I’m not generally a rule flouter, but just lately I have been considering breaking bad and taking my children on a term-time holiday. So when I heard this morning’s news that a dad had lost a landmark legal battle at the UK’s highest court over taking his daughter to Disney World during the school term, my heart sank. The ruling means parents who choose to take their kids on their jollys when they should be in school learning their ABCs can still face being fined and even prosecuted. Yikes!
Since my twins started school I’ve only ever holidayed in the holidays. I haven’t quite been able to shake off my childhood good-girl badge you see (nor can I stop myself constantly apologising for my children’s behaviour, but that’s another feature). So terrified was I that I’d be metaphorically slapped on the wrist, then fined for taking my kids out of school during term time, that I’ve stuck religiously to going away only when I’m technically ‘allowed’.
Since 2013, families who take children out of school for holidays have incurred fines of £60 per pupil – and are taken to court if they refuse to pay. But fears over breaking the rules haven’t put some parents off. In fact according to recent statistics a rising number of parents have been ignoring the government’s controversial ban and hoiking their kids out of school whenever they darned like.
Figures from the Department for Education have revealed that one in 20 half half days were missed due to unapproved family trips in the autumn and spring terms of 2015 to 2016, something of a five-year high.
And who can blame them, when holidaying in the holidays is so darned expensive. Recent research reveals that holiday costs can double for families who travel during the school summer holidays, with some package holiday prices rising by up to 115 per cent.
According to research by FairFX, a travel currency website, the average cost of summer holidays ramps up by 35 per cent during school holidays, compared with those taking place from two weeks prior to the end of term. I can well believe it, in fact I have the credit card flight bill to prove it.
There’s the busy-ness factor to consider too. Take your kids to Legoland during the summer holidays and you’ll spend most of your time queuing for the rides/café/everything. But if you go while everyone else is at school, well then you’ll pretty much get the run of the place. So you can certainly see why parents like Jon Platt, the dad involved in this morning’s case, want to challenge the rules.
Platt’s case came about when he was fined £120 by Isle of Wight Council for taking his daughter on a trip to Disneyland during term time. Deciding not to take the fine lying down, he chose to fight back and got the decision overturned in magistrates’ court.
His argument that existing law only required him to provide his daughter with “regular attendance” at school was accepted by magistrates in the Isle of Wight, and upheld in May last year by the high court before the Department for Education won the right to appeal to the supreme court.
Today’s ruling means that parents who take their children out of school without permission to go holiday can still be fined and prosecuted.
Understandably, the dad-of-three is disappointed not to have won the case, but he certainly won’t be the only parent sobbing into their passports. Because it turns out that 84% of Brits agree with Jon Platt that the government’s holiday procedure is too harsh. A survey by Holiday Travel Watch by Atomik Research, found that four fifths believe parents who take their children on holiday during term-time should not be criminalised.
Parents against the rules believe they should have the right to choose when they take their children on holiday, but the government doesn’t agree and points to evidence that skipping school, even for a day can affect pupils performance.
“The rules are clear – children should not be taken out of school without good reason,” a Department for Education spokesperson said. “Evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs.”
Indeed recent figures do reveal that of those children who miss 50 per cent of school, only 3 per cent get five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including maths and English. By contrast, of those who attend 95 per cent of the time or more, 73 per cent achieve that standard.
But that isn’t the complete story as a further study indicates that children who take at least one day off a term are actually more likely to achieve better results than pupils with perfect attendance records. Figures conducted by Dr Beccy Smith and published in The Times show that 78.7 per cent of those in the classroom every day reached the expected academic level by the end of primary school, but this was fewer than the 82.2 per cent of those who took between one and 20 days of authorised holiday.
After today’s ruling it seems parents are back to square one. Ultimately they can still choose to take their children out of school and reap the benefits of cheaper and quieter holidays or day trips, but doing so is done at their own risk. Of being fined, of being prosecuted and, in my case, of being metaphorically rapped on the wrist.
So this year instead of taking my first unauthorised trip I’ll once again be holidaying with the kids in August – peak holiday time, peak cost and peak busy-ness. If the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of Jon Platt, I may well have chosen to break bad and book a term-time holiday. But now, not so much. It’s not that I’m worried about how them missing school will impact on their grades, or their education, it’s that fear of getting hauled in front of the headmaster I can’t shake.
Told you I was a good girl.
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