degrees. But it's not going to happen.

Tomorrow I have to be at school.

Not that school is a barrier to some people going on holiday. I know one boy who is exchanging the classroom for Florida tomorrow and is not in the least concerned. His mother wrote to me some weeks ago telling me of the plans and asking for my approval, which was nice because some just say:

"I'm going, whatever you think."

She acknowledged my official position by writing "I know he shouldn't be going on holiday during the term", then provided both of us with our excuse: "This is his father's holiday. He booked it not realising that Darren was still at school and it would cost him extra to change."

I could have replied that forcing her estranged husband to delay the holiday and spend more of his cash might give her some satisfaction as well as keeping the boy's nose to the grindstone in school, but I contented myself with playing my traditional role in the game and wrote that I hoped that Darren and his dad had a good time.

Some readers will regard my actions as a cop-out. It is the official position of the Scottish Executive, and of my authority, that holidays in term time are to be discouraged. The official reason is that two weeks away is detrimental to a child's learning. Or perhaps we are jealous because the boy is having a good time and no sooner will he have flaunted his Florida tan around the school than he stops for two weeks of an official break.

Anyway, it is my job to be discouraging, not to go around saying: "Have a nice time and you're in trouble if you don't bring me a present."

The problem is that where term-time holidays are concerned, the genie is out of the bottle and our fruitless attempts to recapture him make us look ridiculous. Have you noticed the multimillion pound travel industry listening to our appeals not to increase prices during the summer? Are parents quaking at the threat of an "unauthorised absence"?

Which school is going to be so self-important as to drag parents into court for daring to take two weeks in Majorca in May?

Above all, by the time the school hears about a holiday, the arrangements have long been made and there is nothing it can do to prevent the trip.

Even our claim that term-time holidays interfere with a child's learning has to be taken with a pinch of salt - too many parents have already discovered that their children "catch up" quickly and that sensitive teachers spot and fill any glaring gaps with a touch of differentiation.

The authoritarian tone of the attempted holiday ban is at odds with reality and is reminiscent of the time when a wet July week in Millport was the extent of anyone's aspiration and you considered yourself lucky to get it.

Too much has changed. Cheap transport and consumerism have raised our expectations well beyond those of our parents, while fragmented families often provide a child with multiple holidays - one with mum, one with dad and his girl-friend, and sometimes another with gran. The strait-jacket of the school year can't cope with that.

Perhaps it's time the school calendar adapted to the more flexible approach to learning that our education leaders encourage. They have ushered schools into a touchy-feely era of parent consultation, pupil councils, circle time, wraparound care and incentives - or are they bribes? - for good behaviour.

Darren and his dad are simply recognising the reality of our modern school system - that the consumer is king.

Brian Toner is headteacher of St John's primary in Perth.

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