Ben Ross: Beware the 'parent trap' on your half-term break
Something to Declare
Ben Ross is Head of Travel at The Independent. He has worked for the paper for over a decade, and began reporting on travel in 2001. Before joining the travel desk full time, he ran The Independent's special projects department. He started his journalistic career at the BBC working for its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.
Saturday 26 October 2013
For children in state schools, the October half-term holiday began yesterday. Or did it? Perhaps, as a parent, you asked the headteacher nicely if you could take the kids out of lessons for a day or two beforehand. You know, for "enrichment" purposes.
This is a code-word, of course. It's so that you can make the most of your holiday rental dates, or book a package to the Canary Islands without paying through the nose at peak-season. "They're learning a new skill," you wheedle in February, ski-boots under your arm, as you bow and cringe before the head. "Their Spanish will come on a treat," you cry just before Easter, as the thought of being denied your annual quota of sangria brings prickles of sweat out on your forehead.
The headteacher will usually oblige if you've been a good, helpful parent and your little darlings have turned up on time for the rest of the year. It's a nod and a wink; you're cashing in on those bonus points for being on the PTA, or organising the Christmas raffle.
No longer. Earlier this term, I received an email from the headmaster at my son's primary school. It was not good news.
There had been amendments, he said, to the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006. Brackets aside, the gist was that where before headteachers could use their discretion to authorise up to 10 days of holiday within term time each year, from 1 September 2013 they no longer had the latitude to do so. (Take a look here if you'd like to know more: bit.ly/NoSkiving).
Now you risk a fine of £60-£120 – even if anecdotally it seems you can still get away with a day or two here and there. Last weekend, I met a parent who had found himself on the wrong side of the new directive. Eventually the headteacher relented, saying that although he couldn't officially sanction the extra day's holiday, he wouldn't place a black mark next to the child's name.
Parents in less privileged parts of the world have far bigger things to worry about. And if you're in a position to go on a family ski holiday, you're probably in a position to cough up if the headteacher does report you. You can also see why the DfE might prefer children to be educated, rather than spending term time in Disneyland.
However, travel really does broaden the mind, and families for whom peak-season prices are impossible to countenance are often the ones whose children's lives would genuinely be "enriched" by travel.
Whatever your financial position, the pressure on family holidays is causing a stir. Online travel deals company Travelzoo recently launched a petition (see bit.ly/APDfree) calling for an easing of what it calls a "parent trap" of government legislation, high travel-related taxes and tour-operator price hikes during school holidays. The demand is that school-holiday flights should be free of Air Passenger Duty (APD).
Richard Singer, the company's European managing director, wants a parliamentary debate: "We know the current situation is making it increasingly difficult for families to be able to spend quality time together on holiday, so action is most definitely needed."
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