The loneliness of an education correspondent in summer

Much like an Aussie batsman, I can’t wait for the summer to end.

What does an education reporter do during the long school holidays? It’s a question I’ve been asked every year as July approaches and the truth is, I’m still not really sure. I just seem to get through it somehow.

Summers are traditionally tough for newspapers. “Silly season” stories supposedly fill the pages when everyone else is on holiday.

Although the schools are closed for six weeks, the newspaper isn’t and I’m still required to come up with news.

So far it’s not been too quiet. In today’s Leicester Mercury we reveal the number of fines that have been given to parents who take their children out of school during term time.

It’s always a contentious topic. As in so many other ways parents and schools have become victims of today’s target culture.

In the old days head teachers could decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow holidays during the term – this still happens to a large extent – but they’re under pressure to reduce their absence figures.

Lower absence reflects well on each school and the combined rate in each local authority area reflects well on the council, which the Government uses to judge how well they are doing.

So now local authorities have the ability to fine parents it’s easy to see why it happens.

Head teachers who use their power to fine do so when they’ve explored all other ways to encourage pupils to come to school.

But I’d be interested to know whether any improvement in attendance because of the threat of fines outweighs the damage done to school-parent relationships which are so important in Leicester’s toughest areas.

It’s four weeks until A-level results day when schools stories will, once again, come thick and fast again.

In the meantime, I’ll have to try to find out what is going on behind the scenes – but it’s no substitute for reporting on what pupils and teachers are doing when the classrooms and staffrooms aren’t empty.

About Ian

A journalist working in Brussels
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6 Responses to The loneliness of an education correspondent in summer

  1. Andrew says:

    It’s very contentious even within schools. I have friends who took their children abroad for a couple of weeks during term time – but one is a governor of the school, and they are middle-class types who read to their children, take them on educational activities (this trip could have been considered one, touring historical and archaeological sites), and are supportive in other ways. I think you’d have to be anal about rules to insist that two weeks off school in those circumstances was damaging to education (unfortunately many schools are that anal about rules).

    On the other hand, there are families where children are persistently absent for longish periods with no apparent reason, and no probability that while they are out of school they are learning anything at all (other than how to act as a courier, steal cars, play on railway lines, etc). That sort of on-off school attendance, sometimes with the parents’ connivance and sometimes not, seriously disrupts the child’s education. But I’m not at all sure that fines have any effect in some of those cases – it’s a big mistake to assume that parents must have the ability to control that sort of child (or that the local authority would if the child was taken into care).

  2. Andy Bayford says:

    It is difficult situation. If parents are letting their kids miss school randomly then that is different to asking for a week out to go on holiday. Perhaps if their attendance the rest of the year is excellent, then the head teachers are right to let the kids go. A wider issue is clearly why parents want a week out, and the answer is probably the cost of holidays. If something could be done so that parents are not fleeced for taking their kids on holiday at the right time, then this would clearly help solve the problem. Perhaps schools could negotiate some special holiday rates. It is a simple supply and demand issue, and the demand is obviously greatest when the kids are on school holiday.

    • Ian says:

      Andy, you make a good point and in fact the head teacher I spoke to yesterday said she did exactly that: if parents requested a week’s holiday she would allow it if the pupil’s attendance rate was above a specified level.
      That sounds like common sense to me.

  3. Sue says:

    a lot of schools, our being one, set homework for the students to do while on holiday IF they are allowed to go… I doubt if its done but the school does try…
    Dont worry Ian there are some of us still in school, someone has to man the reception during the holidays

    • Ian says:

      The school can only do so much. Ultimately it’s the parents’ choice whether to take children on holiday in term time – and whether they do their homework. And that’s probably as it should be.

      Glad to hear it Sue! Don’t work too hard. (At least it’s raining!)

  4. You can’t be lonely sitting across from me Ian.

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