Last week it was reported that "[c]hildren being taken out of school by families to go on holiday account for 10 per cent of all time students are truant from school". Taking your children away "for cheap holidays" during the school term was described as "parent-condoned truancy".
This subject was hotly debated on talkback radio with the general consensus being, from what I heard, that parents should be able to take children on holiday whenever they felt like it. It's obvious that some parents are unaware they are legally obliged to send their offspring to school.
The requirements are clear: "Under the Education Act 1989, parents and carers of children between 6 and 16 years old can be prosecuted if their child is away from school without a good reason." Furthermore, "a holiday is not a good enough reason to take your child out of school, so holidays should be planned outside of term time."
Apart from the children themselves, there are three key sets of stakeholders here. There is the government with a responsibility for upholding the law and ensuring the population is educated. Then there are the schools who are similarly devoted to education, deserve to be respected and also have a desire to minimise disruption to classrooms. Finally, there are parents, who have their own responsibilities, needs, wants and views about what is best for their children. Understandably, these stakeholders may conflict with one another.
Over the nine years my daughter has been at school there have been some occasions I've asked that she be excused during the term to attend a particular event. I always feel guilty when writing to the school about our plans and always apologise for having to request this leave.
Early in her school years, she needed to be excused for a couple of days while we all attended her grandfather's surprise seventieth birthday party in Fiji. We considered it important to attend this family occasion, and to decline simply because we needed to stay in Auckland to babysit our daughter while she went to school made no sense. The school was gracious when it granted us permission for this absence. I was grateful that I wasn't made to feel my request was unreasonable.
Then, when she was eight-years-old I'd planned to leave her home while I accompanied my husband to a conference in London. But our nanny sustained an injury just before we left and was unable to take care of our daughter. With only two days to make alternative arrangements, we decided to take our daughter away with us. (Yes, I could have stayed home but I kind of figured that mothers are people, too, and should be allowed to go away occasionally.)
Again, I was most apologetic when I explained the situation to the school and pleaded for their understanding. The three of us had a fabulous week away in London and Barcelona. Perhaps it would have taken off some of the gloss if we'd realised we were all technically participating in parent-condoned truancy.
The other time we requested leave from school was to enable our daughter to attend the national championships for her equestrian pursuits. When she's been training and competing all year in this sport, we consider it fitting that she be allowed out of school to travel to this out-of-town event.
I'm grateful that the school accommodated this request but I noted this year that the school described this absence as "self-interest leave". That's a harsh term. I would prefer to classify my three examples of taking my child out of school as family leave, business leave and sporting leave respectively. Surely self-interest leave is when parents take children on holidays during term-time because the airfares and accommodation are cheaper. Or they go skiing during the term because the ski slopes aren't so crowded.
Of course, giving permission for children to be taken out of school is a two-way street. Trips away for service, cultural and sporting events are a regular fixture on most school calendars. As a parent, I willingly give permission for my daughter to skip class for a week of school camp which is also known as Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC).
And, last year, at the school's behest, my daughter had a week off school so she could play hockey in Tauranga. Perhaps that was classified as "school-interest leave" since she and her teammates were there to represent their school. So in light of the emergence of the term "parent-condoned truancy", it raises the question of how best to describe school-led trips away.
Maybe EOTC weeks and days away at interschool sports tournaments could be classified as "school-condoned truancy" to reflect the fact that parents aren't the only stakeholders taking students out of the classroom.