Why is no-one blaming the travel firms in the term-time holiday row?

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As the issue of term-time holidays hits the headlines again, SecEd editor Pete Henshaw asks why it is always schools and ministers who get the blame, and not the holiday firms which exploit hard-working families

I am constantly amazed by the fact that it’s schools who get it in the neck over the issue of term-time holidays.

This issue is one of those that affect a lot of families in this country and can really get people angry.

The fundamental question is: should a parent have the right to take their child out of school during term-time to go on a family holiday?

After years of this decision resting with headteachers, the government has now taken a clear view. New regulations came in this term meaning headteachers can no longer grant any absence outside school holidays, unless the circumstances are “exceptional”. Previously, heads were allowed to grant up to 10 days of absence during term-time for family holidays.

However, many hard-pressed families up and down the country take a different view and feel they should have the right to take their children out of school for holidays.

The issue has hit the headlines once again this week after a lone parent’s online petition attracted 130,000 signatures and was handed in at the Department for Education.

The petition, hosted on the 38 Degrees campaigning website and set up by parent Craig Langman, says that many families cannot afford the cost of vacations during school holiday periods.

And this is of course the crux of the issue – the cost. Many families cannot afford the expense of trips away during school holiday time for no other reason than because travel companies and holiday firms ramp up their prices to as much as three times the normal rate.

It is cynical, it is cruel and it is big business. But despite this, no-one has launched any petition anywhere urging action to stop this great annual rip-off.

And this is why I am always astonished. None of our ire is ever directed at the holiday and travel firms. Despite the number of times this debate raises its head, we all seemingly accept that these companies are well within their rights to take advantage of families in this way. And let’s be clear, it is taking advantage – there’s no Big Society for these companies, only big bucks every time the summer holidays roll around.

Let’s be clear: family holidays are important – they bond the family unit, they provide vital time for relaxation, they can also be clearly educational and can open up new horizons for young minds.

But let’s be equally clear: education is paramount in the lives of young people and the message we send by allowing children to walk out of school in order to head off to the Spanish coast or to Disney World is dangerous.

Of course I do not dismiss these kind of holidays as having no positive impact on children or the family unit, but for me the effect is not such that it justifies your child skipping five or 10 days of their education.

Let’s also not forget that there are clear links between attendance at school and educational outcomes and while it may seem petty to deny a child even five days off to go away with their family, a line has to be drawn.

I for one welcome the new regulations because at last the decision has been taken out of the hands of the headteacher. No longer can parents “blame” their school when all a headteacher has done is try to protect the educational interests of the student.

The debate is, of course, endless, as the online comments have shown this week. Some point out that term-time holidays are not the only solution, as camping trips or other home-grown holidays are much cheaper, even during half-term or the summer break. Others argue that allowing a term-time trip to Rome, for example, could prove to be more educational than five days at school. Both are excellent arguments and every case is, of course, different.

However, ultimately, whatever your view, why can we not pool our collective anger and direct it where it belongs – at the travel firms who are quite content to squeeze every last penny out of the pockets of hard-working parents.


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