At last. Travel agencies cut prices of 'rip-off' school holidays

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The Independent Online

Travel agencies accused of charging "rip-off" prices during school holidays have bowed to government pressure and promised discounts on breaks in July and August and other peak times. Ministers are furious that the huge cost of going away during school holidays is pushing families to go during term time instead, which often saves them thousands of pounds.

After talks at the Department for Education and Skills, the industry has promised significant reductions during the school holidays - but only if families book early.

Civil servants estimate that as many as one in six of the 70,000 children who play truant every day could be on holiday with parents anxious to avoid paying higher rates during school holidays.

The number of pupils on holiday without permission has risen from 17 a day per school in 2002-3 to 28 in 2003-4. Families often find they have to pay up to twice the price for a break if they go away during a school holiday.

Details of the scheme, organised through the Association of British Travel Agents, will vary from company to company. But starting in November, there will be a range of incentives, including the promise that children go free if parents book early.

A DfES spokesman said: "We have been clear with schools that they should take a tough line with truancy, and that any holiday taken inside a school term that has not been agreed with the school should be regarded as truancy."