The weekly debate from our panel of experts
There has been a lot of debate about the rising cost of family breaks during school holidays. It has been an emotive issue and one which our panel of experts took a look at in our first Friday commentary. We have seen parents take to social media and groups lobbying for government intervention and price regulation, resulting in a parliamentary debate. The travel industry respond by stating it is responding to a simple case of supply and demand, coupled with the summer season being the only time several large operators turn a profit.
Over the last couple of months since this story first came to the fore we have seen a plethora of ideas for how best to deal with the situation be suggested. One idea which seemed to gain traction has been a proposed reduction in air passenger duty during the summer holidays; this has been supported by the airline industry and Michael Gove, the Education secretary. Scrapping the tax in summer could save a family between £52 & £376 on an overseas holiday. A controversial suggestion has been to take the kids out of school for a term-time break, an option which (though once acceptable) has been banned by recent legislation, and now incurs a hefty fine, as Stewart and Natasha Sutherland found out.
Both sides of the argument have responded to this with holiday companies offering to pay parents’ fines and the Department for Education stating that:
“Poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect and children who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent. Parents should never simply discount a possible penalty notice from the cost of a cheaper holiday, because this is a criminal offence and when doing so they are always risking prosecution.”
This week we put it to our panel of experts: “Is it fair to fine parents who take their children out of school during term time to save money?”
Gretta Schifano: providing travel inspiration at Mums Do Travel
“No – unless the children are missing important exams or preparation. If children miss a few days at the start or end of term so that their family can afford a holiday by avoiding school break price hikes then I don’t think parents should be fined for that. I think we should return to the system which was in place a few years ago, whereby school Heads could give permission, or not, for children to miss school in order to go on holiday. That system worked perfectly well. Research has shown that holidays make families happier and improve their quality of life. The current dogmatic insistence on no holidays in term time means that many families will never be able to take their children on holiday and I think that’s wrong.”
Get more travel inspiration from Gretta at Mumsdotravel.com.
Liat Hughes Joshi: parenting journalist and author
“Schools’ pupil attendance statistics are monitored closely nowadays and this places a lot of pressure on head teachers to ensure children are in school as much as possible. It’s not just about data though – children who miss school unnecessarily have to play catch up and that takes up teacher time as well as their own free time e.g. breaks/after school. Of course we can all argue that a fortnight away will be more educational than being at school and sometimes that’s the case, but I think as parents we’re a bit too ready to wheel that argument out… Two weeks of touring Asia, yes maybe; a fortnight on the Spanish Costas without sampling any local culture or speaking the language, less so.
It’s a very tricky issue and it is hard for families who can’t afford to take their children on a holiday outside of term time – it genuinely is so much more expensive. I don’t know what the answer to that is because that’s market forces – there is much more demand in August, and I don’t believe the Government should intervene and make travel companies cap prices.
I also think that some head teachers are on occasions being a little too rigid in fining parents and applying the rules – at one school I know of there is a closure for election day on a Thursday in May and parents have been told that if their child is ill on the Friday they will have to obtain a doctor’s note. Fine if your child is so sick they need to go to the doctors anyway but often that’s not the case – if they have flu or a bad cold – so there will be children being dragged to waiting rooms (when they actually need to be asleep on the sofa), and taking up GP time too. GP surgeries are obviously busy and don’t need this either. Surely parents should be trusted unless they have a track record of bending the rules too far, rather than this blanket approach?
That’s what I think annoys parents – we understand why fines have been introduced as some families were taking children out too much but there’s no flexibility. A child who has perfect attendance all year could miss a day or two for a good reason without it harming their education but everyone gets treated the same.”
Liat Hughes Joshi is a London-based freelance journalist and author of Raising Children: The Primary Years (Pearson/ Prentice Hall Life). She has written for a range of national newspapers, magazines and websites on parenting and education matters. Twitter: @liathughesjoshi.
Sian Reynolds: wife, mother, food blogger, and freelance writer of food and travel
“I think this is always going to be a contentious issue and one that I can see from both sides of the argument. Removing a child from school during term time for a holiday is against policy and we should be instilling an ability to follow ‘rules’ in our children, as this is something that they will need to be able to do during their working lives. However, the higher rates charged by the travel industry during peak times often put a family holiday out of reach for families. We are all aware that holidays are not just about lazing around and often have an educational benefit for the whole family, not just the children. The ability to learn about a different culture, or even just a different part of our country, can have multiple benefits. Unless there is a complete overhaul of the whole system, both of the travel industry and the education system, this is something that will arise time and time again. Until then, perhaps a judgement based on each individual case is the way forward.”
Follow Sian on her blog at www.fishfingersfortea.co.uk.
Dr Amanda Gummer: psychologist specialising in child development, play and parenting
“Continuity of education is important. With the creative curriculum in primary schools and coursework making up such a lot of secondary school work, it can be difficult for children to catch up with missed work which can affect confidence and friendships as well as grades. However, with UK holidays being so much more expensive during school holidays, and family time being so precious with increasingly busy lives, working parents, and extra-curricular activities, I can completely understand why parents feel strongly that they should prioritise time for a family holiday and if necessary, missing a couple of days at the end of term could be justified. There’s a huge difference in my mind between families who take children out of school for a fortnight in the middle of an exam year, and those who miss the last couple of days of term in order to afford a family holiday that would otherwise be out of reach.”
Dr Gummer’s comment courtesy of www.ukmums.tv.
So there are the thoughts of our panel of experts. It seems this is a contentious issue, and one which is not likely to go away any time soon. As we approach this year’s summer it could well come to the fore again if we see significant numbers of parents being fined for a day out here or there. Carry on the debate by commenting on this story, and sharing your thoughts with us on our Facebook page.