It’s a debate that has rumbled on for years, but the issue over whether parents should be able to take their children on holiday during term time has finally reached a conclusion.
On Thursday, the supreme court ruled in a case about the legality of term-time holidays, after the Isle of Wight council appealed against a high court ruling last year in favour of Jon Platt, who refused to pay a £120 fine after taking his daughter out of school to go on holiday.
The ban and fine were upheld, with deputy president of the supreme court Lady Hale saying: “Any educational system expects people to keep the rules. Not to do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the costs or inconvenience to themselves.”
But since the original case, term-time holidays have been allowed by an increasing number of schools, after councils relaxed policies on fining parents. It represents a growing backlash against rules brought in in September 2013, which said children could be taken out of school only in “exceptional circumstances”, with fines upwards of £60 for doing so. Before then, head teachers could use their discretion to permit term-time holidays of up to 10 days a year.
As the supreme court ruling puts an end to that, we spoke to parents across the UK to see where they stand on the rules – and whether they choose to break them.
Lisa Walker, Essex
As a former teacher, I believe that the decision should return to the discretion of the head teacher. I used to organise a school ski trip which ran in term time. The value of learning that took place during that week is similar to family holidays. The children were immersed in another language and encouraged to speak basic phrases, observed and absorbed a different culture, and had the experience of being in a different environment.
My five- and three-year-old have learned so much from their holidays and have memories they will take with them for ever. The best so far was staying in Italy on a farm with a 90-year-old couple who couldn’t speak a word of English. We can’t speak Italian, yet we somehow managed to communicate. The couple taught the children about machinery on the land, helped them to pick fruit and interacted with them. It creates a desire to see the world as they grow up. Most parents would encourage this and would actively engage in teaching and learning while away, despite it being informal. To deny families this opportunity is unfair.
We have a reasonable family income and yet are struggling to find somewhere affordable to go during the school holidays. I hope the law changes to recognise that learning takes place constantly and all around us: we don’t have to be sitting in a classroom.
It’s amazing how missing school can impact some children so incredibly, and others so little. I’m a teacher, and we had a child miss three weeks in the first two months of school this year so that she could go on family holidays. I told the parents that I was concerned about her settling into school life (she was new to the school in year three). They dismissed my concerns as she is quite a high achiever academically.
For the last three months she has struggled socially, she claims to hate school and her parents are making claims of bullying and lack of friendships. As she missed the bit of the year where the children started making their strong bonds with each other, she’s floundering. It’s so sad, because if she had been at school in those beginning weeks, these problems would probably not have arisen. I do understand, however, that holidaying in the “holidays” is expensive – as a teacher I can only holiday then myself.
James Clarke, Portsmouth
I think parents should be allowed to take their children on term-time holidays. Family time is important not only for the development of a child, but also to the relationships of the family unit. Furthermore, the experience of different countries and cultures contributes to a child’s development. It is also important that all families are able to holiday if they so wish. The price of holidays significantly increases during the school breaks and this effectively prices many families out of the market.
I also find the opposing arguments weak. The main one is that every day of school missed has a huge impact – which is nonsense. As long as the student’s attendance is 95% or above, the arguments for weakened academic performance fall flat. In addition, at most independent schools, the academic year is significantly shorter – 167 days on average – while student achievement is considerably higher. A previous argument was that independent schools have longer days. However, many academies have extended school days, and as over half of secondary schools are now academies, that gap is being lessened.
Finally, I disagree with the notion that the state knows how to raise my son better than I do. So, my family and I will be going on holiday in early July and I will be taking my son out of school. The reason that I am able to take my son out of school is because I work for an independent school and we break for summer on 5 July. I did look at the same holiday in late July, when my son’s state school breaks for summer, and the price nearly doubled. Absolutely ridiculous.
Suzette La Pierre, London
I’ve taken my daughter, who is 10, out of school during term time on three occasions. First for four days, then for 13 days (Thailand over Easter for a month) and recently, at Christmas, she missed seven days. I had a meeting with the head prior to the holidays and they were supportive and felt the trips were an educational experience. I wasn’t fined on any occasion but neither were the absences authorised. I do draw the line at taking her out of school at the beginning of the school year or when she starts exams.
Jon Platt sounds like a good father. He made it clear that he would make up for the time lost with his daughter’s education. She had a good attendance, and clearly wants the best for her. However, the problem is when other parents see this victory. Many parents, whose children have a much lower attendance rate, can’t afford the luxury of a tutor, or might not even be bothered to make up the time lost in school. I’m a teacher, and I foresee many children losing out on their education, in order to take time out of school for holidays and not making it up, putting them at a disadvantage in comparison with their peers with a better attendance rate.
Sam Haddad, Hove
Brighton & Hove council is trialling a two-week October half-term this year, with just five weeks instead of six weeks in summer. It’s designed partly to reduce the effect of long summer holidays on disadvantaged children but also to open up cheaper holiday options. The parents I know aren’t that happy about it (not because they don’t want to help disadvantaged kids – I don’t think many people even know this was the council’s motivation), but because you’d need to travel quite far to guarantee sun at that time of year and people find it easier to organise childcare over long summer holidays; it’s easier for grandparents to do fun UK stuff with them when the weather is nice.
Our school helpfully puts inset days before and after half-terms so you can often save hundreds of pounds on flights without taking a day off school, especially as easyJet prices soar to unaffordable levels within 30 minutes of being released. I actually think staggered half-terms around the country would be better though – which is what they do in France – because holiday companies could still profit over a longer period but we wouldn’t have the ridiculous surge in prices.
Samantha Jones, Cheshire
Yes, term-time holidays should be permitted but not without restrictions. And yes, I’ve done it, usually during the last week of a term because often this is a week when less academic work is done. In primary school, sometimes no real teaching is done in the packing-up week before summer, but equally you couldn’t have all children choose to miss that week.
Term-time absence in my case has always been restricted to one week only. A child could easily miss a week’s school through illness, a broken limb or other everyday causes, and nobody is suggesting those children are irreparably damaging their education through their absence.
However, rather than being officially sanctioned, I think it’s better if schools turn a blind eye to less than a week’s holiday once a year. On the whole, parents are committed to complying with school requirements, and I wouldn’t want to erode this positive state of affairs. But schools can seem draconian about absences while teachers sometimes take 12-week breaks. If schools insist on term-time limits, parents will suggest making school terms longer, which will suit everyone.
My son is in year two at primary school. We’re taking him out for three days ahead of the February half-term. The flights, from Wednesday to Wednesday, are a quarter of the price of flying at the weekend. The teacher seems quite OK with it. They told us to just say he’s sick. I wanted to tell the teacher in advance, because I need to know if there’s work he might need to catch up with, but if you go through the formal process you’ll get into trouble. Talking to other parents, the consensus seems to be that you just don’t own up to it. At the end of term, they do a lot of fun things, and he’s not missing any essential coursework. Maybe in a couple of years’ time, we may think differently, but when they’re in year two, I don’t think it matters.