Attendance vs Activity

The issue of teacher pay, pension, and working conditions is in the public arena again today as UK teachers go out on strike: “Thousands of pupils in England and Wales will miss lessons on Thursday as members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) walk out on strike.” – BBC News

And again the thorny issue of parents being fined when they take their children on holiday during term time is linked to the lost day(s) of teaching from the strike action -beautifully summed up in this News Thump (spoof news site) article: “As it is, when my child misses school I’m endangering their education and liable to a significant fine, but when they miss school due to a teacher’s strike it’s ‘in their best interests and helping their long-term future’.”

As someone who works in education, and a parent with children in early years schooling, I sympathise with both sides. But what I want to comment on is the issue of parents being able to take their children out of school for a family holiday during term time. I am sure that there are instances when it is not a good idea, e.g. before exams. But surely there’s something both the parents and the school can agree on for the benefit of the kids?  

If you look at it form the children’s perspective it’s more than likely an amazing opportunity for learning that the whole class can benefit from, not just the ones being taken out?

Here are some thought:

  • Mediterranean cruise

A two-week cruise around the Mediterranean? How amazing is that? With stops in different countries and cultures the kids could have a mini project to bring back to school and share/present. They could collect pictures, guides, etc. of famous places, learn 5 new words or a new phrase each day from the different languages they encounter, video themselves chatting with a local (buying bread, ordering lunch, etc.). Bring back a menu from a cafe from each place they visit and compare design, language, pictures, what people eat, what’s available, etc..

  • Road trip

Doesn’t matter where this is, Scotland or US Route 66, each town and district has it’s own tourist traps or local sites of interest. Different forms of transport and why – camper vans, UVs, motorbikes, buses, etc. What changes along the journey – between towns, districts, countries? Did you shop for food or catch your own (if so, how and what)?

Attendance vs Activity

  • Camping

Whether it’s at a New Forest campsite, the Australian Outback, the Grand Canyon, or deepest Mongolia, there is an experience for the children. Learning about fauna and flora, learning about what’s safe to eat / touch and what isn’t, learning about cooking and preparing food, learning about siting the tent and fire, etc. are all new experiences in a new location.

  • Beach holiday

Even a simple beach holiday has potential for children to learn about the culture and country they’ve travelled to. Package holidays will have day trips to local sites of interest … so go on them, work out what they are and what kind of activity can be used and brought back to the class when you return. Different beaches have different types of sand – why? Are there cliffs or a gentle slope to the beach – why? How did the beach / inlet / harbour form – and why?

Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with taking school work (books, activity sheets, homework, etc.) in your luggage for the evenings. It may not be popular with the kids but it’ll also make sure they keep up with what the kids would have doing if they’d still been in school.

You’ve probably noticed I hadn’t mentioned technology so far? If you go away you’ll probably have a camera with you, if not smart phone. You use them on holiday for family pictures and video so why not have a purpose for a learning or classroom activity? Film and document something, keep a video diary, etc. But what about if you have reliable Internet access? Oh, how amazing! Use Skype to call the class and show where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with. Live blog the theatre. Upload pictures and video to your class blog and get students at home to direct you on what they want to see tomorrow. The possibilities here are endless.

Obviously these activities can be aimed at something that matches to the subjects or themes the children are working on at the time of the holiday, but instead of punishing parents why not engage with them to make the time away from the classroom better and more stimulating for the children by bringing the world to life around them. And when they return they can share their experiences with the whole class / school so it means something far more important to far more people.

I know that in the coming years I will want to take my boys on holiday and, with finances very tight, doing this during term time is the only way to get somewhere different and far away. I will be open with the school and I will tell them what I’m doing. I will also expect them to help me utilise this experience so both my boys, in their different classes and at different ages, benefit from the time away. If possible I’ll also love the idea and opportunity of doing something to enhance the class they leave behind for the week or two.

In short … parents should not be fined or punished for taking their kids away during term time. Every journey those children take has something that could be used in a learning experience, we just need to work together (parents, schools, education authorities) to find it and make the most of it!

Please let me know what you think, what you’ve done, and how you did it, below.

Update: It seems there are two barriers to this ‘approved absence’ I have talked about – school attendance records and school league tables / Ofsted inspections. Children are either marked as in attendance or absent from school. These figures are used in the school league tables and as part of the Ofsted report. If, and this is a big if, the attendance record could be updated to include, say, up to 10 days per year approved absence (for medical appointments, holidays, etc.) without impacting the league tables and Ofsted reports then could this work? If there is a way to not necessarily encourage absence but not punish it either, and a way that includes the school in the activities and helps build community spirit around the school (let’s face it, if the school is going to fine or punish parents it’s not going to create a caring or giving community is it?) then would it work?

Image source: Death Valley Camping (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)