I am a retired (2003) headteacher. The mother of two of our grandchildren is Vietnamese. Vietnam is too hot to visit in the school summer holidays. Her parent's home in Hanoi does not have air conditioning. The family often go to Vietnam for three weeks at Easter or the November half term. This always needs some time missed from school. The schools have been brilliant and have always allowed the time off despite the regulations. Mixed heritage families are now very common, so some such arrangements just have to be made possible. Every child surely has the right to visit their grandparents and extended families in other parts of the world. The cross-cultural educational benefits are huge.
My headship school was in a poor, inner-urban part of a northern town. Family holidays are important for all children, rich and poor alike, but so is not missing school.
In my headship school we designated the last week of the Summer Term as 'Activities Week' in which the normal school timetable did not operate. Instead, the pupils signed up for various activities provided by our teachers either in school or outdoors in the surrounding area, which is especially rich in opportunities. These were imaginative, often adventurous, educational and always enormously positive for social and relationship reasons.
We allowed parents to plan their own 'Activities Week' for their own children. This was in reality a family holiday declared to the school. We provided a comprehensive 'work pack' designed around the family activities and destination. This helped with our staffing of 'small group' school activities. Some excellent project work was done by pupils during their parent-led activities. For many years we recorded these family-led 'activities' as 'education off-site', doing work provided by the school, with the pupils marked as 'present', in the same way as for the pupils taking part in the school-organised activities. An HMI eventually told us we could not do that, but it seemed little different to other 'off-site' education that regularly took place at the local FE College and 'Adventure Centres'.
Our Activities Week was a very successful feature of the school year, strongly supported by governors and parents. The last week of the Summer Term sees little formal academic work taking place in most schools, however it was still much cheaper for parent-led 'activity holidays' than a week later, so this was a good solution to the problem, that was not opposed (it was actually supported) by the LEA Education Welfare Service. In fact a local LEA officer helped run a school-based activity!
Missing lessons for holidays in term time IS damaging. As well as being head, I taught science and maths, so I am clear how damaging missing vital lessons can be for the development of understanding of difficult topics.
I think the court decision is right. It is for schools supported by their LAs to come up with imaginative solutions to the problem. It is no business of the government. It is a Stalinist nightmare for a government to overule reasonable priorities that parents should be making for their own children. What happened to the idea of partnerships between parents, pupils, schools and the LA? The proper role of the government and LAs is to help schools come up with solutions. In Leicestershire the LEA ran its own residential 'study centre' in a former stately home. Cumbria LEA also ran a number of Outdoor Adventure Centres in the Lake District. I believe all these have been long closed in both counties. Just how miserable and dull does the government want the experiences of pupils and their teachers to be?
As for Academies, I assume they can do as they please, but how many are truly innovative in such matters?