The issue of taking kids out of schools during term time frequently rears its heads, and as we begin the slow build up to the end of the academic year we’re sure to see more, especially given the recent high court case about the fining of parents. I saw a story appear on my twitter feed yesterday that explained how an angry dad paid a £60 fine in 1 & 2 pence coins, having taking his son out of school for a week to go to Egypt for a holiday.
To summarise the issue from both sides, some parents resent the increased prices the travel industry expect people to pay during the school holiday period, and feel that they should be entitled to remove their children from school for a set period to enjoy a (usually foreign) holiday. The government and Local Education Authorities have a policy regarding absence from school that typically means this would constitute an unauthorised absence, and this can result in a fine to the parents. Their reasoning is that the education of the individual child(ren) can suffer, and also there is potentially detrimental impact on the other children as teaching time and effort will be expended in “catching up”.
I wanted to write about this in as balanced a way as possible, and feel I am able to do this. I am a parent – my kids are 7 and 10 years old. I am also husband to a teacher, and have discussed this issue with my wife (and her father, a teacher for 40 years) at length. Indeed, I have actually taken my children out of school for an unauthorised absence – more of that later.
My kids have never been abroad. They don’t even have passports. This is for a few reasons, but chiefly among those is that because of the school term dates, and my wife’s availability being intrinsically linked to them, we believe that a foreign holiday is something we’re unwilling to afford – I choose those words as we could afford to go abroad, but it would mean sacrificing something else, or (as many people do) paying on a credit card or similar. We also believe that a foreign hotel based holiday would be wasted, as our kids need their sleep in the evenings (or transform from great kids into little sh*ts).
We’re not prepared to do that. Instead, we typically save a little money each month. In the summer holidays I typically book a fortnight off from work and we either go away for a fortnight or go away for a week, using the other week for days out locally. This means that my wife and I have also not been abroad together since 2007, and have sought locations out in the UK for “staycations”. We’ve rediscovered Britain, having enjoyed holidays in mainland north Wales, the west coast of Wales, the borders in Scotland, Edinburgh, Northumberland and north Devon. Our kids know no different, and the thrill of a log cabin, static caravan or rental cottage is not lost on them, nor is a typical British day at the beach.
Every time I see the stories, either anecdotally from friends/colleagues or in the media, of parents taking their kids from school during term time, I admit to being a little jealous – this “option” is not open to us. However, I also find the self-righteousness of some of these parents a bit galling.
Last year the Daily Mail ran a story about the difference in costs, with the image below showing the disparity, stating that (at that time) up to 80,000 fines a year are issued to parents who book family trips during term-time.
Yes, I think it’s pretty despicable for holiday firms to ramp the prices up so far in the holiday period. I understand the economic principles of supply and demand, but the extent to which it is done really irks me. As an example, I looked at a week in Rhodes (the last place overseas my wife and I holidayed) flying from my local airport (Leeds Bradford) for my family – 2 adults, a 10 year old and a 7 year old.
Departing on 8 July, an all-inclusive holiday at the lowest price hotel booked through Thomas Cook (other travel agents are available!) – the “Aegean Breeze Resort”, came in at £2692. 3 weeks later (29 July) the same hotel with the same package costs £3548 – that’s an increase of £856 for a like for like holiday, which is slightly more than my wife and I are paying for our week in north Wales this August.
I get the thinking – why spend over £200 a head more for the sake of what is one of the last weeks of term – the kids don’t really learn much then, do they? Well, that’s not necessarily true. It’s likely that in those final weeks kids are spending the time becoming acclimatised to their soon-to-be new class, or working to meet the standards expected of them by the end of each academic year. It’s also not really the point.
The rules are clear. If you take your kid out of school for an unplanned absence, you can expect that the school/LEA may levy a fine. In effect is no different from bombing down the M1 at 95mph – you may get a fine. It’s hard to imagine someone getting caught speeding and moaning about how unfair it I, using arguments like “didn’t really hurt anyone, did it?”. Actually, it’s not that hard to imagine it, but it is hard to imagine them getting much sympathy or coverage in the press, or even pursing their whinge all the way to the high court as Jon Platt did.
In this case, the highest court in the land has ruled that the evidence shows that any and all school absence can have an impact on a child’s learning. Taking your child from school during term time in this knowledge means you’re effectively saying a week by the pool is worth more to your child than academic achievement. If your kid misses out on their desired university course by one grade and you took them to Majorca in year 10, it could be argued you’re partly to blame.
Now, as I mentioned earlier my children both have an unauthorised absence on their records. Last summer, in the summer term of school, we asked the head teacher for permission to have the kids out of school for one day. My wife’s sister was getting married, their wedding was on a Sunday and was in the northern Lake District,. my daughter was a bridesmaid and my son was the ring bearer. There was no way they were missing the wedding. the head teacher wrote to us in response to our request and explained that, in accordance with school policy in relation to the rules, this absence would be unauthorised.
Therefore, we knew very well that we may receive a fine. We made the decision fully in this knowledge and accepted that we may get fined. We didn’t receive a fine, but if we had we would have willingly paid it and written it off as a price worth paying. This is where I feel that the policy is too rigid, although I understand why. My kids have an excellent attendance, high 90%. They’re both on or ahead of the curve in terms of academic attainment, have good behavioural records etc. I don’t believe for a moment that the head teacher or class teachers would have been concerned that a solitary day at this stage of my kids school “careers” would have a significant detrimental impact, especially given that my wife is a teacher at that level, so home learning to make up any shortfall would happen naturally. however, the school, out of concern to be seen as fair, felt they had to record the absence as unauthorised. To be clear, this was not a week in Egypt, a month in Pakistan, a fortnight in Tenerife or a day trip to Blackpool. But they felt their hands were tied.
Which brings me to my conclusion. The rules are clear, and exist for a reason. Disobey them at your own risk. I believe if you can’t afford a foreign holiday during the allotted school holidays, tough. It’s not a God given right. Annual foreign holidays for the masses are a relatively new thing, (aside from school trips to France/Belgium etc, I didn’t go abroad until I was 16) and there seems to be a pervading mood that somehow everyone is entitled to a foreign holiday every year, even if this means breaking the law. This is extremely arrogant and, frankly, is bullshit. If Jon Platt can afford a legal battle over s £60 fine that goes all the way to the high court, he can damn well afford the expensive holiday he was so keen to avoid.
So if you ignore all of this and choose to take your kids from school for a holiday, I believe you should be fined. I also believe the fine should be for a flexible amount so that it actually acts as a deterrent – as demonstrated above, I could save £856 on a weeks holiday – a £120 fine (£60 per kid) still leaves me over £700 up. In my example, if I chose to do this I should be fined…..guess what…. £857 – making me £1 worse off. Let’s remove any incentive to break the rules.
But I also believe that the rules should be applied with more discretion. Schools are (understandably) scared of being seen as applying the rules inconsistently. I don’t believe a day off for a family wedding or funeral should be seen as unauthorised. Often, the dates for these are out of the control of parents, and the experience of a wedding or funeral is an important social lesson.
Finally, I believe that ABTA members should sign up to a code of conduct limiting the difference in price in and out of term time. Of course there will be a difference, but for that to be 30% different (in the one example I could be bothered to look up) is pretty scandalous. If they don’t, I believe the government should step in.