Principals can be flexible about taking time for family trips

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 10:09am

My two children attend an international primary school that has guidelines against taking pupils out of school in term time. In six months time, my family will celebrate my grandfather's 90th birthday, and we will all unite in England. I'm anxious about asking to take my children out of school for two weeks. Can I ask the teacher to set some work?

I would advise you to contact the school's principal explaining your reasons for wanting to take your children out of school. Usually permission for this type of situation is at the discretion of the principal.

While I can understand the views of those who advocate a zero-tolerance approach to long-term absence from school as the only way of stopping parents from taking their children off for a sun-soaked holiday during term time, every situation is different.

Expatriate life, when people often live a long way from their families, occasionally demands action when there is a family illness or special celebration such as this one, and most schools do take a common-sense approach.

But it can be tempting for parents to take their children out of school simply for a holiday, as flights and packages can be much cheaper during term time. Most schools take a hard line in those circumstances.

Whether or not schools will provide work depends on the type of curriculum in place. Part of the reason for not doing so is that education is now more skill based and less worksheet orientated, which makes it harder to set meaningful tasks.

Schools sometimes offer a range of ideas for interesting and educational activities that can be done during holidays, and this may be useful for your trip.

There are often suitable activities on school websites and learning platforms, and there are interactive online activities that your children could do.

My advice would be not to worry too much about a perceived lack of academic activities for a couple of weeks. Use your trip to provide great life experiences and precious memories for your children. They could use their creative and technical skills to make the occasion special.

They might make a special card for their great grandfather's birthday, and take photos and videos on the day to put in a special album, or as raw material for a computer presentation of the day. They could be directly involved in the day itself, by writing a speech, reading a poem, or performing a chosen song or musical piece.

Trips are always a great opportunity for art and craft activities such as making scrapbooks. It is also an ideal time for children to learn more about their home country and culture. You could analyse maps of your route, and investigate distances you will be travelling.

On top of this, make sure your children are reading a range of different texts every day.

Encourage them to use books, newspapers, magazines and electronic media to learn about local and international affairs and use open questions such as: "What do you think about …" to challenge them.

Having a child away from class for several weeks can be frustrating for teachers, and unfair on the other students in the class if the teacher has to spend blocks of time filling in gaps on their return.

In linear subjects like maths, where learning a concept relies on previous understanding, it is impossible for teachers to replicate missed lessons, so the gap in learning can be hard to fill.

Even if parents are advised of this, and try to teach the concept themselves, differences in the methodology and notation may confuse the child.

Most principals would be flexible in processing a request like yours. Send a letter in good time, or better still, pay a visit in person. I would be surprised if there is a problem.