How travel rip-offs are damaging education
More than half of all parents are willing to take their children out of school to save money on their holidays, regardless of the school's policy on absences. This includes almost 50% of those in the midst of GCSEs and A-Levels.
But why are parents being driven to do this, and why can't schools stop them?
New research from Direct Line revealed that 55% of parents would take their children out of school for a cheap holiday - and 48% of those in the key exam years would too.
Why?The reasons are straightforward enough. Travel companies are ripping parents off - taking advantage of the fact they are tied to school holidays in order to fleece them for every penny.
According to research from LV=, a typical family holiday in Spain during term-time costs £1,966, whereas the same break in the summer is £2,854 - 43% more expensive.
Likewise a week in Disneyland, Florida, costs £2,619 during term-time and £3,824 during the summer holidays - a price difference of £1,205, or 46%.
Selwyn Fernandes, managing director of LV= travel insurance, said: "The difference in price for taking a trip during the school holidays and during term-time is huge. It is not surprising that so many parents are willing to risk a fine when they can save so much by holidaying outside of the peak season."
And the savings don't have to be that big before parents vote with their feet. Of the parents willing to take their children out of school for a holiday, two-thirds would do so for a saving of £500 or less, while one in six would take their children on holiday during term-time for a saving of just £50.
Why can't schools stop them?The Government has been trying to crack down on this. The absence statistics are key to a school's Ofsted report, so if it regularly lets children take holidays during term time, it could damage their rating. It has led to many automatically refusing requests - unless there are very special circumstances.
To add muscle to the schools' position, the government recommends they should fine parents £50 for unauthorised absences. Schools are also allowed to bring in penalties of their own.
During 2011 the number of fines issued to parents for taking their children out of school for a term-time holiday rose by 60% compared to 2010, with each council issuing 177 fines on average.
The highest numbers of fines for term-time absences were given in Kent (1,969), Luton (1,086) and Waltham Forest (707).
So why doesn't it work?Part of the problem is that schools don't shout about the rules. Some 43% of parents told Direct Line that they have no idea of the policies employed at their children's school.
Another major issue is that the financial penalties are a drop in the ocean compared to the saving available. If you can save £1,000 on the holiday, why would a £50 fine put you off?
However, perhaps the biggest issue here is that parents have no respect for the schools or the teachers. Parents who have sufficiently lost touch with schools and their rules are happy to lie about absence, deny the rules, and pay a paltry £50.
It's an interesting example to set their kids.
AlternativesThere are those who argue that you don't have to damage your children's education in order to get a decent break at a reasonable cost.
Direct Line's has issued some money-saving tips that can shave hundreds of pounds off the cost of a holiday, and could push it into affordability even at the most popular times
- Go for an all-inclusive holiday, so that your costs are relatively fixed and you don't have to worry about food and drink bills adding up while you're trying to relax
- Consider the entire cost of the holiday, such as local food and entertainment costs, rather than just going somewhere served by budget airlines or cheap flights
- Look for less popular destinations - these may still offer what you want, such as winter sun or family activities, but could have better deals to attract visitors
- Check prices from all UK airports - driving or taking the train to a different airport might be cheaper than flying from the nearest airport to your home
- Look at other holiday costs that you could reduce, such as travelling with only hand-luggage, taking public transport rather than parking at the airport, not buying new holiday clothes, and getting foreign currency without paying fees on your credit or debit card
- If staying in self-catering accommodation, shop at local markets to find low cost and interesting new ingredients to make your own meals
However, there will be plenty of people who have tried all of these tricks and come up short. These parents have a choice: they can show a bit of moral fibre, cut back elsewhere, and find the money; they can choose to go on holiday in alternate years; or they can break the rules and treat themselves and the kids.
But what do you think? Would you take your kids away during the school holidays? Let us know in the comments.
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