I'm taking my kids on holidays … during a school term!

This week the NSW Department of Education revealed a new attendance policy that has parents (and teachers) divided, writes NSM Kate Parker.

The 2015 policy states that public school students will need permission from their school principal to miss school during a term unless they are taking part in elite sport, the arts or the entertainment industry. As of this year, parents will be required to submit an Application for Extended Leave – Travel form, an itinerary and copies of plane tickets, along with a justification outlining the benefits of the proposed trip. Family trips outside of school holidays will now also be classified as ‘unjustified absences’ on a student’s permanent record. 

The topic has become the foundation for much of this week’s water cooler conversation among mothers both on and offline.

Many regard the change as a step in the right direction, suggesting that those parents that value their child’s education should choose to holiday only outside of term time. They claim there is an ever increasing stress load on school teachers, and it’s a valid point. Having children travel for extended periods outside of term time can actually mean extra work for teachers, who often feel obliged to prepare work for the child to tackle during their travels so as not to fall behind. Inevitably, this also means teachers need to make time to mark the work, and the child may require further out-of-hours help to catch up with their peers. Personally, I am a big believer in the impact a great teacher can have on a child’s ability and desire to learn and so I can understand this point of view. 

The Department of Education has cited a recent report from the University of Western Australia which found that a 10-day period of unauthorised absence is enough for a child to drop a band in NAPLAN testing. For those in favour of the policy, it signals to parents the importance of consistent education, requiring them to value more closely the efforts of teachers and educators in a comprehensive education. In essence, it reminds parents not to take their child’s education for granted, to teach them to prize their education and make school the highest priority.

Some parents (myself included) believe this policy to be too broad, and harbour the philosophy that the Department of Education does not have the right to influence a family’s travel plans for myriad reasons. Many have family overseas with school-age children that are on different term dates and are, therefore, difficult to visit during our school holidays. Cost plays a large part as well, with some parents reluctant to pay over-inflated flight and accommodation tariffs to visit an overseas country during the holiday period. For many, the expense during school holidays becomes prohibitive and being required to travel only during the peak season (when school holidays inevitably fall) could mean they are simply unable to travel at all. For my family to follow the policy we would have to reconsider our trip to the South Pacific later this year which is in celebration of the 20th anniversary of my first date with my now husband. 

My family has always championed academic pursuits above the extracurricular, and my husband and I are grateful to have enjoyed an enviable education. In fact, along with feeling loved and secure and having access to adequate health and resources, I believe getting a solid education is the highest priority. My son has already been lucky enough to have had exposure to some incredibly talented teachers, in early childhood and infant school, and one thing they all possess is an ability to develop a love of learning in their students. More than a love – a craving to extend their knowledge base. I will be forever indebted to the teacher that taught my son to completely immerse himself in reading, another who believed in him relentlessly and still another who willed him to take pride in his work. These are not just foundations for a great education, they are tools for leading a successful and fulfilling life. I am also certain these teachers would agree that education is more than just what happens in the classroom.

When I submit my application to the principal of my son’s school later this year, my hope is that he recognises that we respect the part that his school plays in my child’s education and development. I also hope he will encourage my son to leave the homework behind and enjoy every moment of soaking up a new and vibrant culture. I hope he will tell us that education can be learned outside of a classroom and that the desire to learn can only be enhanced with exposure to new ideas and different people. I hope he will understand that, as parents, we have every right to make such decisions on behalf of our child and knows that he can trust us to have only our child’s best interests at heart. Because, ultimately, this decision should be ours as his parents, and not rest with the Department of Education.

For more information, take a look at the Student Attendance in Government Schools Procedures.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the new changes to student leave. Do you agree with keeping kids at school all term? Or do you think parents have the right to say when their kids can be absent from school? Let us know in the comments section below.

More on holidays…

Kate has been a business owner, accountant, and a personal trainer and is currently a writer and mum to two cheeky pre schoolers. She writes a blog about parenting and lifestyle issues. Kate and her husband live in Turramurra with a 5 year old superhero, a 3 year old fairy princess and a very well loved dog.