Row over schoolchildren at country shows

Steve Gibbon and John Fort. Picture: Adrian Murray (1409031AM3)
Steve Gibbon and John Fort. Picture: Adrian Murray (1409031AM3)
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A campaign calling on education authorities to see sense over term-time absences has been stepped up by the organisers of the Nidderdale Agricultural Show.

In previous years, headteachers have turned a blind eye to children taking time out of school to attend such events including the Great Yorkshire Show.

But, since September last year, parents faced fines of £60 a day for each such “unauthorised absence”, and organisers fear these measures may have a long term effect.

Action is needed now, say the Nidderdale Agricultural Society (NAS), to allow children to experience such aspects of rural life and safeguard the future of the countryside.

“The children of today are the next committee for our show,” said member Steve Gibbon. “If they aren’t allowed to attend such events the shows will soon disappear.”

It is important for children to get involved in rural life at a young age, he said, and agricultural shows play a huge part in their education.

“Young handlers, from the age of five, take part in the competitions,” he said. “That’s when a lot of them first get involved in country life.

“It’s a great feeling. Standing there before the crowds, in their white shirts, and polished shoes. It’s a great part of showing - and the start of a lifetime in farming and rural life.”

The row over schoolchildren attending such events began a year ago when tough new measures to clamp down on term-time absences were introduced by Government.

Earlier this year, organisers of the Great Yorkshire Show (GYS) invited former education secretary Michael Gove to Harrogate in an attempt to change his mind.

“In typical fashion, the rules were written to stop people going on a holiday in term time,” Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, said at the time.

“Unfortunately, the pendulum has now swung to the point where even one day off is now questioned. That is an over-reaction.

“It’s disappointing to see an unintended consequence affecting something which is part and parcel of rural life.”

In Nidderdale, many schools have come up with a solution to the problem, arranging teacher training days and school trips so that pupils can attend.

But the problem is a wider issue, say the NAS, with people coming from all over the Harrogate district and even Yorkshire to attend.

“If you stop children going to shows like this, a lot of them will falter,” said Mr Gibbon.

“Things are happening even now on the showground, the excitement is building. It’s buzzing. It’s a big event for the district.”

Now, the NAS has stepped up the campaign, creating an education trail at this year’s event on Monday, September 22, to prove its value to the authorities.

These leaflet trails, designed by Ellen Verity, will take children to all corners of the showground to find out more about farming and agriculture. In future years, organisers hope to expand further on this, demonstrating to the authorities what part such shows play in young people’s education.

These children are the future of the farming world, said Mr Gibbon, and their education needs to start now if they are to be involved for evermore.

“I am a parent myself and it is important to me that my children attend these events and take part and learn things they might not do sat behind a desk in a class room,” he said.

“In these days, of horsemeant scandals and more, they should feel comfortable asking questions.”

To find out more about the campaign, or to join in with the education leaflets at Nidderdale Show on September 22, email info@nidderd

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