MountainBase, a British ski operator running holidays in the Alps, has told customers that the company will pay fines of up to £700 if they choose to take their children skiing during school term time.
Teachers have been outraged, but the company has defended the move robustly, claiming these are vital educational trips.
The company, which offers holidays in Morzine, ran the deal on its Facebook page on 5 March, saying: "Are schools taking the piste?" It highlighted that the snow in the resort was in excellent condition,and that more is forecast for the coming weeks. Then it outlined its offer, saying: "Book a week with children at MountainBase/Inferno we will if you receive a fine from your school/local authority pay the fine on copy of a receipt from yourselves. This is based on any booking in March/April except the free ski pass option."
The reaction from teachers has been hostile: The Telegraph reported that the National Union of Teachers called it irresponsible - saying that rather than encourage parents to take their children out of school, the firm should be lowering the costs during the school holidays. The Department of Education added that anyone who takes their children out of school during term-time without permission risks a prosecution and a criminal record.
The firm has defended the move robustly. Owner Lee Quince has pointed out that financially it's no different to the deals offered by other ski firms for this period for things like a free child ski pass in March or free child places - which are going to end up being taken up mainly by children of school age taking a break outside the school holidays.
He also pointed out in a statement that the education value of this trip is not to be underestimated. He said: "Sport is a skill to be learned and we believe we offer holidays that allows everybody to enjoy or enhance their skills in the activity's we offer. The debate surrounding academic learning is very personal to every individual and everybody has a different stance and take on the subject. As a parent myself education for my children is one of the most important parts of modern society and is part of a firm grounding for their future, what must be respected is everybody is different with different skills and different interests and as a society we should embrace these, nurture these and build on them, not everybody is a square peg in a square hole."
He argued that a skiing holiday isn't like taking the children out of school to sit on a beach, it's teaching the vital skills that could lead to them developing a real talent for the sport - and possibly improving the fortune of Britons in future Winter Olympics.
He added that was up to each parent to make their own decision as to whether to take children out of school for a holiday, and that the firm did not condone taking children out of school without permission - as it is a criminal offence. It said that parents should apply for leave with the governing body of the school.
The firm has also highlighted that to date nobody has taken up the offer, and until it received press attention this week there had been very little reaction at all from consumers.
In the wake of the coverage, there have been plenty of customers showing their appreciation for the offer. On the Facebook page Jenny Tindall commented: "I think this is brilliant and will definitely be looking at your company", and Michelle Bakewell added: "Just been forwarded your post by a friend as we're staying in Morzine at the moment. I think it's a great idea and would have definitely taken up your offer had we not already been here!"
The issue has been angering many parents since the rules changed for this academic year. Previously schools could give parents permission to take children out of school for up to ten days in 'special circumstances.' Now in order to get this permission, the children require 'exceptional circumstances.'
If parents choose to take their children out of school without permission they can be charged a maximum of £60 per pupil - which rises to £120 if not paid within seven days. If parents refuse to pay at all they face criminal prosecution - which can result in fines of up to £2,500, and in extreme circumstances a jail sentence can be imposed.
The courts have not been afraid to enforce the rules. In January a couple from Telford paid nearly £1,000 for taking their three children on an unauthorised holiday to Greece.
The question is therefore what parents can do. There are those who would like to see holiday companies forced to reduce the cost of breaks during the school holidays. A debate was held in parliament in February after a petition to force the government to take action over high holiday prices during the school holidays garnered 1,700 signatures.
However, Quince told the Daily Mail: "People accuse us of ripping families off by charging higher prices during school holidays but we are actually just balancing our books because we can't fill the spaces outside of the half-term holidays."
As we reported last month, the government insists that the solution is for parents to lobby their local school to shift the school holiday dates slightly, so they can take advantage of cheaper deals. The government has given the schools permission to vary their holidays and some, such as the David Young Community Academy in Leeds, have done just that, but there remains scope for more parents to push for a change.
Ski holiday company offers to pay parents' fines for term-time holidays
With its tax-free status, Italy's Livigno is a superb option for snow sports fans in search of excellent value. The friendly ski resort is nestled between two easily accessible mountain faces with a charming town. This winter, visitors to the resorts have the chance to get out on the Italian pistes with a free ski pass in their pocket if they spend at least four nights in a hotel or seven nights in an apartment. The offer runs from 1 to 20 December and 5 April to 1 May. As over 80 per cent of Livigno's slopes can confirm coverage from their snow-making system, it's also a risk-free option for early and late season visits, meaning you can also save on your flight by avoiding peak travel dates.
