Taking children out of school to travel is not ‘unjustified’: bad policy from NSW Govt

By Linda Knight

I was dismayed by the announcement that time away from school for family holidays will now be marked as “unjustified” absences in NSW public schools. I am an academic who works in education so I understand very well, and support, the importance of consistency in learning, however I do not support this new policy.

Like many Australians I have close family members living overseas. I am about to take long service leave and traditionally this is the time used by people like me to catch up with family. I intend to do exactly that. However because of the distances and time involved in my travel plans I will have to take my ten year-old daughter out of school for 11 weeks.

During this time away from school, as well as seeing her family ( which I feel is invaluable), she will experience several different cultures and their histories firsthand. We have plans for her to create an art journal, research and write a history blog and write a travel journal, as well as do work from her maths workbook. I don’t believe for a minute she will be missing out on having an education for eleven weeks.

Apparently (unnamed) research correlates school attendance with academic performance. This infers not attending school, no matter the reason, is likely to result in poor academic performance.

I would like to know what is deemed ‘academic performance’ in this context. NAPLAN results? If this is the case then the policy is based on silliness.

And I am wondering where the idea came from. In the UK there has been a similar crackdown on parents taking children out of school, but it was aimed at the widespread practice of overseas workers taking their children out of school to see family at times outside the rainy season (which usually falls during the British summer school holidays).

Yes I have been told that I am speaking from a privileged position being an academic working in education. However I don’t think my reaction comes from privilege at all – after all, many children in Australia are taken out of school for a range of ( as I see it) legitimate reasons such as travel, cultural rites and responsibilities, elite sports and more.

I think the real issue here is about a singular definition of education. To me education is a lot more than just NAPLAN results or having a child go to school just so someone can tick a box and the government can claim it is doing as good job keeping children in school. I believe there shouldn’t be a uniform clampdown on attendance that forbids any chance for a child who is well to have time away from school.

Yes, policy is complex and there are many worrying reasons children do not attend school on a regular basis, and I understand very clearly that non-attendance bears an impact on education. Despite these complexities I’m still inclined to question our ingrained views of the nature of schooling.

Who is to say my child is not getting a better education traveling (and learning) with her family for eleven weeks than sitting in a classroom for the same amount of time?

Schooling, as we understand it today in Australian schools, might not be quite the best fit that it perhaps once was. I realise that is a big statement to make, and I know I say it as someone who has indeed benefited from having an education.

But I believe it bears thinking about when we are moving to a process whereby we are almost incarcerating children through the use of punishments and fines to force them to attend school.


Linda Knight copyLinda Knight is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology, Australia. A researcher and artist, Linda is interested in radical pedagogies, and philosophies and theories of childhood. Specifically she has explored: Deleuzian and Guattarian theories in relation to early childhood and education; drawing as a critical act; pedagogic sites and acts; and disruptive and unconventional methodologies.

Linda has a sustained reputation as an international artist, exhibiting in Australia, New Zealand, USA and UK over a period of 20 years and her work is held in private collections in USA and UK, and in research collections in Australia.


3 thoughts on “Taking children out of school to travel is not ‘unjustified’: bad policy from NSW Govt

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Linda. There is no question about it. Your 10 year old daughter will learn more during her 11 weeks out of the classroom, immersed in other cultures and new experiences, than she would during classroom hours over the same period. I only wish we could make it possible for such trips to be compulsory for all students.

  2. John House says:

    I wonder if we are making students excessively reliant on grade segregated classrooms and standardized lesson plans. I surmise that substantial benefit would come from introducing students and parents to a “can do” syllabus and expectations, and allowing for individualized context sensitive support. Education in developed countries hearkens to the days when students were prepared to be clerks and factory workers, and when parents were often illiterate or marginally literate.

  3. Patrice Simpson says:

    I also totally agree with Linda Knight’s stand on this. The new Australian curriculum states “Intercultural understanding is an essential part of living with others in the diverse world of the twenty-first century. It assists young people to become responsible local and global citizens, equipped through their education for living and working together in an interconnected world.” What better way is there for young Australians to develop their intercultural understanding than to give them opportunities to explore other cultures for themselves. Shopping in an overseas marketplace, taking in the all the sights, sounds and aromas is a much better learning experience than researching it on the internet and giving a Powerpoint presentation.

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