High days not holidays – is it ever okay to take your kids out of school for special occasions?

It’s some measure of how nervous I am of Michael Gove’s police state on school attendance that I’m not willing to confirm or deny that I am going to do this: take the kids out of school on a school day. But it hasn’t happened yet. It may not happen. I’m not saying anything.

Recently, policy has changed. Where parents were once allowed up to ten discretionary days for special occasions, we state school parents have no legal right to take our kids out of school. The rules are clear. Get found out and pay a fine: £60 per child rising to £120 if not paid within two weeks. It smacks of totalitarianism; that my neighbour (that’s you, dear reader) might tattle on me if they suspect I’m bending the rules.

Oh, I get it – the state is paying for my children’s education so I do understand that they need to ensure that we plebs and our state funded offspring are getting their money’s worth. It does no one any favours to take the piss with our taxes. Swanning off to Tenerife to take advantage of cheap airfares for a week, or buggering off to Bangladesh to visit relatives for six months is one thing. But in the long run, the state likes to keep tabs on where we, and our children are, and god forbid the poorerst people, the ones who need to avail themselves to state funded education have a holiday they can actually afford. But taking a day off to attend a wedding – or hush, say it really quietly – have a fun day out when it’s not packed at a theme park – probably doesn’t count as an educational reason to takes one’s kids out of school, much though it may do wonders for family well being.

But in the wake of a holiday where Jonah’s privately schooled peers have only just gone back from their three and a half week Easter break, often managing not one but two trips away and several day trips –  horse riding, the Tower of London…golf at St Andrews, in between, that I fail to buy the argument that kids whose parents take them out of school on a rare day out are doing them any harm at all.

It just so happens that Tom has a free day in addition to his 20 days of holiday a year – a European holiday where it’ll be really quiet at his work, so he can officially take the day off with impunity. I, officially redundant as of last week, depressed, though enjoying the weather, am taking a day out from LinkedIn updates and long-winded meetings with recruiters, and are thinking – just thinking, of pulling a kids’ sickie so we can go and have a nice day somewhere that on a weekend or holiday in summer will be packed to the rafters.  We haven’t even told the kids yet, so secretive is this potential mission. I am nervous; conscientious even in the face of bureaucratic nonsense. Tom is blase. After all, the kids are rarely actually sick. They are streaks ahead academically. One day won’t matter. Except if we get caught.

But of course it’s the principal of the thing. We’re teaching them the valuable lesson that it’s okay to pull a sickie sometimes, when in actual fact, it can get you into trouble… It’s a bit like telling your kids you don’t mind if they smoke cannabis as long as they never take heroin – both can get you executed in Singapore. But this is England. Isn’t it part of the national culture to not always toe the line? To be able to take everything on a case by case basis? To see the bigger picture rather than having a blanket rule where one size is supposed to fit all (when in realty it’s much more fine to break the rules for those who can afford to pay them).

The idea that parents, especially poorer ones, have lost control of a vital aspect of parenting – that of being able to take the odd decision about their children’s lives that may buck the ideal but still remains the best thing for them, is no longer okay seems to me to be laughable, if it weren’t so goddamned frightening.  But the fact is that I spend a LOT of time toeing a lot of lines. If it weren’t for the odd escapade, life wouldn’t be worth living, and so, in all likelihood, I’m taking the executive decision to pull my kids out of school for a jolly tomorrow. Please don’t dob me in.

The fact is I’ve recently been made redundant, something that has thrown my mental health into a downward verring tangent. I’m scared I don’t have the cash to pay a fine (or really, go to Chessington either, except that Kellogg’s have handily put vouchers on the side of fruit winder packets) but I know in my logical mind that this situation won’t last for long. I will be back in the grind of an eight to six job where it doesn’t make financial sense to pay for childminders in the holidays, so I have to suck up the premium rates and queues that go along with a nonsense education system that shoehorns everyone into the same holiday season.

I know that these rules are in place in order for education for all to be affordable at all. But for one day only, I’m (probably) breaking the rules. But like all sickies, I’ll probably spend the whole day feeling a bit shit about it. But at least I won’t have to cope with Jonah in a two hour queue for a ride.

Except that if anyone asks, he’s being sick, and not from too many goes on the pirate ship.



