With just a week or so to go before schools break up for the summer, are you one of the families trying to save money on your holiday by pulling the kids out of class early? If so, I salute you. And I’m a school governor.
After all, they’re mostly watching films or larking about in the playground at a time when there are real savings to be had if you can travel – right? One teacher told me she looks forward to the last week of term when children have been taken out of school early. ‘So much easier to teach 24 than 30 isn’t it? Why do you think private schools do so well?’.
OK, I’m being churlish and, of course, there are still plenty of important lessons being taught in classrooms throughout the land. But family holidays are also hugely important – and can be educational. Seeing as travel companies are getting away with murder by charging exorbitant prices (more on their unfair and hidden charges later) then yes, I think allowing pupils to miss the last couple of days of term in order to save their parents significant wads of cash is justifiable.
I was particularly impressed to read about the example set by Eveswell Primary School in South Wales, when the headmistress Catherine Barnett arranged five inset days in one week enabling parents to book cheaper holidays outside of the main school holidays.
Where prolonged periods of absence cannot be justified is any time a child’s attainment is compromised – especially close to SATS, GCSEs and A Levels. Absence at these times can be hugely disruptive and cause long-lasting damage. But assuming parents want the best for their children, rather than just their bank accounts, then I firmly believe they should have the right to decide what’s best for their families.
It’s wrong for responsible mums and dads in England and Wales to be landed with the £60, £120 or even £2,500 (when prosecuted) penalty local authorities are allowed to impose. I was delighted when Jon Platt recently won his case at the High Court after refusing to pay a £120 fine for taking his daughter on an unauthorised term-time holiday.
I’m glad my school exercises its discretion whenever a request for absence is made – whether for a much-needed holiday or to visit family abroad, attend weddings or re-apply for visas. And I’m glad our local authority has yet to fine parents for these types of absence either.
It seems holiday savings of up to 68 per cent, or £1,771, for a typical break – as identified by Santander – are simply too good to miss for a growing number of parents if the fines are anything to go by. Between the 2012/13 and 2014/15 academic years, the total value of fines levied by angry schools and local authorities rose by an estimated 267 per cent, or £4 million to an eye-watering sum of £5.6 million – according to analysis by Santander.
Over the same period, the number of fines rose by nearly 70,000 to 92,784 in 2014/15, when Lancashire County Council issued the most (4,279), followed by Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (3,559) and Bradford Metropolitan Council (3,445). I’d love to know what those councils do with the cash. Perhaps they reinvest it in education and buy new books? But I doubt it.
The summer holidays are made for going on holiday and it’s time for yet another government U-turn – let’s stop fining and prosecuting families for trying to claw back some cash from unscrupulous holiday companies.
Oh, and as for those unfair and hidden charges I mentioned, if you are heading off with the kids this summer and currently scouring the web for a last-minute deal, whatever you do, watch out for under-occupancy fees. I recently covered the story of a grandmother taking her family to Orlando only for Thomas Cook to charge all six adults an under occupancy fee for the two children who would be staying with them in their villa for eight people. The sneaky charge – which she wasn’t made aware of at the time of booking – wiped out almost half of the £1,900 holiday discount she’d been promised. You can read the full story here.
Laura Whitcombe is knowledge and product editor at ThisisMoney.co.uk.