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Term time holiday blues

At a time of year when the media is bombarding us with holiday advertising, and many families are booking a summer break, The Marking Pile takes a look at the issue of holidays in term time.

“I’ll risk taking the fine,” says one parent, in a simple matter-of-fact manner. “It’s not fair,” says another, wanting to play by the rules but, ironically, bearing a far greater financial burden for doing so.

High profile cases have brought the issue of parents taking children out of school for holidays into the wider public domain. For parents, and schools, however, the issue is often a constant nuisance, threat, injustice or necessity, depending on how it affects the individual or organisation.

Let’s be straight here. Term time holidays are usually far cheaper than they are during scheduled school holiday closures. Transport prices such as flights and ferries increase significantly for dates when children break-up from school, as do the prices for accommodation.

For example, return flights for a family of four from Luton to Corfu on the first Sunday of July, returning a week later (Easyjet) are, at the time of writing, a shade over £730. Fast forward to what for most is the first week of the school holidays, and this increases to almost £1250. A four night stay at Butlins in Skegness increases from £329 to £747 from the beginning to the end of July. Similarly, a woodland lodge at the Longleat Center Parcs resort increases from £599 to £1049 for the same duration.

For many families this immediately prices them out of a holiday. You might shrug your shoulders and say ‘too bad’ but for families holidays are the perfect time to escape from everyday life and have quality time together. And this should not be underestimated. The Family Holiday Association, a charity aiming to increase the number of families who gain access to holidays, suggests that advantages include: time to talk to each other, escape from the daily routine, making memories and finding out what makes us tick. Research backs their promotion of social tourism – supporting families who cannot afford holidays. In 2015 there were in the region of 1.5 million families in the UK who could not even afford a day out.

Holiday companies are often slated for not helping the situation with the seasonal price hikes but neither do education policy makers. Yes, it is clear that there are children who do not attend school enough – absence can seriously damage their educational, and later life prospects, but equally there are families with children who have a very high percentage of attendance but would like to be able to afford a week away during term time, with all of the advantages that can bring. And when weighed up against these advantages, does a few days away from school really warrant a fine which can rise to as much as £120 per parent per absence, especially when the handing down of these fines changes from one local authority to another.

Even if a family can afford the price of a vacation during school holiday times, is it such a big issue if they are gaining valuable family time? There are families who financial pressures don’t apply to but the nature of jobs of parents, for example, seasonal workers or employees in a workforce with lots of parents of young children, mean that it’s not always possible to take time off when school terms dictate that they should. And just to throw in another perspective, what about school staff? Of course, there will always be the argument from some that teachers get paid enough and get plenty of holidays, but what about school support staff. Teaching assistants, office staff, lunchtime supervisors and providers of child care are generally low paid (and often not paid at all during school holidays) but are an indispensable part of our education system – it would not function without them.

All in all, there is a system in which holiday pricing needs looking at but so do the rules for taking children out of school during term time. A fairer system is needed, and this may take the use of common sense, something sadly lacking in some aspects of educational policy making at the moment.

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