Editorial - Why holidays are turning into a horror story

8th August 2014 at 01:00

"I passed the summer of 1816 in the environs of Geneva. The season was cold and rainy, and in the evenings we crowded around a blazing wood fire, and occasionally amused ourselves with some German stories of ghosts, which happened to fall into our hands. These tales excited in us a playful desire of imitation." Thus was Frankenstein born.

Not every young person's peregrinations will culminate in a classic novel in the way Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's European trip did, but no one would argue that experiencing different cultures is not enriching. Over the past few months, however, you could be forgiven for thinking that many children were touring the seven wonders of the world rather than spending seven days in Skegness, as parents have increasingly applied the lightning bolt of cultural value to term-time holidays in the hope of bringing them shambling into reality.

The reason? Last September, the Department for Education amended school attendance regulations, upping the ante for headteacher-approved absences by changing "special circumstances" to "exceptional" ones and allowing parents to be fined for taking their children out of school unauthorised.

Since then, families have been frantically digging in the graveyard of flimsy excuses in order to cobble something together that might pass as a genuine reason to go away with their children. Everywhere you look, the justifications for term-time holidays are clumsier than Frankenstein's monster attempting a Fred Astaire number.

Those whose leave has been refused have turned to the courts, arguing that their human rights have been infringed. Two weeks in Tenerife is not a human right; getting an education is. Worldwide in 2012, 58 million children of primary school age and a further 63 million of lower secondary age were receiving no schooling. If anyone is looking for a human rights fight, try that one for size.

And now Sir Richard Branson, more used to the calm Caribbean Sea around Necker Island, has waded in to these choppy waters. "While it is obviously important that all children should have access to regular education, there is no reason why they cannot catch up when they return, and do extra work out of class," says the man who owns a holiday and flights business, and who has no idea what that means for the teacher who has to organise this or the effect on the other children in the class.

And what about teachers? How about they take a couple of weeks catching a few rays in January? No reason why the children can't catch up on their return. Parents have their holidays restricted only while their children are at school; for teachers, it's their entire career.

Sir Richard may have dropped out of school at 16 and still made a success of his life. But he is the exception; the overwhelming majority of young people need a solid and uninterrupted education - even Victor Frankenstein attended university before making his monster discovery. So why not support education by encouraging parents to explore the world of the imagination with their children instead of helping the media to go after headteachers with pitchforks and torches simply for doing their jobs?

Or better still, why not offer hard-working teachers special deals in summer? Now that really would be a novel idea.



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