It’s been all over the news in recent weeks and it’s a subject that will continue to fuel heated debate, particularly amongst education professionals and parents.
Council chiefs have admitted that fines for parents who take their children out of school for a holiday should be abolished. The Local Government Association has called for “common sense” to prevail and that new rules – which state that headteachers can only give permission for children to skip school under ‘exceptional circumstances’ – doesn’t allow for the “complexities of family life”.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Headteachers Union, Russell Hobby, insists that cut-price holidays shouldn’t be an exception; that absences from school damage children’s education – as when you put it into context, a couple of weeks off a year from school, can add up over your child’s overall attendance during their school life – about two-thirds of an entire academic school year.
Under the current system which was put in place last September, local authorities have been fining parents for unauthorised absences during term time at a cost of £60 per child, which can rise to £120 if it’s not paid within 21 days. And for those who fail to cough up, they could face a further £2,500 or even a jail sentence of up to three months.
Does this deter parents who flout the rules? Of course not. And we all know why. The vast majority of parents work hard to pay the mortgage, rent, household bills and, since the cost of living has risen sharply over the last few years, is it any wonder they want to treat themselves and their families to a well-earned holiday? I mean surely these families deserve to have something to look forward to.
And when prices of the same holidays literally double – according to Santander, holidays are 48% more expensive in August than they are in September – you can see why parents would rather be penalised than paying over the odds for a week in the sun.
But should the issues up for argument really be about the fines – or even the fact that parents feel they have no choice but to flout the law? Shouldn’t the government, parents and education authorities be lobbying against the travel companies who are being allowed to get away with inflating these prices and profiteering. Airlines and travel providers claim it’s a case of supply and demand – however, there are many who would disagree.
Earlier this year, around 170,000 people signed an e-petition calling on the government to cap price rises during the school holidays. It was the fifth most signed e-petition since they were first set up. But even though this was the case and it raised awareness of the issues – sparked several suggestions including staggering school holidays, and for airport taxes to be suspended during busier periods – nothing has yet to be done, with even the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills stating: “It’s for businesses to decide the market worth of their products”.
Parents who, like me, believe that travelling is an education in itself will then continue to struggle to decide what is best for their children. Life experiences away from books and the classroom can have a positive effect on a child’s upbringing. I truly believe this. However, parents shouldn’t have to be put in this position in the first place, especially when evidence does suggest that for particularly young children, missing school is vital for their future attainment.
It’s uncertain if anything will change. Quite frankly, what holiday company is going to back down and decide to cut prices? None of them, of course not, otherwise a business wouldn’t be called a business. And even if, and that’s a big IF, legislation were to be enforced, it’s likely it would hit all holidaymakers in the long run as there might be fewer deals on offer overall, and throughout the rest of the year.
I don’t have to worry about this for a while – but when the time comes, and I have to weigh up spending hundreds of more pounds in order to get away or let Monkey take a few days off at the end of a school term, then I’m prepared to get a slap on the wrist for it…
What do you think about fines? Have you taken your children out of school just to go on a holiday? Is there a solution to this problem?