10 thoughts on “High days not holidays – is it ever okay to take your kids out of school for special occasions?

  1. I completely agree with you – my children were not given permission to go to my own wedding, which happened to be in term-time on a weekday, due to the fact that we couldn’t afford the extortionate weekend rates. Everything is geared towards the benefit of the businesses and corporations, not the individual, the consumer, the person who works their behind off in order to keep them going. It’s particularly galling that parents end up not paying for extra tickets for their children, but at higher prices, making it completely out of reach for most of us. And, as you say, it takes away the ability of parents to take their own children to a museum for a day and share that experience – however, it’s fine for the school to take the kids to Thorpe Park for the day!

  2. I have and Aspie daughter and an Aspie Nephew, and he has been to Chessington a number of times. If you contact your Local Carers support, or Camhs of GP or ask around, we have been told they will write us a queue busting letter, this has worked in my Nephews case (tried and tested) then you can save your “sickie” for another outing. Have you got your carers card too? i have enjoyed free entry to many sites whilst accompanying my daughter as her carer. Life is tough at times with an Aspie kid, it is nice to know there are some perks – especially beneficial if you are jobless too. Best of luck and go for it. x

    • Thanks for this. If we ever go – and it’s not raining and in term time and there are no queues at all- then I will definitely take advantage of this. As it is, I’m sure if we went in the above circumstances, we’d all have had a lovely day if it wasn’t for the bloomin Blackwell tunnel! ;)

  3. I appreciate that taking a child out of school for two weeks during term time can be disruptive but sometimes families do need to take the odd day here and there and would prefer to be able to do this honestly. When my mum was at school she always spent Wednesday afternoon with her Gran; her neighbour happened to be her headteacher, she would wave at my mum as she went off with her Gran and wouldn’t make a fuss at all. How times have changed! There does need to be a little flexibility.

    • I agree. I hate teaching my children subterfuge, but the government’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy will do nothing but encourage it. Everyone should have a couple of days grace otherwise it puts all parents in a position if having to lie.

  4. Fight back. Call your MP. Email the government. Get a petition going whilst you are out of work. We pay the taxes. It us ludicrous and patronising of the Government to suggest that parents cannot educate their own children from time to time with travel and experiences which as you say are cheaper, quieter and less stressful out of the official holiday times.

  5. Did you know that if you take your child for a 2 week holiday every year, and they have the average amount of sick days, by the time they are 16 they will have missed a year of school. This will have a substantial effect on their education, and the problem is if it is seen as acceptable to let parents take children out for the odd day, it becomes difficult to stop parents taking their kids out for weeks at a time. If children miss a topic or a concept, they may have trouble keeping up. They will also learn that it is ‘ok’ to go against school rules – this will not do them *any* favours! There is flexibility – children can be taken out of school for medical appointments and of course for illness, and in other special circumstances which will be judged on an individual basis by staff who specialise in the importance of attendance and also who know the child and their family’s circumstances. A day out to Chessington will not come as special circumstances.. but why should it? Yes it’s busy and the queues are big the in the holidays…. but tough! I don’t like sitting on the m25 in (worse) queues day after day, but it hasn’t killed me yet! Parents will (and do) try to make a week away marked ‘sickness’, unfortunately they will probably find it is their own child’s gloating to others that lets the cat out of the bag! I have seen this several times recently. What needs to change is extortionate holiday/flight/excursion costs, it needs to not be such a big issue that parents feel the need to take time out during term time.

    • I agree with you in principal, but life isn’t always possible to shoehorn into the state’s designated holiday periods and punitive measures for parents almost always affect children negatively. I’m not advocating weeks off hither and thither, but parents should be able to have a measure of flexibility for events that aren’t specifically medical. And there is more to life than what can be taught in a classroom – sometimes breaking the rules gets you further than following them. I don’t count going to Chessington among them in particular, but it’s more that extenuating circumstances can and should only be evaluated by parents themselves. Trust breeds trust. The government doesn’t know about my recent redundancy or dubious smear making my husband think I needed cheering up a bit and nor should they have to. Giving parents no option but to lie about events that are important but not necessary isn’t exactly healthy, or teaching the next generation anything particularly valuable for that matter. But thanks for your comments.

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