More flexibility on term-time holidays could result in pupils missing lessons on long division or Newton’s Third Law, Nick Gibb has warned.
Responding to a debate on term time holidays secured as a result of a 120,000-name petition calling for an allowance of up to two weeks during term time each year in which holidays can be taken, the schools minister said school pupils needed “continuity”.
The petition called for the change to allow children to “learn other cultures and experience this vital social experience”, claiming the current system discriminated against poorer households, which suffered as a result of significantly higher holiday costs outside of term time.
Mr Gibb, who dismissed the call in the petition despite support from several Conservative colleagues and instead chose to focus on existing guidance issued by the National Association of Headteachers on when term time holidays could be granted, warned that children missing a step in the “sequence” of their education could “fall back” and struggle to catch up.
He said: “A two-week holiday might mean a pupil misses out on the lessons in which the teacher explains long division or long multiplication or perhaps fractions or Newton’s Third Law.”
Under the current rules, which were brought in in 2013, the opportunity to take children out of school for up to two weeks in any school year can be afforded at a headteacher’s discretion. Campaigners have called for more flexibility in the legislation and better guidance for heads on when to use that discretion.
Addressing concerns raised by Cornish MPs Steve Double, Derek Thomas and Scott Mann about the specific impact of restrictions on term-time holidays on the tourism industry and those who worked in it, Mr Gibb called for campaigners to work with councils and schools to change term dates.
He said: “The best approach in my judgment would be to use the term-time flexibilities, to change the school term time so that they take into account the particular industries of that part of the country.
“We know that holidays can be important and enriching experiences but so is school, and while we recognise the difficulties faced by some parents in taking holiday during particular times a year, disrupting their children’s education is not the answer.”
Mr Gibb said NAHT guidance made it “very clear” that there were circumstances they would regard as an exception, such as bereavement, important religious observances or visiting a “seriously ill relative”. He said the situations of service personnel also needed to be taken into account, as did those of families of people with special educational needs.
He said: “We encourage all parents and schools who want different term dates to discuss this with their local authorities or in other circumstances directly with their schools.”