Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Fines for term times holidays? Poor parents, rich government?

Last week this couple were fined over £300 for taking their three children
on a one week holiday during term time.  This rose to nearly £1000 after they delayed payment.

We received a letter home a couple of months ago, warning us of the consequences of the children missing a day at school.  No absences would be authorised, even if for educational reasons.  Holidays during term time would result in a fine of £60 per child.

Bearing in mind here we're not talking about a group of teenagers about to take their GCSEs, we're talking about 4-11 year olds who aren't going to be job hunting anytime soon.

Did someone forget the state don't own our children?  Since when did the British education system start to resemble HM prison service?  At what point did parents become completely unable to consider the welfare of their children and make an appropriate decision?  When it became profitable?

Despite what many parents believe, in the UK children don't have to attend school.  The legal requirement is that every child receives an education - so this can be via school or home education.  Some may claim therefore that if you choose a school, you should suck it up and follow the rules.


Our education system is state funded, making parents entirely entitled to an opinion.  Just like choosing an hospital birth doesn't mean you have to shut up or put up with the level of care received regardless.

So it seems whilst schools can decide to take our children on trips they consider important (at cost to us of course), we their parents can't be trusted to make such a decision.

No doubt this is to protect the children who are forever missing school for non educational purposes, perhaps to help run a business or simply because the parents can't be bothered taking them - so this means the entire parent population must suffer because schools can seemingly not apply discretion?  Is there no ground that can be found between an odd authorised day or week and taking the p&£$?

According to The Guardian:
"A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "Poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect and children who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent."
But hang on we're not talking about penalising repeat offenders who have "poor attendance" and are "regularly absent".  We're talking about a school refusing a single authorised day even if the purpose is educationally beneficial.

The authorities claim that taking time away from school "disrupts learning", seriously with that many kids in the class you would think a few missing would help rather than hinder - but really at no point in the next 7-14 years of education (depending on the age of the child) can they make up what they miss during a short break away?

What annoys me even more is the ridiculous assumption that the only learning that is worthwhile takes place in a classroom - that a child couldn't possibly learn anything of benefit from a two week holiday away experiencing a difficult culture, language or perhaps learning to build camp fires in the woods.    Of course school organised trips away appear to provide benefits which cannot be replicated by us humble parents.

The fact a holiday may result in a child coming back happy, recharged, and keen to learn, thus potentially making them far more productive - not given any consideration.

But it should be.  Because the very real fact is that if parents don't take non term time holidays, a great many families wont be able to have a holiday at all.

Taking a non term time holidays costs up to £1000 more for a family of four - with significant differences whether you look at Centreparcs or a fortnight abroad.  I hit the Thomas Cook website and searched for a holiday in Spain for two adults and two children.  The first search I picked the two weeks that would finish just before the end of the academic term, the second I selected the first two weeks of the summer holidays.

The price results for a pretty bog standard 3 star hotel:
Spot the half term week at Centreparcs?

You can't really blame the travel companies, of course many parents want to go abroad in school holidays -the basic economic principle of demand and supply highlights a premium will be charged for this.  Money made during the holiday weeks probably subsidises cheaper rates the rest of the year - which is what a great many parents took advantage of.  If rooms are going to be empty more frequently during term times because children aren't allowed to go, prices have to increase for the spaces they can fill for the business to survive. On a larger scale, less visitors outside of peak times may also mean the amount of employees needs to be reduced during those periods too.

This leaves parents divided - some will take the holiday and pay the fine, because £120 for two children still saves them so much it's a no brainer.  But the reality is this classed as a criminal offence, and parents could be prosecuted. The result surely is that some children simply wont get time away as a family.  There are also of course some parents who work in industries that are busiest during holidays, and thus can't take time off then - but hey, as we've discovered someone somewhere decided there was no value to a child spending quality time with their family anyway.

The result however is pretty profitable for the government.  In Sussex alone parents were fined a total of £97,295 for taking their children on holiday during term time.  Add that up across the country and whilst parents might find themselves struggling, the authorities clearly wont.

As for me I'm thinking of taking up a new religion.  According to the guidelines:
"There are exceptions to the rule – missing school for religious observance (a code R absence) must not be treated as unauthorised absence."
I find it quite fascinating in 2014 that religion is the only thing that seems to "trump" the state education system - but what determines "a religion" is a very grey area, so perhaps parents can get creative ;)