Holidays in term time. Where do you stand?
A travel company recently offered to pay any fines imposed on parents who book skiing holidays with them outside of the school holidays. It made the front of The Times, sparked a lively debate in The Daily Mail Online and enraged head teachers. On the other hand, plenty of parents welcomed it because it offered a way out of paying the higher prices they face during holiday times.
It’s a divisive issue.
So, we thought it’d be interesting to look at the issue and some of the arguments put forward by all sides. Let’s start with the basics…..
We all know that holidays in term time are cheaper than in the school holidays. The reason, the travel companies say, is supply and demand. Prices rise in peak season, because, well, it is peak season and that’s the way it works. We see nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when parents take their kids out of school in term time to take advantage of cheaper prices outside of peak periods (school holidays). Schools say any kind of truancy affects a child’s education and that parents have a legal duty to make sure their children go to school – which they do.
New laws make it illegal to take children out of school
The government claims that 9.7% of all absences in England and Wales in the 2011 and 2012 academic year were due to parents taking their children out of school during term time. So, on September 1st 2013 they passed a new law giving no entitlement to parents to take their children out of school during term time unless in ‘exceptional circumstances’. We understand that ‘exceptional’ will not mean a couple of weeks in the Med, even though it has not been clearly defined (a get-out clause for later perhaps?).
Previously, children were ‘allowed’ 10 school days per academic year of authorised leave from school at the discretion of the head teacher. Now, with the new law in force, head teachers are being urged to be stricter about what qualifies for authorised absence. Parents could then face fines of up to £120 for any unauthorised absences. These fines will be issued by the local authority and, if a parent refuses to pay and goes to court, fines and costs could rise to thousands.
Things are on the up...or not
Recent figures released by the Press Association stated that in 2012-2013 there was a steep rise in the number of fines issued to parents for unauthorised absences, jumping from 41,224 penalty notices in 2011-12 to 52,370. 8,000 of those cases went to court. 27,977 of the fines were paid within 28 days. The remainder were paid after 28 days, at which point the fine doubles to £120.
The parents’ point of view. Do you have a right to a holiday?
Parents all over the UK were up in arms about this new legislation, claiming that education can also happen outside of the classroom and that travel can broaden the mind, which it most certainly can. But you can learn just as much on a holiday during the school holiday as out of it can’t you?
So it’s down to cost then.
Taking holidays is expensive and in the school holidays they are even more expensive. Finding the money to pay for four full fares to fly to Faro, for example, simply isn’t easy, even in off peak periods. If you wanted to fly your nuclear family of four with Easyjet on Saturday the 26th April (after the Easter holiday) it will cost you around £161 for four basic tickets and taxes. However, the prices are quoted at £533 on Saturday the 5th (the first day of the Easter holidays) for the same seats. It’s a big difference.
But then who said we have an automatic entitlement to go on holiday anyway?
The backlash against the backlash
More than 160,000 parents signed an online petition protesting about the new rules and, as a result, the House of Commons debated the high prices of holidays in January 2014. They decided against capping prices or reducing airport taxes (even though they were mooted) in favour of looking at staggering school term times or even going back on their word. So could we be facing a U turn in favour of pleasing the voting classes (middle class families with the money to go on holiday in the first place)? Only the most cynical would say that.
Consumer affairs minister Jenny Willott summed up the government’s rock solid position on this by saying: "The government has not said that no absence is possible. It has given head teachers the discretion to make that call and we also haven't specified what constitutes exceptional circumstances as we think individual cases need to be considered individually."
Neat sidestepping there don’t you think?
The ski firm offering to pay your fine
Whatever you think about Mountain Base, the firm who offered to pay parents’ fines if they booked a holiday with them in term time, it is marketing genius. They got everyone talking about them and, in the process, accrued a couple of thousand Facebook likes (whatever that means). They had obviously done their homework otherwise they wouldn’t have done it, so hats off to them for such an audacious stunt. Naturally we’d like to know how many fines they actually end up paying.
Holiday firms will always defend their position because they, like thousands of other holiday businesses everywhere, have to make their money when demand is high. This allows them to continue to trade outside of the peak season when they make less money (or none at all). Prices are low in low season to attract holiday makers. It’s the market. Good for you if you are able to take advantage of it.
What about those who don’t have school age kids?
Well, the legislation is good news if you like your holidays to be cheaper and less crowded. So the childless, retired and independent can cash in on the deals and take off whenever they like. As they have always done. Heck, if you have pre-school age children you can tag along too. That’s just life isn’t it?
Travel insurance that cares not for term time
There is one bit of good news for families though. In fact, it’s good news for everyone who likes to travel. That is that the price of a World First travel insurance policy does not change according to the season, demand or at the whims of dithering ministers. Our prices are permanently low. So even if you do sneak off in term time, make the most of the market forces or get someone else to pay your fines, you’ll still be able to buy a policy at a price that suits.
CLICK HERE to get a quote now.