Mumsnet users are a diverse bunch, but if there’s one issue upon which they are in vociferous agreement, it’s the value of education.
Yet the moment anyone tries to define what constitutes a meaningful educational experience, the consensus vanishes – and nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to the thorny question of authorised school absences.
Does a holiday taken during term time count as an enriching educational experience? How does it rate against an average week in school?
With the possibility of a bit of winter sun upon us, it’s an issue that’s liable to be at the forefront of both parents’ and teachers’ minds over the next couple of months.
The Department for Education’s decision to change the guidance around the issue a few years ago has caused a fair bit of irritation among Mumsnet users, with many parents expressing surprise that their school has chosen not to sign off on additional holiday for their children – whether it be a day off to spend with cousins visiting from far-flung countries, or a two-week long-haul trip for a family event.
Alongside those who disagree with their schools’ more hardline stance, however, are many who sympathise with the opposing point of view.
Elective absences are disruptive for teachers and children; absentees have to be coached to catch up on the work they’ve missed, and absenteeism can compound the educational disadvantage of children who can ill-afford any further brakes on their progress.
Schools are not responsible for enabling families’ social arrangements, the argument goes; their focus is on teaching children.
But even among those who agree with the reasoning behind the changes, the feeling is that the new guidance, which can lead to fines for parents, is unbalanced.
A recent FOI investigation showed that fines for term-time absences have increased by 200 per cent in two years, and the Local Government Association (alongside others) has called for a more common-sense approach.
When we surveyed our users earlier this year, 71 per cent thought there should be revised guidance emphasising headteachers’ discretion and removing the specific ban on term-time holidays; and 70 per cent thought that attendance should not be factored into Ofsted ratings.
And it seems as though someone is listening. In recent weeks, MPs have called for a review of the policy in a parliamentary debate, and an Isle of Wight parent who took his seven-year-old daughter to Walt Disney World Florida during term time had a fine overturned by magistrates.
Now that the tide appears to be changing, parents must play their part. There’s a qualitative difference between an off-peak week in Majorca and a 10-day trip to Singapore to say goodbye to an ailing grandpa.
We all value education. The question is how best to accommodate the needs of individuals without disrupting the experience of the collective. If everyone addressed the issue of absences with a bit more common sense and goodwill, we’d have a better crack at finding an answer.