In September 2013 a new rule came into effect which prevented schools from granting pupils time off school, except for in ‘exceptional circumstances’. As such, parents who make the decision to remove their children from school to take them on holiday are doing so in a manner inconsistent with the law of the land and risk a penalty. Previously pupils could have been granted up to ten days leave without ramifications; however that is no longer the case. As a result, the number of parents being fined for taking term time holidays has increased by over 70%. Surely, this seems resonable. You break the law, you get fined.
That is, of course, until you consider why parents choose to take holidays during term times. Of course there are some parents whose holidays are previously prescribed to them or who simply cannot take time off at any other period of the year, but for the vast majority the decision is a financial one. Peak holiday demand drives up prices for flights and accommodation and many argue that the only way they can afford a family holiday is to take one during off peak periods, such as term time.A trip to Disneyland in Paris costs almost £400 more during school holidays for example, while a trip to Centre Parks last year would have cost you £890 more during the summer break. Such savings may be unlikely to deter you from the possibility of a £60 fine per child.
The fine, however, is not the only cost we should really we counting up. Despite the argument that holidays are for a relatively short period of time, a child who misses one week of school for holidays each year would miss at least 70 days over their years in education, amounting to three months of school. The DfE have stated how damaging poor attendance can be and pointed out that pupils who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent. They also closely monitor school’s attendance figures and put pressures on head teachers to ensure that these figures remain high.
When the issue was debated by MPs, not one member supported the call to put pricing caps on holiday firms cashing in on the school holidays. In balance, such a cap would be incredibly difficult to enforce and may result in further difficulties booking holidays. It is, after all, a simple case of supply and demand. The solution put forward by MPs was to give schools the power to stagger their holidays. I remain unconvinced, however, that this is a viable suggestion. Certain times of the year are always going to need holidays placed around them: Christmas, Easter, a portion of the summer etc. Furthermore, a family with pupils at different stages of their education will still require all the schools their children attend to be on holiday at the same time for such a solution to work. If schools decide their holiday dates independently, this may not be the result.
For me, the solution lies with the schools and those who run them. In my school, this problem of holidays is minute compared to the amount of regular absentees and late pupils. These issues seriously impair the education a child receives. In my primary school, if a child is an hour late two times a week, they will miss 40% of their maths provision. If this is a regular occurrence, it has a significant impact on that child’s progression. In such cases, I fully support bringing fines or legal action against the parents who persistently fail their children, which borders on neglect. I believe the decision on holidays should have a more ‘common sense’ approach. Perhaps if the child’s attendance is above a certain percentage, for example 97% for the previous academic year, and the family wish to take their child on a holiday realising that this is not a luxury to be afforded to them annually, I believe the school should have the authority to authorise that on a one off basis.
There are no easy answers in this debate. It is possible for a parent to receive a criminal record for taking their children on holidays. However, for some, a ban on term time holidays means a ban on holidays altogether. Is a holiday a basic right? Should schools have the authority to fine parents for taking a holiday during term time? Does the solution lie in changing term times? How far behind will a child fall in a week or two? Do the skills acquired on a holiday potentially outweigh the lessons missed in class? Should children be allowed to holiday during term times?