Penalties aren't the best way to stop term-time holidays

 

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Holidays – for reasons that are not invariably selfless – seem to be the educational issue that most raises many parents’ blood pressure.

Some 200,000 of them have signed a petition to reverse the Government’s ruling that, from last September, imposed fines on parents who whisk their children away from school during term time. They say the previous, more flexible system allowed families to avoid the eye-watering “holiday season” mark-up, and trip off for a break (books in satchels, naturally) without paying over the odds.

Now research from the BBC shows that many have decided to snub their noses at the Government and go ahead anyway – accepting the fine of £60 per child. Local councils have recorded 64,000 penalties this year, a 70 per cent rise on 2013. The increase, according to the BBC, is largely made up of holidaymakers, not the parents of persistent truants, who face the same financial sanctions. This comes as something of a relief. Poverty is linked to truancy, and exacerbating the former is no sensible way to reduce the latter.

The attempt to keep children in school, week in, week out, was a sensible one. Work comes first, as a teacher might tut. Either at home or abroad, children get plenty of holiday time away from their desks. But the practical implementation of the change does not seem to have matched the wisdom of its intentions.

With school break travel mark-ups averaging about 60 per cent, it is often a good deal cheaper for parents to pay the fine and travel in term time – a sort of holiday tax. If the ambition is to keep pupils in front of a whiteboard, rather than fill the Government’s coffers, then other approaches should be considered.

To cap the rise in prices by holiday companies, as some have suggested, would constitute a clumsy headlock over natural market forces. Better to stagger term times, as is the case in parts of Europe, and ease the bottlenecking of demand that way. All schools will be able to set their own holiday dates from next year, which may solve the problem.

Then, presumably, we can return to worrying about how children do in school, not the time they can take out of it.

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