Are you planning to bunk off school?

If you are a working parent you may not be alone. It will be the far from unintended result of some well-meaning, but badly thought through, legislation.

You see if you have children of school age and want a fortnight’s family holiday your only two options are now Easter or the summer holidays. That’s due to new rules that say taking children away during term time is strictly verboten. Of course long haul at Xmas is also an option – provided you have deep pockets (which many of us don’t).

This has been a popular topic of conversation recently:  how to manage the impossible task of forcing so many working parent’s holidays into just 8 weeks of the year. One SME I spoke to has 30 staff, 28 of them with school age children. That means at least 9 staff off every week in August if they are all to get a two week family summer holiday. The business can’t sustain that level of absence but to say no will undoubtedly have long term repercussions for engagement and retention as the underlying problem won’t go away.

I am sure the holiday companies are rubbing their hands with glee as the premiums for August and Easter holidays soar. I’m not naive enough to think it isn’t a simple case of supply and demand. However it is also true I used to have an alternative… We, like lots of other people used to use the May or October half terms to get a more affordable two week holiday.

For example, three years ago we went to Menorca in May – taking the children out of school for one week (with the Headteacher’s OK) to add to half term. We carefully avoided any clash with SATS, exams etc. This year we are having the same holiday but in August and it will cost us double. Luckily we can just about afford it – but I am sure for many families it means a fortnight in the sun is now an unreachable luxury.

I am sure that for Headteachers the change in rules is a mixed blessing. On one hand it means they have more authority to rein in irresponsible parents. If nothing else using the rules to give a blanket “no”. On the other, I am sure many are feeling the wrath of responsible parents whose applications to take children out of school are turned down.

The growing consensus seems to be that the Government can’t regulate one side of the equation without the other. If you interfere with the demand side (saying when people can take their holidays) you have to interfere on the supply side too. Already there’s talk of schools being encouraged to stagger the summer holidays so that some start their six week break as early as June while others wait until late August or even September. Or perhaps have a shorter summer break and longer May and October half terms… Of course all that is fine IF your children all go to schools that join it up…

A petition to Parliament demanding change has already attracted 160,000 supporters. And business groups are joining the fray too. I am sure Messrs. Gove and Cable have a big postbag on the issue.

My fear is that unless the rules are changed one of two scenarios is likely to happen. Firstly (and I suspect this is already happening) parents will take children out without seeking permission and simply report the child as unwell. In an era of mobile phones and email that sick call could come from anywhere on the planet. Watch out for suspiciously tanned children in a playground near you…

Alternatively parents will just decide the fine is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of an inflated August package holiday. Data quoted by the BBC suggests the number of fines has increased 70% this school year so it looks to be happening already. And at just £60 per parent per child it looks a comparative bargain. I could have paid £240 in fines and saved £3000 on holiday costs this year.

Hopefully common sense will prevail and a more enlightened regime introduced. It is a classic case of bad law to manage the few impacting on the many. Otherwise working parents will no doubt take matters into their own hands. The fact Mr. Cameron is now commenting on the issue shows how the heat is being turned up by angry parents… Trouble is the scale of change required to alter our whole school holiday, exams etc scheduling could only happen from the centre.

Ian Gooden
Chief Executive

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