The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel
A term-time family break is the only way for many
The cost of living crisis is pushing some parents to break the rules in order to get away for less, says Greg Dickinson
British summers are unpredictable, but there is one constant as reliable as the tides. Come midJuly, the cost of holidays will skyrocket and stay that way until the start of September.
The summer-holiday price hike was once a frustrating inconvenience. But with budgets squeezed, parents are increasingly taking their children out of school in order to be able to afford a family holiday. There are consequences. Get caught and you could be fined £60 per child, rising to £120 if you do not pay within 21 days. And if you fail to pay after 28 days, you could face a fine of £2,500 or even a jail sentence of up to three months; not the kind of allinclusive you were hoping for.
If paid on time, however, the deterrent is fairly weak – and given the holiday savings, it is unsurprising that some parents resort to breaking the rules. Let’s take the 30 cheapest package holidays to Mallorca listed by Tui. If a family of four depart on August 26 for a week-long trip within the summer holidays, the average cost would be £2,574. The same holiday a week later, within school term time, averages out at £2,083 – a saving of £490 (19 per cent).
Savings can also be made when booking hotels and flights independently. On average, a family of four would pay 12 per cent less (a £300 saving) on a hotel booked for that first week of September (based on 30 options at booking.com) and an eyewatering 35 per cent less (a £485
Big savings can be made by taking a family holiday during term time, but to do so risks a fine saving per family) if you book your flights in term time (based on 15 popular destinations listed on skyscanner.com).
The savings are clear, but we are left with a thorny question: is it ethical, or fair, to remove children from school?
Lynda Hamilton Parker has four children aged six to 24, and has always taken them out of school for holidays. She says she will be doing so again at the start of the next school year in order to take her two youngest to Spain, and is happy to pay the fine, if it comes to it.
“I believe they learn as much, if not more, from these experiences,” she says. “Good parents should be able to decide what’s best for their own children.”
Tyler Jones took a more open approach with her child’s school, informing them she would be taking her son out of school early for a summer holiday. The Department for Education says it is “unlikely” such absences would be approved – and in this instance, the school neither approved the request nor reported Jones, but rather turned a blind eye.
“All they seem to do at school in the last week of term is watch videos, and travelling seems like a more culturally enriching experience,” says Jones. “We went to Galicia, so he tried new foods, ordered them in Spanish, went to see the tomb of St James and learnt about the pilgrims, went swimming, learnt to fish, and saw a sky full of stars.”
It sounds enriching, but what impact does this have on the school, the teacher and the children who turn up to class?
James Bowen, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), stresses the importance of families avoiding the temptation of a cheaper term-time trip.
“While there is great value in families having holidays together,” he says, “taking children out for an extended period during term time is not ideal. It could lead to children missing out on important parts of their learning, and it can also pose challenges for the teacher who then has to help pupils catch up.”
However, even the NAHT expresses sympathy for parents priced out of the summer-holiday season.
“The outrageous hike in prices that we see during the school holidays means that many families feel the only way they can get a holiday is to take one in term time,” says Bowen. “We would like to see the Government do more to intervene, and until they do, many families will continue to feel between a rock and a hard place.”