Term Time Holidays, A Contentious Issue.

 It will come as no surprise to most teachers that there are children in the UK living in families that cannot afford a week’s holiday. A quick scan of the traditional ‘What I did over the summer’ essays shows that whilst some children are jetting off to ever more exotic locations, a significant number never leave the confines of their neighbourhood. What is shocking is that the number of children living in families that cannot afford a week’s break has increased by almost 1 million since 2005.

According to the Governments own figures, 5 million children are now unable to take a holiday each year (ONS, 2014). These children are missing out on one of the fundamental experiences of childhood, something that members of the public think people need to achieve a socially acceptable standard of living (Joseph Rowntree Foundation).

The Family Holiday Association is the only national charity dedicated to providing seaside breaks and day trips for families struggling with some of the toughest challenges life can bring. In 2015 we helped over 3,700 families across the UK access a short break or day out that they simply wouldn’t have had otherwise.

We believe that holidays are a lifeline, not a luxury. They improve the mental well-being of parents and children alike, help families communicate better, provide a break from everyday stresses and worries and broaden horizons.

Many of the breaks we provide are during term time. If we only offered breaks during school holidays, we would help a fraction of the families that currently benefit.

School attendance is obviously important, and where a family can have a break during school holidays then this should be encouraged. However where a school judges that a child will receive significant benefit from one of our breaks during term time (and hundreds of schools the length and breadth of the country do), we work closely with schools to ensure that any break results in minimal disruption to the child’s learning.

The benefits to a child of having a break are manifold and can often actually improve their performance in the classroom. There have been numerous studies, including with families we support (Bos et al, 2013), showing the educational benefits of a break for children, and few would argue against the benefit gained from experiencing a new environment, particularly for a child who rarely, if ever, leaves the immediate area within which they live.

This year we asked families for some of the longer term benefits of our breaks. 43% had seen school attendance improve and almost 60% reported that children behaved better in the classroom. We are about to embark on a research study with Nottingham University to investigate this further.

Yet there has never been a time with so many barriers in place to deny families the chance of the break that they so desperately need. The removal of references to family holidays and extended leave, as well as the notional threshold of ten school days in the education regulation amendment of September 2013, has left some headteachers feeling unable to grant authorised absence even when they know it will be in the best interests of the child.

The recent spate of high profile court cases has highlighted the number of parents being fined for children missing school, many of these as a result of a family holiday. The main purpose of the change in legislation was to combat persistent absenteeism but I would argue that persistent absenteeism is rarely related to holidays but more often than not is due to complex situations that require intensive support for families to turn things around. Fining a family for something that could help improve attendance and attainment in the long run seems counterintuitive and is not likely to improve the relationship between family and school: something that is crucial in providing an environment where education is valued and children can thrive.

The increasingly draconian approach to term time breaks is not only impacting families directly. The poor educational attainment in coastal communities must surely be related to the decline in seaside resorts across the UK. By making an already short summer season even shorter we are depriving these communities of jobs and economic opportunities that could bring these areas back to life.

Educational, economic and social arguments aside, memories of childhood holidays last a lifetime and it is simply not acceptable that so many children in the UK in 2015 are missing out.

The number of families we can help directly will only ever be the tip of the iceberg. We are committed to raising the profile and the importance of family breaks for everyone. We do this through research and engaging with stakeholders at a national and local level. We hope this will not only benefit the families we support who are facing extreme circumstances but the many families with parents working in jobs where they are simply not able to choose when to have time off.

For the past 40 years the Family Holiday Association has been helping struggling families access a seaside break or day trip. When it comes to a choice between a break during term time and no break at all we help schools take a common-sense approach to authorising a child’s absence. Allowing headteachers this flexibility is, surely, common sense. Because a little sunshine goes a long way.

If you have a family you would like to refer for a break or for more information please visit www.FamilyHolidayAssociation.org.uk

The Family Holiday Association is a registered charity number 800262. They receive no government funding, so are wholly reliant on the goodwill and generosity of our donors, fundraisers and other supporters.

John Kinnear joined Family Holiday Association as Programme Manager in the summer of 2013 having previously held programme delivery roles at Volunteering Matters, Children in Need and the Big Lottery Fund. In his first full season, John has overseen a 30% increase in the number of families the charity has helped. John also runs the Holidays Matter network which brings together businesses, voluntary and statutory sector organisations, tourism bodies and researchers with the aim of helping as many people as possible in the UK get a break.

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