A trend of parents taking advantage of cheap flights and accommodation during the school term is leading to gaps in student learning, warn New Zealand principals.
Of nearly 10,000 people who participated in a Stuff.co.nz survey on whether it was ok to take children on holiday during the school term, 62% voted yes, and 38% voted no.
However, some schools, as well as the New Zealand Ministry of Education, say this is only doing harm to students’ learning.
Phil Holstein, Burnside High School principal, said during the last decade serving as a principal in Christchurch, he had noticed a spike in parents taking their children out of school for holidays.
The number of parents taking their children abroad during school term increased sharply following the Christchurch earthquake in 2011, with many families needing to spend time away from the city.
Holstein told Stuff.co.nz that while those circumstances were understandable for Christchurch’s residents, the rest of the country did not have that excuse.
"When it comes down to it, the learning they miss... they do have gaps, and it does impact on them," Holstein said.
Frances Nelson, Auckland Primary Principals' Association (APPA) president, said the issue was becoming “significantly more common," adding there were moral and ethical drivers for children to be at school at the right time, as well as the obvious educational benefits.
"There are important lessons for students who go through the school system and out into the world in general. You have obligations and coming to school every day is one of them,” Nelson said.
"We have parents who say, 'Oh, I've never done this before, I've only done it once'. And for some that's true and for others it's an annual event."
Susanne Jungersen, Porirua College principal, said her school has struggled with parents to keep their students in class.
"They are going up the line to visit granny for two months, over to see family in the islands for a while or babysitting younger family members, even doing some work for a while,” Jungersen said.
"The board knows that this happens and they have been looking to deliver the hard message to parents that it needs to stop."
In the UK, schools have taken parents to court for taking their children out of school for holidays during term time, with many of them facing significant fines.
Results from a 2013 TNS survey, carried out for Southern Cross Health Insurance, revealed 45% of parents took their children on an overseas holiday. Of that group, 42% had chosen to travel during school term time.
Evidence has shown that students who attend school regularly perform better in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), New Zealand’s equivalent of the Higher School Certificate (HSC).