Cheap flights are luring droves of families on holidays during school term time - to college principals' despair.
Thousands of dollars can be saved on flights and accommodation by travelling mid-term, but the resulting missed or failed NCEA assessments can not only impact on students' academic record, but schools' league table rankings.
Skipping class could put two years' academic difference between students, said Katrina Casey, the Ministry of Education's head of sector enablement and support.
"Each time a child is absent is a missed learning opportunity. Children may find it hard to grasp later material if they miss out on foundation concepts. That in turn can lead to a child becoming demotivated," she said.
Wellington Girls' College principal Julia Davidson received 250 requests for term-time absences last year, from a roll of 1300 students. It was a "startling" number, she said.
Ski jaunts, cheaper on weekdays, were a common reason for absence, but Australian and European trips also rated highly, Davidson said.
The college denied permission to families wanting a holiday during the school term, and refused to provide extra work to help students catch up, she said.
The argument that holidays broadened children's minds did not wash with Wellington College principal Roger Moses.
It was unlikely students would gain academically from studying "the glorious geography of the Gold Coast", he said.
Holiday absenteeism was a problem for most schools and was on the rise, Moses said.
Like Davidson, he would not provide catch-up help to students returning from holiday.
"You can't expect teachers to provide work for them to help them catch up. I'm sure teachers would also like to take a cheap holiday in term time."
Schools had the right to prosecute for truancy, but few schools were prepared to take such a heavy-handed approach, Rongotai College principal Kevin Carter said.
"There's very little principals can do apart from voice our disapproval."
Students got 12 weeks' holiday a year, ample time to travel overseas, Carter said.
Some internal assessments could be rescheduled or handed in early, but others, like geography fieldwork, required attendance, he said.
Colleges' rankings on league tables were affected by student absences, Porirua College principal Susanne Jungersen said.
Some students did not complete NCEA at all, having left the country permanently, but the failure was still marked against a school's record, Jungersen said, adding absences were such a problem last year that attendance had been made an urgent priority for 2014.
"It's quite hard to explain to parents that the system has changed, it's not like the old days when they were at school. Every day is a preparation for your next assessment," she said.
GETTING ABROAD EDUCATION
Six weeks in Europe and Africa did a world of good for Gretchen Leuthart's three daughters, the Wellington mother said.
Leuthart and husband Stephen McDougall took daughters Lily, now 15, Emmanuelle, 11, and Eve, 9, to London, France and Tunisia in July-August 2012.
The children missed two weeks of school either side of the holidays, partly to coincide with a family reunion in Tunisia, Leuthart said.
The girls' teachers at Clyde Quay School and Wellington East Girls' College approved of the trip and suggested work they could do, like a daily journal, Leuthart said.
"This wasn't about taking them out of school to lie by a pool in Fiji.
"They were lucky to have such a rich experience, visiting museums, galleries, learning history and art history, being exposed to different cultures, buying food in the markets in France and Tunisia, tasting new foods and, best of all, connecting with extended family."
Lily, then 13, was in her first year at college and did not miss any internal assessments, Leuthart said.
She kept up with English and maths work, improved her French, and is now top in social studies.
"She felt she had first-hand knowledge of history and places and was inspired to learn more.
"Education doesn't only come from school ... Learning can happen everywhere. This was not only about laying down unforgettable memories for them but also rich learning experiences."
TIMING IS ALL
Return flights for a family of four to Brisbane in the mid-year holidays, $2856. Fly in term 2, you'd save $776.
Return flights for a family of four to Samoa in the mid-year holidays, $3516. Fly in term 2 and you'd save $540.
Return flights for a family of four to London in the mid-year holidays, $13,768. Fly in term 2 and you'd save $1624.
Source: Air New Zealand, booking.com
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