The Costa kids debate

5th January 2007 at 00:00
The drive to improve examination results, the endless pressure to produce literate and numerate individuals and various other targets all contribute to the regular ignition of fierce debate about parents who take their children out of school for holidays during term time.

Unsurprisingly, both sides of the debate engage in fairly intense skirmishes. Recently, Bruce Robertson, Highland Council's director of education, has written to parents urging them to stop taking their offspring on holiday when they should be at their desks. Last year, 12,500 pupil days were lost in Highland due to such holidays.

Increasing numbers of parents simply don't bat an eyelid about taking the kids out of official school time to sun themselves on the Costas or Tenerife.

Shockingly, Mr Robertson's stance has not received support in all quarters.

Margaret Davidson, a Dingwall councillor, was almost jocular in her public comments about the issue. When talking about her own children's unauthorised absences from school, she manifested her ignorance of what happens in modern classrooms. She said: "I always made sure my children had lots of homework to do when they were absent from school."

All three subjects which I teach include a great deal of discussion. Much of the curriculum is delivered through group work. Pupils interact with each other, exchanging ideas and, yes, strange though it may seem, teaching each other. In this way they learn most effectively, a fact borne out by the latest research into teaching and learning.

Kids on holiday with their textbooks (unlikely) cannot replicate the lost classroom experience, however much their ill-advised parents might believe it possible.

It doesn't take a towering intellect to work out that, if you take a child of secondary school age on holiday, you will cause a major disruption to their learning. This is especially so if it's done from S3 upwards, and yet parents still do it. I know of senior kids who have, for instance, been taken to Florida for a couple of weeks in June. Months later, they are still trying to overcome the difficulties caused by missing the introduction to the course.

No one doubts that these kids have a great time on holiday or that the experience adds to their knowledge of life, but parents shouldn't delude themselves that these pupils are unaffected by their absences. They simply can not justify their actions, whatever way you look at it. Many SQA courses are, in fact, a race against time with their emphasis on internal as well as external assessment.

The arguments about cheap holidays are fairly robust - if you don't value education - but fall to the ground as soon as you think logically about your values.

I am glad that virtually all family holidays taken outside decreed holiday times are now deemed to be unauthorised and are recorded as such. In not doing so, we are pandering to the unthinking superficial spirit of an age where everything is sublimated to the disposable approach: education can be chucked in the bin for a couple of weeks and parents, if they consider it at all, can pretend there is no cost to their children learning.

As for Margaret Davidson, maybe it's time she started appreciating that, in her position, she should be a positive role model rather than a pedlar of misinformed and wild ideas. Holidays should be taken out of term time or not at all.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy

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