Right or wrong? Making kids miss school for family holidays.

Recent news that Shropshire parents Stewart and Natasha Sutherland have been fined £1,000 for taking their kids on holiday during term-time has opened a can of worms amongst parents and teachers. The story has prompted not only a 33,000-signature petition to change legislation that restricts term-time travel, but also backlash from parents who think it’s irresponsible to take kids out of school just to go on holiday.

According to travel deals website Travelzoo, the cost of a packageholiday increases by an estimated 40% during the school holidays compared to term time. With the cost of travel skyrocketing once school’s out, it must certainly be tempting for parents to take children out of school to on holiday. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Travelzoo, 50% of parents admitted to doing so, with one mother claiming she lied to school staff and disguised her child’s suntan “with foundation” on his return to class.

If that’s true – some lesson.

Many parents argued in favour of travel broadening the mind, which is all very well if you’re pulling a Theodora Sutcliffe and slow-travelling around the world with your child, hiring tutors along the way, enrolling in local schools for the months that you’re staying in a new country. Even perhaps if you’re visiting culturally significant cities like Florence, and have the knowledge to teach your child about what they’re looking at.

But life’s lessons from a week by the pool in Tenerife? Anyone who thinks that broadens the mind is just kidding themselves. It might be relaxing, fun, time to bond with the family, life affirming – but it’s not an education.

Some might argue that the National Curriculum doesn’t provide much of an education either, but it’s still better than nothing. At its best, the UK’s school and uni system can be truly inspiring, and for all its failings provides children with the sort of forward momentum and credentials that will help them stay fed, housed and hopefully take themselves on holiday every now & then once Mum/Dad aren’t around to whisk them off on a sunny break.

Teaching them to just bunk off whenever they feel like it is unlikely to give them the sort of work ethic that will let them fulfil their hopes and potential, or get to the stage when they can afford to go abroad and really broaden their horizons.

It’s true that the massive hike in travel prices during the school holidays does seem unfair, but it’s a byproduct of capitalism – prices rise when demand is higher. Travelzoo Managing Director Richard Singer has launched a campaign asking the UK government to waive or reduce Airport Passenger Duty during holiday weeks – a move which could save a family of four around £350.

Another option might be for people to get realistic. When did it become “normal” to go abroad every year? Why do we all think we’re somehow hard-done-by if we don’t? At the risk of getting all “when I was a lass”, it used to be noteworthy when kids in our school went abroad during the holidays – it was unusual. We did live in one of Britain’s sunniest holiday destinations, so perhaps there was less need. But it was also because our families got by on what money they had and didn’t try to live beyond their means. When we had saved up enough to go away, it was a memorable treat, and one that wasn’t spoiled by the stress of having to catch up on one or two weeks lessons and homework when we got home.

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