Parents versus Schools versus Holiday Companies: Who wins?
In the UK, parents are constantly facing a holiday dilemma: whether to take their children out of school during term time to go on holiday to avoid peak holiday prices.
Figures revealed that more than 10% of school term-time absence is down to students taking leave to go on family holidays.
This is a problem for head teachers and schools all over the UK, as they fear that families, who take their students out of school during term-time, may be damaging their education.
It is a difficult and highly emotional debate that has been growing steadily with each passing year. Holidays are becoming more and more expensive, family incomes are being stretched more than ever before, and head teachers have certain student attainment levels and targets that they need to hit to acquire more funding.
Since September 2013, schools across the UK have adopted a system whereby it fines the families of those students who have been taken out of school during term-time to go on holiday, or for any unauthorised absence. Figures reveal that fines imposed by local authorities have risen sharply since these new rules have been in place.
Before September 2013, schools had the authority and the flexibility to give parents two weeks of authorised absence from school each school year. However, the argument is now that taking children out of school is damaging their attainment, and therefore their education cannot be risked for the sake of a holiday abroad.
In other countries, like Australia, holidays are significantly more affordable and are more balanced all the year round. You can find out more about some holiday costs in Australia by visiting Australian travel websites.
Parents are now starting to protest over the high summer holiday prices, and are aiming their grievances at the schools and politicians alike. There has been very little in the way of protesting against the travel companies during this time.
Why are holidays more expensive during the school summer holidays? It is a simple question of supply and demand. The supply across the tourism industry is quite high and flat all the year round, taking into account seasonal changes etc. However, the demand rises and falls in line with school term times. When students break up from school, there is a higher demand for holiday spaces, as opposed to when it is term-time the demand falls. For the travel industry, it is strictly business.
Local authorities have seen an increase in fines issued to parents, it now reaches 52,000 and totals more than £3million. Nearly 8,000 parents have been taken to court for non-payment of their fines.
The change in the schools position has been reflected in the negative effect absence has on pupil attainment. For those who miss between 10% and 20% of term time, their GCSE attainment falls dramatically when compared to students who miss only 5% of term time.
The UK Government is trying to diffuse any parent versus school scenario by trying to make summer holidays more affordable for parents.
There are a number of measures parents, schools and holiday providers will be subject to in the coming years that will help drive down the cost of family holidays when taken out of school term-time.
One of the ideas is for the school to change their term times, and this can be done by parents putting pressure on the school to do this. Parents can petition their school to change their school term-time dates. Working alongside parents, schools can put in place a new school timetable and change when terms begin and end. Schools already have the power to make these changes on a local level.
Another idea that is being floated by the UK Government is to scrap air passenger duty during school holidays. But, will these make summer holidays for parents cheap enough to discourage them from taking them out of school during term time? Probably not.
There is not just one solution to this problem of parents taking their children out of school during term time.
There will need to be a number of measures that target schools, the parents and the holiday companies, as well as a number of questions that need answering:
How does a child benefit from a family holiday, are parents being selfish because it is actually them who benefit?
If a holiday does benefit the child, then schools need to reassess their fine mentality. However, figures actually show attainment dropping for those children who take miss 10% and 20% of term-time.
Do holiday companies need greater regulation, to protect parents from being ‘ripped off’? Surely not a viable route, as it is just a simple case of supply and demand.
Parents are once again feeling that they are the ones being squeezed. According to research, the average UK family spends two months’ salary on their summer holiday, which is a UK average of approx. £860.
How much a family spends is very much dependant on where they live. A family in the West Midlands, on average, spends £1,084 on their summer holiday, whilst those families living in the North West spends just £666.
Regardless, these sums of money are a big chunk from anyone’s family income, showing that a family holiday is still very important to each family.
UK average family spend on summer holiday per person
East Midlands: £769
East/East Anglia: £763
North East: £675
North West: £666
Northern Ireland: £784
South East: £822
South West: £900
West Midlands: £1,084
Yorkshire and the Humber: £848
The family holiday is still important for nearly every family. Time away with their children, and quality time spent with them is still a huge factor for most families.
Even with fines, and potential court visits, imposed, families are still taking their children out of school at an alarmingly increasing rate.
But, who are the real winners and losers in this battle for the summer holidays? There is only one real winner in this battle, and that is the holiday operators.