I took my children out of school for a ten week trip around the world… and I'm convinced it's the best education they could have. The fine will be worth every penny!

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Last week, my three children and I returned from an incredible ten-week trip to Asia, where we travelled to Bali in Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Phuket and Krabi in Thailand and Bentota in Sri Lanka.

We also spent a day each in Doha in Qatar and Shenzhen in China as we transferred between flights. That’s six countries visited during a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Meanwhile, my children’s friends were doing maths and spelling at school beneath grey UK skies.

For this, I could be fined — at least for my eldest’s absence. Indeed, catching up on the news, I discovered that parents have been threatened with an increase to the penalty they already get for taking their children out of lessons in term-time.

In an effort to crack down on parents like me who take their kids out of school, the Government’s new ‘attendance drive’, announced last month, will increase the fine from £60 to £80 for longer than a five-day absence from the classroom, with the threat of prosecution if it isn’t paid.

Molly Gunn with her three children in Bali. 'Indeed, it's my firm belief that while our adventure won't help with the stuffy curriculum, it will definitely have boosted their life education'

Molly Gunn with her three children in Bali. ‘Indeed, it’s my firm belief that while our adventure won’t help with the stuffy curriculum, it will definitely have boosted their life education’

But if that happens I will take it on the chin, for I am one of a growing number of parents who are viewing attendance in a new way: flexibly!

Despite piling our jumpers back on, we are all happy to be back at our Somerset home. It must be said, however, that the children — my son, aged 13 and in Year 8; his younger brother, aged ten and in Year 6; and my daughter, aged six and in Year 2 — have distinctly mixed feelings about returning to school, which they will do after the Easter holidays end next week.

Did we have an amazing time on our extended trip? Yes. Did they miss their friends? Yes. Did they learn a lot while travelling? Yes. Do I think it will affect their education? Yes! But not negatively.

Indeed, it’s my firm belief that while our adventure won’t help with the stuffy curriculum, it will definitely have boosted their life education.

Their school work will be fine, too — they’ll catch up on what they’ve missed within a term and, I believe, be much better off for it.

In a rapidly changing world, the UK schooling system is far too rigid and is lagging behind the times. A decade on from Michael Gove’s reform of the National Curriculum and the general consensus is that it still isn’t working. While the Government prioritises maths and English, there is little focus on arts, music and drama — areas which have all been cut, despite an important arts and culture economy in the UK, which is precisely what I’d like my children to dive into when they’re older.

Hands up — I’m exactly the sort of parent the Government wants to crack down on with their new term-time tax.

I think a five-day school week spent sitting in the classroom isn’t necessarily equipping youngsters for a working life in a world where the future jobscape is AI-friendly and most probably freelance, like my job as a writer.

To me, their education can only be improved with quality time spent outside the classroom, experiencing the school of life. Travelling can only add to the richness of their learning.

Take, for instance, the awareness of geography and eye-opening culture that taking them to Asia made possible. They got practical, daily maths lessons in each country we visited as we mentally converted the currencies. For example, £1 is 20,036 Indonesian Rupiah: my kids loved that we were millionaires when we converted £50!

Molly's sons in Sri Lanka. 'When it comes to taking trips during school time, yes, it sounds like a luxury ¿ but escapism is important, and the Government forgets that, to most normal people, holidays are expensive'

Molly’s sons in Sri Lanka. ‘When it comes to taking trips during school time, yes, it sounds like a luxury — but escapism is important, and the Government forgets that, to most normal people, holidays are expensive’

The school of life is so valuable, even down to the tight budgeting I got the kids involved in on our trip. Not to mention their swimming skills, which they improved daily with time in pools and sea.

Most other parents think I’m brave or daring for taking my kids out of school. I shared pictures of our journey on my @SelfishMother Instagram feed, and the response has been mainly positive, with parents keen to know how the should go about it, too.

When it comes to taking trips during school time, yes, it sounds like a luxury — but escapism is important, and the Government forgets that, to most normal people, holidays are expensive.

To be honest, it wasn’t an easy thing to orchestrate and it took months of planning. My husband, Tom, a music producer, joined us for two weeks of the trip, but otherwise he had work commitments in the UK.

Nonetheless, we decided it made sense to rent out our house while Tom stayed with friends, so we had to clear out the possessions of a family of five.

I went to the trouble of un-enrolling my younger two from their state schools for a whole term. The benefit of living in rural Somerset is that their primary schools are not oversubscribed.

There is no waiting list so I was able to do that, and then re-enrol them for the summer term. This was the best way to go about the trip so as not to receive fines. With my eldest child, I’ll confess, I’ve had to roll the dice. After a discussion with his school, I opted for an unauthorised absence so that I didn’t lose his place.

We shall see whether that leads to a fine or not. But sometimes you have to live life on the edge, and I felt that now was the time to travel. And besides, I saved so much money by dodging extortionate school holiday prices.

From plane fares, to hotel rooms, to car hire — everything costs more during the school holidays . . . a lot more.

The price of a vacation is so expensive during school holidays that it can often feel prohibitive to the average family — last summer, we didn’t go away at all because funds were so tight.

My eldest is choosing his GCSEs next year, and I felt a term out now was better than later down the line. My middle child will be sitting his SATs after Easter, and I realise this may not have been the ideal time to travel.

But he’s a bright child and is brilliantly artistic, and I wasn’t going to put our life on hold so he could cram for an exam created by the Government to measure attainment levels.

