Ski holiday company offers to pay parents' fines for term-time holidays


Adult skiing with a child

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.

In the interim, you can check out our recentguide on how to have a cheap break without taking the children out of school.

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