Educators recommend against taking kids out of school early for a holiday, but parents want options, given the COVID-caused travel restrictions.
As many in Western Australia have realised during the COVID-19 pandemic, a ‘wander out yonder’ while the borders remain closed has much to offer those seeking a short getaway, a spot of sightseeing, or some time by the beach.
However, for these third-term holidays, all that glitters is not gold.
With borders closed, popular WA destinations are at peak demand and many affordable options fully booked, leaving a well-deserved break out of financial reach for many families.
The situation has prompted some families to consider alternatives, including taking their children out of school early or returning to the classroom after the end of the official holiday period.
Some have even decided on a mid-term break at odds with the mandated holiday calendar.
Those holiday moves have put the spotlight on the vexed question of whether it is okay to take children out of school during term to take advantage of a lower-cost holiday.
The answer depends on whom you ask.
Tourism operators, who have been hit hard by border closures, might quietly welcome the extra revenue during non-peak periods.
And there are some parents who, faced with limited or unaffordable destination choices, are giving in to something they thought they would never do: encourage their children to wag school.
Some parents argue that taking children out of school for a family holiday is packed with benefits and just what the doctor ordered during COVID-19.
They add that not only is a family holiday outside of peak periods more cost effective, but an escapade of any kind is a more enriching and educational experience than sitting in the classroom; because in the current climate, life experience reigns supreme.
In addition, the arguments continue, mid-term family holidays ‘back in the day’ did today’s parents no harm.
Some mid-term holidaymakers have even taken a swipe at what they consider the double standards that apply to those who home school.
The attendance of home schoolers is not monitored, so they can take time out whenever the want without official repercussion.
To be fair, most parents who take their children out of school outside of official holiday periods believe such arrangements should not extend to students in their final years of study.
The formal position of education authorities will always be that a family holiday is no reason to skip school.
They will be quick to explain that taking children out of school midterm breaks the law, even in these exceptional times.
And if more parents were aware they could be prosecuted if they took their children out of school mid-term, many may reconsider their decision.
Legal issues aside, most educators are united in their view that mid-term family holidays should remain the exception rather than the norm.
Educators point to research that suggests those who are absent more often – authorised or unauthorised – don’t perform as well in school.
Taking students out of class, even for short periods, deprives them of valuable learning time and disrupts their routine.
In fact, educators argue that making sure children remain at school throughout the term demonstrates parents’ commitment to their offspring’s education.
There is also a concern that parents who take their children out of school demand teachers provide a learning program for the period of absence so that their child does not fall behind.
This creates, often unfairly, more work for the teachers.
The solution to this thorny issue lies somewhere between the two extremes of keeping students in class during term and a wander out yonder outside official holiday periods.
Some parents have called for staggered school terms so not all students are on holidays at the same time.
Although not without problems, such an approach would spread holidays over a larger number of weeks to help drive down costs and make family breaks during school holiday periods more affordable.
It might also give struggling tourism operators a much-appreciated boost. Others suggest that unprecedented times require unorthodox solutions.
For example, parents should be allowed to remove students from class for up to five days a year for family activities, including holidays.
To offset the loss of days in the classroom, the summer holiday period could be cut short by one week.
At the end of the day, individual parents will need to make their own decision about whether to remove children from the classroom for the purpose of a family holiday.
The decision will inevitably need to consider the legal implications, the period of absence, the educational potential of a chosen destination, the age of the child and, of course, the unique circumstances of the family.
Professor Gary Martin is chief executive officer at the Australian Institute of Management WA