Post Office tells us that Bulgarian ski resort Bansko is still the cheapest resort around for bargain hunters and is ideal for families who are looking to cut the cost of their ski break. The Post Office Ski Resort Report revealed that prices for ski equipment, lift passes, ski school, meals and drinks are £885 for a family of four - 23 per cent less than in runner-up resort Kranjska Gora in Slovenia at £1,154. Low-cost airlines easyJet and Wizzair fly to Sofia from the UK and there's affordable accommodation available. AlphaHolidayLettings.com has a selection of chalets and apartments in Bansko, including luxury apartments with full hotel facilities from £99 per person per week.
Cheap flights from London Stansted to Carcassonne with Ryanair make Soldeu in Andorra one of Europe's best ski resorts for budget travellers. What's more, Andorra is well-known for its duty-free status which helps when it comes to the après-ski fun. There's no shortage of bars, restaurants and hotels and drinks are served by the amount you want, not in uniform measures. The village of El Tarter is also home to one of Europe's most respected ski schools so if you're serious about skiing and want to be taught by the best instructors without the price tag, Soldeu is the resort for you. Inghams offers seven-night family breaks in Soldeu from £594 per person on a half-board basis.
Ok, so you probably didn't imagine jetting off to North America on an affordable ski break but a transatlantic trip this winter offers better value than you think. In Canada, you'll find low resort costs for ski passes and equipment, plus the weak Canadian dollar. This winter, the Canadian ski resorts are offering great value packages with plenty of deals to be had. For the best value, head for Banff where you can enjoy seven nights' skiing with return flights, resort transfers from Calgary airport and accommodation at the Inns of Banff hotel in January from £859 per person with Canadian Affair.
Of the Big Four (Austria, France, Switzerland and Italy), family-friendly Ellmau in Austria offers the best value ski resort costs for a family of four with an average price of £1,201. Post Office research found that Ellmau's resort costs were 16 per cent cheaper than Morzine in France, 20 per cent less than Cervinia in Italy and 30 per cent less than Saas Fee in Switzerland. Located in the heart of the Austrian Tyrol, the attractive village combines fantastic skiing options, beautiful scenery and excellent value. Prices can start from as little as €5 (£4) for a hearty Gulasch Soup and you can expect to pay about €3 (£2.40) for a half litre of beer. The SkiWelt links eight resorts and boasts 280km of pistes – the largest linked ski area in Austria – all available to explore on one lift pass, from £155 for six days. Inghams offers seven nights' half-board accommodation at Alte Post from £685 per person, including return flights from Gatwick to Salzburg and resort transfers.
A hidden gem of the Aosta Valley, Pila is the ideal choice for families looking to avoid the hustle and bustle and lift queues of the popular French resorts of Tignes and Val-d’Isere, and get the most from their money. The Italian resort has over 70km of well-groomed pistes catering to all levels, including wide blue runs for beginners. The high altitude means that the resort enjoys a sunny position by day and a good covering of snow throughout the season. Dining out in Pila is reasonably priced, with even the slope-side restaurants offering exceptional value for money, while the après ski scene is laid back. Located just a six-minute walk from the slopes, La Chance is a beautiful boutique hotel in Pila featuring stylish bedrooms and a luxury spa with Jacuzzi, sauna and Turkish bath. Ski Solutions offers seven nights' accommodation and flights from £920 per person, based on a 3 January 2015 departure from London.
The most expensive part of a ski trip can be getting there and with spectacular mountains on our doorstep, who needs to head for the Alps? Scotland's Cairngorms are just a cheap flight away with easyJet and while the actual skiing may not be that much cheaper than the Alps, you won't be paying £5 for a hot chocolate (and The Ptarmigan Restaurant makes the best hot chocolate around!). Plus you might get lucky and see the Northern Lights, making it one affordable Aurora Borealis holiday. Visit cairngormmountain.org to buy ski passes and hire equipment.
As Bulgaria offers such terrific value, it means you can experience luxury without the price tag. Beautiful Pamporovo is set among pine forests and dramatic mountain scenery. It's the second largest ski resort in the country and is situated in the picturesque Rhodope Mountains, with an average 270 days of sunshine a year, offering clear and sunny conditions. For a luxury ski trip at an excellent price, stay at Villa Gella, one of the top chalets in the county with Alpine Guru. Prices start at £7,200 per week, compared to a property in the Alps which would cost no less than €25,000 for a low season week. The chalet spans over one thousand square metres across four floors and offers superb views over the surrounding mountains. There are six bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and a Jacuzzi and spa for relaxing after a long, hard day’s skiing.
In Winter Park, Colorado, prices have reportedly fallen 10 per cent since last season to £2,105 and the Post Office tells us the cost of a family meal on the slopes (£33.35) is lower than Bansko, Bulgaria (£34.75). Winter Park is Colorado's best kept secret and happens to be one of the largest ski areas in America. It receives more snowfall than any other US ski resort, offering great value for money and a huge range of activities for beginners and expert skiers. Virgin Holidays is offering seven nights in Winter Park from £945 per person, including a stay at The Vintage Hotel and flights from Heathrow.