Term time holidays – ok or a definite no?

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Family holidays are an essential part of life, but is it ok to take them out of school?

Are the floodgates now open for parents to take their kids out of school following the High Court ruling in favour of the Isle of Wight dad who refused to pay up when he was fined for taking his daughter on holiday during term time?

Probably not. The government was quick to warn the law could be tightened. But, even if we believe the case has set a precedent, most parents will stick to the school holidays. For many of us it’s a fear our children could be left behind and their education suffers, exactly the view of the government, schools and teachers, for once pretty much on the same side.

I am one of the rule followers, I never took mine out of school for a week at a time when DSCN7431they were supposed to be in the classroom yet when mine were younger we didn’t face the financial penalties in force now. But, I wish I had taken them out of school and taken advantage of cheaper, term time holidays when they were in primary school. Taking them out of school in GCSE and A level years would be madness.

I have been granted authorised days when the girls were competing with their synchronised ice skating team, but that has only been the odd day and most schools don’t have a problem with time out for competitive sport, as long as your attendance record is good. However, one year, following a competition in Dumfries, which entailed taking a day off to undertake the six-hour journey, we made the same trip back on Sunday night arriving home in the early hours. As my middle one had nothing other than PCHSE (or whatever it is) first period, I let her have a lie in. The school were not impressed, but didn’t take it any further.

Two years ago I made a genuine mistake and looked at just one of my kids’ school term dates and didn’t realise one finished two-and-a-half days before the other and gave their dad the go-ahead to book his holiday accordingly. I didn’t realise until a few days before and sent a grovelling, apologetic email but received a dressing down email in return, but again, no action. Last year I told their father to book the same dates as once again one finished on the Friday and the other, the following Wednesday. I just simply emailed the respective school over the following three days feigning sickness.

Another time, the kids’ aunt and cousin were visiting from New Zealand and wanted to take them for a day out at Harry Potter World. It was the last two weeks before summer, their aunt was dividing her time between friends in London and Leicester, another aunt in Gloucester and her parents in Hull so there was genuinely just a small window of opportunity. I was completely honest with both schools, my son’s said it would be unauthorised but they didn’t take any action, my daughter’s, a Bucks grammar school, were ‘delighted’ to authorise her absence and hoped she had a ‘wonderful time’ with her aunt and cousin.

Admittedly, these were odd days and, like I say, I wish I had taken a week off when they were younger, I don’t think it would have made a blind bit of difference. Now, the eldest is at uni, the middle one is just about to sit her GCSEs and the youngest will be going into year 10 in September, I have definitely missed my window of opportunity.

It will be interesting to see how many parents decide to follow in the footsteps of Jon Platt, whose case was thrown out by the High Court the other day.

Platt refused to pay a £120 fine for taking his daughter on an unauthorised term-time holiday. The local magistrate’s court, which took his daughter’s attendance record over the entire year into account, found she had indeed attended school regularly enough to have met the requirements of the law.

However, the Isle of Wight Council, where Platt lives and his daughter attends school and which had taken the case to court in the first place, appealed to the High Court to clarify whether a seven-day absence from school, the length of time missed, amounted to a failure to attend school regularly.

After the High Court found in favour of Platt, the government is considering changing the law. You can bet it will be more draconian. You can’t help wondering if fining parents, and both parents can be fined so for most families the potential penalty will be £120, is actually a nice little revenue earner.

Almost 64,000 fines were issued from September 2013 to August 2014, that’s £3.8 million, not bad, is it?

However, when you consider the cost of holidays which typically rocket during school holidays, paying the £60 or £120 fine can be a small price to pay compared to the savings which can be made.

According to research by Guardian Travel, package holidays almost double in price during school holidays with increases of up to 99%. Another survey found price hikes of between 35%-104% when it compared the cost of package holidays of three big operators in term time and during school holidays.

The Association of British Travel Agents and the Association of Independent Tour Operators have both called on the government to stagger school holidays by region which is already in practice in other parts of Europe. A new DfE Bill, plans to allow state schools to be able to choose their own term dates. For example, schools could choose to have a longer Easter or Christmas holiday and a shorter summer holiday. However, problems could arise for parents with children in different schools, my three went to three different senior schools so unless there was co-ordination between them, you could see the situation of even more parents taking one or more of their children out of school for holidays arising.

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A return to the days when schools were allowed to sanction up to 10 days absence during the school year is unlikely. Head teachers are now not allowed to grant leaves of absence apart from in exceptional circumstances. If your leave of absence is unauthorised and you still take your child out of school, the decision to fine could still rest with your head although some local authorities issue fines automatically. The local authority both issues the fine and receives the money.

Of course, the best solution for all of us is for the holiday companies to lower their prices during school holidays. Not that it would make much difference to us, funding one at uni means we now can’t afford a holiday!

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