Term-time holidays

Q: There has been heaps of stuff in the news lately about how disruptive it is to take children out of school during term time but for two out of the three terms this academic year my two children have different half terms. What is your view?

A: It's a great pity this has become so contentious. In the past, with common sense and a little occasional subterfuge and the turning of a blind eye, we managed perfectly well. Obviously, it's best if all children attend school every day. After being away, they have to catch up with the work and it can delay the class if essentials need to be repeated. But children miss school all the time with minor illnesses, fractures and major family events. Chronically sick children who miss, on occasions, weeks or months of schooling, do not necessarily fare worse in end of year or public exams than those who never miss a day - as their surprised parents attest. Families need holidays and if two children have different half terms and that is the only possible time for a holiday together, then common sense would suggest that a little latitude should be given.

But - much depends on circumstances. And, in general, taking a week or more off school should only be done if there really is no reasonable alternative. Primary school children can, in general, afford to miss a week rather more than secondary age children for whom everything is building towards the all-important public exams. I would not condone a child of 11 or over being taken away during term time unless circumstances are truly exceptional. If a child of any age struggles at school then, again, an unnecessary absence will only make things harder for them. But if a parent works abroad and only has very limited opportunities to see - and holiday with - the family, then, surely, a wise headteacher will make an exception.

However, no family needs to holiday more than once or twice a year. Annual skiing trips, for example, are not essential and it would be hard to defend the missing of school for something like that.

One answer would be that schools should harmonise their holidays. However, this gives the holiday companies a great opportunity to treble the cost of fares and fees and going away then is prohibitively expensive for many.

Parents need to make responsible decisions and be reasonable. Heads and local authorities need to do likewise. Persistent unnecessary absence has to be stopped - legally if need be - but openness, cooperation and common sense on all sides should make further high profile stories about this no longer necessary.