The argument for taking children on holiday within the school term has been going on for years now. With holiday companies hiking up prices in the summer holidays by Thousands of pounds, it is no wonder that parents are struggling to educate their children on travel and culture in the summer months.
Janet Street-Porter sums it up fantastically in her article below.
This week I am in West Cornwall, staying in a pub near Land’s End. The hedgerows are full of flowers, the food is fabulous, and the walking around here is some of the best in Britain. And yet bed-and-breakfast owners tell me that they are half-empty, and business is dire.
My fellow holidaymakers are all middle-aged, middle-class couples, serious hikers slogging along the coastal path, or overweight Yanks trying to navigate the narrow lanes. There are very few families with children, which is a shame.
The reason is simple. As a result of Michael Gove’s strict policy on truanting, parents are being treated like petty criminals, heavily fined if they remove their kids from school in term-time — even if the only activities on offer for the last weeks of the school year are ‘creative play’ and trips to local museums.
Exams are over, but many children at state schools are trapped indoors behind desks for up to another two weeks. It seems bizarre to create a new category of criminals (working-class and middle-class parents) when our prisons are full to bursting, and offenders are being let off with cautions because there’s nowhere to incarcerate them.
The courts are overworked, and — faced with a huge number of official inquiries into historical sex abuse — the police can barely cope. Yet Mr Gove’s intransigence over family holidays in term-time means ordinary people end up with criminal records.
Two parents were prosecuted by Coventry City Council and found guilty, after taking their children to visit relatives in Australia. They had been fined £240, which they refused to pay, claiming the family ‘had been suffering emotionally’ at the time of the trip and needed some respite.
Both parents were given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £800 costs. The conviction puts them in the same category as shoplifters, burglars and petty thieves.
Can this be right? Gove’s new guidelines state that parents can take their children out of school only ‘in exceptional circumstances’, cleared with the headteacher. A family bereavement would, for instance, qualify.
Happy family: Many parents want to take kids on holidays during term-time for financial or work reasons (posed by models)
But if parents decide to flout a head’s decision, they will be fined around £120 a week.
Last year, a couple were fined £630 and ordered to pay £300 in costs after taking their three children to Greece for a week during term time.
Many parents are outraged because holiday companies hike prices during school holidays. The Prime Minister has expressed sympathy for their predicament, but says he cannot see how to force travel operators to implement a fairer booking policy.
Other parents cannot take holidays when the schools are shut, because of their own employer’s requirements.
The chief constable of Humberside Police wrote to school heads in her area asking if her staff could take their children on holiday during term-time ‘for operational reasons’. She said she had to restrict those who could take time off in the summer months and at Christmas (which is probably because crime increases when there are a lot of school kids loafing about with nothing to do). Her request was turned down — but she has a point.
Now, angry parents are getting militant. One City banker is taking the Government to court after being fined £120 for taking his children to the U.S. for a memorial service for their grandfather.
And more than 200,000 parents have signed a petition alleging the new rules breach their right to a family life, and demanding a change in the rules.
There are signs that MPs on both sides of the House understand how unfair the current system is. Leader of the Commons Andrew Lansley says he wants a debate about changing the school terms, which Labour MP Barry Sheerman claimed were still based on ‘getting in the harvest or closing down the mills … it’s a rotten system, and people are exploited in the school holidays by premium prices’.
For years now, there has been discussion about changing the school year, but teachers have resisted.
My friends who teach say that Michael Gove’s rules and fines are unfair, and that heads and staff know exactly which parents condone truancy and don’t care if their kids turn up at school or not.
There’s a world of difference between feckless parents and families who want to take kids on holidays during term-time for financial or work reasons.
Surely there should be some flexibility here, once exams are out of the way?
If necessary, schools can set projects and work to be completed while away. And who is to say that a week in Spain learning to speak shopping Spanish, count and add up in a foreign language isn’t a lot more use than a trip around an old railway or a zoo in the British drizzle?
We need four academic terms, not three, a shorter summer break, and far more trust on the part of Michael Gove.
Instead of demonising parents, he should be encouraging them to expose children to learning through travel.