Parents pay a premium for travel during the school holidays – whether it be a staycation or trip further afield – but could all that be about to change? Rhiane Kirkby investigates
It’s a fact that the cost of the average trip increases massively outside school term time, with the price of package holidays rising by 50 to 100 per cent. The increase in airfares is even more extreme, with some seats costing three or four times as much.
So why is the travel industry able to increase prices to such an extent? Travel journalist, Simon Calder explains “the average holiday firm or airline trades at a loss for most of the year, but more than makes up that shortfall when schools are out. But excess profits aren’t being made as most holiday companies are low-margin businesses.” That said, it’s easy to see why most parents feel aggrieved at having to pay far more for the same flight or holiday than people who are able to travel during term time.
The situation was made worse in 2013 when the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove cracked down on parents taking their children out of school, imposing fixed-penalty fines of £60, which increased to £120 after 21 days, if unpaid. Until then head teachers had been allowed to grant up to ten days leave for family holidays during term time in “special circumstances” but many parents mistakenly believed this was an entitlement. The change prompted petitions from parents and calls from teaching unions and the Local Government Association for a “common sense approach”, but the law remained unchallenged.
That was until May this year, when one father was taken to the High Court by the Isle of Wight council after taking his daughter out of school for seven days for a trip to Florida. The Judge ruled that because the girl’s overall attendance was satisfactory, he was right not to pay the fine that was issued. The ruling implies that parents need only demonstrate regular attendance of at least 90% of school days – suggesting that 19 days absence per year is acceptable.
So what does that mean for parents? According to the Local Government Association, “a great deal of confusion.” Indeed, a survey by the insurance company Esure found that 65% of parents were now unsure about whether they could take holidays during term time, with one in five families saying they were intending to do so, despite the risk of a fine.
The government, however, is very clear; “Children should not be taken out of school except in exceptional circumstances. There should be no confusion on this point.” The Education Minister, Nick Gibb says the Isle of Wight council will be fully supported in its appeal of the High Court decision as “every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSE’s, which has a lasting effect on life chances.” The government goes on to say it will move quickly to change the law and “strengthen statutory guidance to schools and local authorities.” Which makes it seem highly unlikely that rules will be relaxed.
But what about pupils attending independent schools? According to the Independent Schools Council it’s up to individual head teachers to decide when term-time leave can be granted. One London head told Little London that despite independent schools generally having longer holidays than schools governed by the state both he and many of his counterparts take a more “relaxed approach” to term-time leave. “I always recommend that pupils sitting GCSE’s or A Levels attend school as much as possible, but at primary level it’s important to consider the educational value of a trip or whether it’s of religious or social importance. I really think something should be done to stop the price of holidays changing radically when schools break up.” That may be the sensible approach and the view of most of the country’s parents, but travel experts and the government say that won’t happen anytime soon, leaving all eyes on the outcome of the High Court appeal.