Counting the cost of term-time holidays

Life in Spain Wed, 5 Mar 2014
Counting the cost of term-time holidays

How valuable is a family holiday?  Time away from the day-to-day grind continues to be a must for many. It represents opportunity to talk to each other without the usual interruptions of work and household routines getting in the way. Two weeks away in the sun has become something that most families aspire to and feel that they deserve. But they are becoming less and less likely for many.

If you are a grandparent with a family who still like to visit you out in Spain you are probably already well aware of some of the issues. There are changes in the English education system that are making it even more problematic for a family to get away.

On the 1st September 2013 new school attendance legislation came into force. This removed the previous flexibility that headteachers had of granting leave of absence for a family holiday during term time. Now headteachers must not grant any leave of absence during term time unless there are exceptional circumstances.

This may not cause too many difficulties for higher earners, but if you are one of the many families who are suffering from the economic crisis then it has real implications.

We are used to living with the higher price levied during school holidays by the travel industry. For some time, those on restricted budgets or whose work obligations make it difficult, have generally been given some leeway. Now it is very unlikely that they will still find the same level of tolerance for a term-time absence.

Instead headteachers are being urged to apply fines of £60 through a penalty notice where parents do take their child out of school without permission. Though not a significant amount of money compared to how much the family are likely to save, most people do not want to have a penalty such as this held against them.

The issue has now come to a head. An online petition collected more than 136,000 signatures and has forced debate in the House of Commons.  However, the Department of Education remain adamant. Education is too precious to miss two weeks of it.

But is it? There are many arguments in and around this. There is no doubt that missing a whole topic will set you back. However, with a supportive teacher who is prepared to save work covered in class, there is no reason why children can’t catch up with at least the rudiments of the topic. If parents spend time going through this with them, it is a small price to pay.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that independent, private schools generally have significantly longer holidays that those in the state sector. This enables them, ironically, to take holidays at cheaper times of the year and the loss of a few extra weeks does not appear to harm their chances of university entrance.

But perhaps the issue that most calls into question the principles behind the tightening up on school holidays, is that children need not be in school at all. In fact, a sizeable number aren’t. These children are   being home educated, an option that parents have in England that isn’t allowed in many other countries.

All a parent has to do to home educate their child is to let the school and Local Authority know that that is their intention. There is no need to have the home inspected or show curriculum plans. There is no real monitoring of the provision and no Ofsted inspections. So, for these individuals a holiday of 52 weeks of the year is a real possibility.

So, perhaps a solution for those who are struggling to find the funds to take their family away, is to take their children off roll for two weeks to ‘home-educate’ them abroad and then re-register them on their return. I’m not seriously advocating this but am making a point that time in school isn’t everything according to the letter of the law.    

Education is incredibly important, but so is time away together. The fact remains that expectations are raised about what a family holiday should include, and the day out in Blackpool doesn’t generally suffice any more. There must be a little give and take in all this and an acceptance that every family deserves a choice whether to take a holiday or not, however much they earn. 

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