There’s no real benefit from SATs for my children, as far as I am concerned. Far more valuable will be the experience of travelling . . . or the experience of creating the pop-up art show I put on with him last December. The fact that he can put ‘Hosted an Art Show’ at the age of ten on his CV will be far more useful in the future than his SATs results.

The family try on masks at an Indonesian market. 'It hasn't escaped me that I'm talking from a privileged middle-class standpoint, where taking my children out of school for a day, week or term is done with the thought and care to enrich their lives in other ways'

The family try on masks at an Indonesian market. ‘It hasn’t escaped me that I’m talking from a privileged middle-class standpoint, where taking my children out of school for a day, week or term is done with the thought and care to enrich their lives in other ways’

Molly's children in Kuala Lumpur. 'Of course, the issue of school refusal and children missing lessons simply to doss about is a big concern. After all, we all want an educated country'

Molly’s children in Kuala Lumpur. ‘Of course, the issue of school refusal and children missing lessons simply to doss about is a big concern. After all, we all want an educated country’

I did no official home-schooling while we were away, but it’s interesting how, at various points, my children ‘self-schooled’ — my daughter sat down to make slime, as though she was in a chemistry lesson; my middle son would draw in his notepad regularly; my eldest learnt Spanish and Indonesian on Duolingo every night before bed.

It hasn’t escaped me that I’m talking from a privileged middle-class standpoint, where taking my children out of school for a day, week or term is done with the thought and care to enrich their lives in other ways.

Of course, the issue of school refusal and children missing lessons simply to doss about is a big concern. After all, we all want an educated country, and it’s worrying what happens to kids who are sedentary at home on their own, watching and playing on screens all day instead of socialising or learning at school.

Could it be that if the school curriculum had a big old shake-up, with more focus brought into the creative art subjects, then kids might actually want to go to school more?

And how about the Government put a cap on holiday companies increasing travel prices during school holidays?

Or what about the radical idea that school time is more flexible generally — as flexi-working has become since the pandemic? Could that suit parents’ working life better, too? School attendance is at an all-time low. In former Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman’s final report last year, she found ‘far too many children are missing school far too often’.

It’s no surprise — the pandemic opened our eyes to a world where school wasn’t mandatory.

Like a collective consciousness, we’ve realised that if children aren’t in school every single day of term, the wheels don’t fall off. The world doesn’t stop turning if kids don’t have a 100 per cent attendance record. Buzz phrases such as home-schooling, school of life, online learning and mental health days no longer seem so woo-woo, and suddenly are viable options worth exploring.

Molly's Instagram post with her children on the beach in Sanur, Bali. 'I've allowed my children odd days off school for myriad reasons: actual illness but also those days when I can see they are exhausted from the routine ¿ let's call those 'mental-health-duvet-days'

Molly’s Instagram post with her children on the beach in Sanur, Bali. ‘I’ve allowed my children odd days off school for myriad reasons: actual illness but also those days when I can see they are exhausted from the routine — let’s call those ‘mental-health-duvet-days’

No doubt my views will appal many parents and teachers, but I’ve seen for myself the benefits liberation can bring. I’m grateful for our country’s school system and the education it gives my children, while also giving me free childcare, but I must admit I felt attendance rules were malleable even before Covid.

I’m not sure where I get this renegade view, since I’m the daughter of a teacher: my mum taught French at the prestigious Prior’s Field girls’ boarding school, near Guildford.

I am now 46, and in the early 1990s my parents’ iron will to adhere to attendance rules felt as rigid as the blazer I had to wear to my Roman Catholic comprehensive in Merrow, Surrey.

I was never, ever allowed a day off school unless the thermometer was showing I had a temperature as hot as the stodgy school dinner I’d be forced to eat at lunchtime.

I’ve allowed my children odd days off school for myriad reasons: actual illness, of course, but also those days when I can see they are exhausted from the routine — let’s call those ‘mental-health-duvet-days’. I’ve taken them to London to work meetings, such as a buying meeting at John Lewis, or an event at charity Save the Children.

READ MORE: HARRY WALLOP: Should you ban your family from smartphones?
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I’ve given them days off for trips to the beach, or a Friday here and there for a long weekend in Cornwall. I’ve allowed them entire weeks off to go on holiday, for example to Ibiza or Paxos.

To me this makes sense. Because life is a lesson worth learning in itself, and life doesn’t just happen at the weekend.

My children are all bright and intelligent and I want them to be worldly, too. As a middle-class mother, my interest is in giving them the brightest breadth of life possible and I’m not sure that’s always found in a classroom.

With this new attendance drive, it feels almost as though the Government is making us choose between taking a holiday with a fine, or a more expensive holiday without a fine.

The £20 rise in the cost of the fine will do little to deter the people such as me, who have always broken the rules anyway. But it might be a thorn in the side of people who find it hard to force their children to go to school, especially when their life is pretty hard anyway.

When I was 14 I had glandular fever, which magically got me two months off school. My parents were satisfied to let me stay at home as I was genuinely ill with a doctor’s note to prove it. I must admit I milked that time, and very much enjoyed being bed-bound with puzzles and copies of Just Seventeen magazine.

Did those two months out of my school life affect my outcome negatively? Absolutely not! When I returned to school I felt as though I’d hardly missed a beat — and, yes, a few years later I came out academically well-off with GCSEs, A-levels and a university degree.

A couple of months out of the classroom won’t have hurt my children either — and I hope that the time they spend in school in future won’t sap them of their creative drive. That’s why I’m convinced those ten weeks we have spent touring the Far East has been the best education they could possibly have had.