Fining parents for travelling outside the school holidays unfairly punishes the poor, by making it difficult for them to afford to go away at all.
We're nearing the Easter holidays and those who can afford it are taking their kids off on adventures.
But the truth is many parents simply can’t afford it.
Holidaying during term time, as every child-free traveller knows well, is much cheaper than taking a trip during the school breaks.
With that in mind, it's hardly surprising many parents are willing to pay a fine in order to take their kids on a far more budget-friendly holiday during term-time.
Figures from the Department for Education showed the number of penalty notices almost doubled to 223,000 during 2017-18, with "unauthorised family holiday absence" by far the most common reason.
Good reasons for term-time breaks
Not so many years ago I believed that parents who took their children out of school for term-time days out or holidays were completely wrong.
They were failing to prioritise their kids’ education, I argued, they were more worried about saving a few pounds than supporting their children’s academic success.
Worse still, they were putting other children’s learning at risk by occupying additional teacher hours on their return.
I have completely changed my opinion. A cynic might suggest that this is because two of my three children are now at school and so I finally face the personal cost of school-holiday travel.
Actually, I’ve simply had a better chance to look at the reality of school and term times, and it’s completely changed my perspective.
My opinion on this has changed for a variety of financial reasons
In the weeks before the end of term particularly, many parents take their kids out for the last few weeks of term to enjoy a summer break. They can get prices as much as 40% less when I have looked. That’s a pretty substantial saving.
Those parents who want to make use of particular deals, for example, one of the tabloids offers a regular low-cost holiday deal where people can get away for £9.50 per person.
Such deals are only available in the off-season and the off-season is term time.
Why the heck shouldn’t people on low incomes have a decent break with all their family? Why shouldn’t kids from lower-income families have the same chance at a holiday with their loved ones? Why should family holidays be reserved for the affluent alone?
I know from speaking to fellow parents on the school gate that many relatively affluent families take term-time holidays and just pay the fine. The savings are often so substantial that it makes good financial sense to do so.
How unconscionable to accept one rule for the well-off and another for the poor, to say that the wealthier families can save some cash but poorer families must miss out on affordable holidays until their kids leave school.
After all, plenty of children are being taken out of school during term times. The fines are less than the additional cost and so they only deter people on the tightest incomes – they only penalise families on the tightest of incomes.
I feel very strongly that we’re just hurting families on a tight budget with this obsession with protecting term time at all costs.
What’s more, I think it is perfectly justified for all parents to want to claw back a bit of time from the demands of school.
Before my boys started school, I did not understand just how much our lives would revolve around it.
In fact, school is a constant presence – once the kids are home in the evenings or for the weekend we have homework, weekly spellings to learn, daily ‘maths in minutes’ problems, daily reading.
We’re constantly asked to do extra tasks as well; I’ve recently had to send one of my children in ‘dressed as a meerkat’, there are volunteering requests, assemblies and sports days to attend, and more.
I don’t resent any of that, I want to be an active and engaged parent to give my boys the best chance at school. However, it means I give up a lot of my time managing school tasks.
On top of that, my boys give up a huge amount of their free time too. Evenings and weekends are reading, doing daily maths tasks, homework and revision.
That’s fine, of course. Education is important and I want them to have the best chances they can.
But when school bleeds so relentlessly into homelife and playtime and family time, it just seems far that we sometimes claw a few days back for family.
So what could be done?
There are plenty of options. Plenty. We could stop fining parents who holiday outside of the holidays and save the fines for those parents who repeatedly flout the school day.
We could encourage schools to clump all their inset days together into a full week off, which different areas take at different times of the year so that there’s always a cheaper potential holiday week.
Perhaps we could place more value on the educational nature of travel and the importance of time spent with families.
Maybe fines could be tailored depending on household income and the number of children, meaning they were more fairly applied.
Perhaps the answer is something else entirely that I haven’t thought of, but that we could determine by consulting the public, parents and teaching staff.
What we can’t do is continue to punish low-income families while wealthier ones travel whenever they like and see the potential fine as a fair cost given the extensive savings.
It’s wrong to stop people from travelling with their children. They learn valuable things from travel, whether it’s to Rome or to a holiday club in Skegness, and they spend valuable time with their families and loved ones.
And most importantly, they have fun. Children deserve fun, they deserve to have a break and see new places and enjoy new experiences. They only get one childhood and they spend enough of it at school and doing school activities.
What do you think? Should parents be allowed to take their kids out of school in term time or should the fines be kept or even increased? Have your say using the comments below.
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