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Shock at huge rise in parents taking kids out of school for holidays

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

PUPILS at Scottish schools skipped more than half a million days of lessons last year to go on holiday – a shocking 55% rise in just 10 years.

Scottish Government figures show 641,380 days were lost in primary, secondary and special schools across the country due to unauthorised holiday absence.

And it’s thought the inflated cost of packages during the school holidays is behind the soaring number of parents willing to let kids miss term-time lessons.

The unauthorised holiday absence stats are up 2% on the previous year, when 628,374 days were taken off for term-time family holidays and 55% on a decade ago (414,637).

In the 2014/15 year, 434,757 days were missed in primary schools, 202,019 days were taken off in secondaries and 4603 days in schools for children with special needs.

The stats don’t include other reasons for non-attendance, such as sickness or truancy.

A Sunday Post investigation revealed holidays abroad can cost up to 150% more during the official holidays than term time.

For example, we found a seven-night break for two adults and two children to the Algarve in Portugal cost 95% more to go in mid-July than mid-June.

And a week-long family holiday in Mexico, cost £651 per person during term time but £1622 during the summer break – an increase of 149%.

Hiked prices of package breaks abroad, as well as some parents not being able to get leave from work during the school summer, are thought to be behind the increasing willingness to take kids out of class.

Sean Tipton, from ABTA, which represents travel agencies, said: “Nobody can deny holiday prices go up during the school holidays. It’s supply and demand, just the same as other peak times, such as Christmas and Easter.

“More people want to get away, not only from the UK but from many other countries, placing huge demand on airlines and hotels.

“Prices therefore increase and they can be significantly higher than during term time.

“There is a solution, which we’ve been suggesting for nearly 10 years – that schools do the same as the Continent and stagger their holidays by region. That way not everyone is trying to get away on holiday at the same time.”

John Kinnear of the Family Holiday Association, which helps struggling families enjoy breaks at the British seaside, said it’s important families enjoy holidays together, even if that means they have to be arranged during school times.

“Headteachers recognise, in some cases, the benefits to a child of having a break away from home can outweigh the value of a few days away from school,” he said.

“Research shows the breaks have helped improve communication within the family and have given families a chance to experience new things together.

“They help families cope better once they return home and, of course, create memories that will last a lifetime.

“We also hear that children are able to focus better in class and even have improved attendance once they return.”

However, the EIS teaching union says large amounts of unauthorised absence can have a damaging effect.

“Often, pupils will have significant difficulty in catching up after a period of absence.

“This creates difficulties for teachers, who cannot hold back the entire class to allow an individual to catch up,” a spokesman said.

“Parents should be mindful of the potential impact on their child’s education and consider if the financial savings are worth the potential cost to that.

“However, we recognise the cost of travel during school holidays can be considerably higher than during term time and, in some instances, parents have no option but to take children out of school.”

Jim Thewliss, general secretary for School Leaders Scotland, added: “Pupils are expected to attend school as close to 100% of the time as possible, and they should not miss school to go on holiday.

“Even short periods of absence can have a detrimental impact on learning, hence consistent attendance is absolutely vital.

“We are a nation which values education and learning. Regular attendance at school is part of the shared commitment of teachers and parents to supporting the life chances of young people.

“The majority of parents recognise the importance of high attendance to their children’s success at school.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Although only around 0.5% of days were lost to unauthorised holiday absences in 2014/15, it is important schools and parents do all they can to ensure good attendance to maintain children’s attainment.

“Parents and pupils are encouraged to recognise the value of learning and the pitfalls of disrupting learning for the pupil, the rest of the class and the teacher.

“It is up to education authorities to decide what sanctions they use if there is an unauthorised absence.

“The Government has no plans to amend legislation in relation to school attendance.

“However, we will continue to support local authorities, schools and parents do all they can to ensure good attendance.”

 

The rules

Parents in the UK have a legal obligation to ensure their children attend school. If they don’t, they could end up in court.

In England, parents who take their children out of school without permission face fines of up to £100 which can go up if unpaid.

Time taken for family holidays outwith official school breaks is recorded as “unauthorised absence” and councils can issue sanctions to parents who flout the rules. These sanctions can include referral to the children’s panel, the issuing of attendance orders and prosecution.

Schools in Scotland do not normally “give permission” for family holidays during term time except in exceptional circumstances.

This is on the grounds that “teachers have to spend time making sure pupils have caught up and it creates a belief truancy is acceptable”.

 

Your views

I would have gone to jail

JON PLATT was prepared to go to jail to fight for his right to take his child out of school for a holiday.

Last month, he won an English High Court victory after he refused to pay a £120 truancy fine issued after he took his daughter out of lessons to go to Disney World in Florida.

The High Court upheld the magistrates’ decision that Mr Platt, from the Isle of Wight, had no case to answer as his daughter had attended school regularly overall.

“I risked a criminal record to prove a point,” Jon said.

Jon, who has two daughters and a stepson, said: “I’ve taken my kids out of school for holidays many times – because I fundamentally believe holidays are good for them.

“Childhoods are too short. Before I know it, they’ll be teenagers wanting to go off on their own to Ibiza rather than Disney, so I’m seizing the opportunity to have these experiences with them while I can.

“When I was a kid, our family couldn’t afford holidays abroad, so I want to spend every penny I have making sure my kids can.

“My decision is influenced by cost. You pay double or treble the term- time cost to go away during school holidays. In fact, once it cost us five times as much.

“But also because I know that one week of the year isn’t harming their education. All three of the children are doing amazingly at school and it hasn’t in any way affected their attainment levels.

“In the UK, we actually educate our children too much. Private schools have 23 days less term time than state schools and their attainment levels are higher.

“Since the Florida holiday I’ve taken her out of school again. We got a fine, but I refused to pay again.

“Going to court could have cost me tens of thousands of pounds, but it would be worth every penny if it helps another parent.

“There are many reasons why some families can only holiday together outwith the school breaks, like parents not being able to get time off work, and it is far better to take the kids out of school than not go on holiday at all.

“Spending time together as a family is so important and the time to be able to do that doesn’t last forever.”

 

Costs disgrace

Parent Hayley Cook says summer holiday prices are staggering.

“When I looked at holidays within the school holidays and outwith, there was £1000 of a difference. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

The mum-of-three is taking Asa out of class in November for a trip to New York.

“He needed open heart surgery when he was born so, when he turned 10, I wanted to do something special,” she said.

“I’m not worried about Asa having trouble catching up – and we’ll be at museums and public libraries so he’ll still be learning.

“And gaining something much more important – experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.”

 

Naughty step

ALAN SHAW, from Torrance, took son Euan out of school for a once-in-a-lifetime family holiday to Florida a few years ago.

“Once we’d tallied up all the costs, waiting until the school holidays would have cost at least an extra £750,” he said.

“On our return, we were greeted by a stern letter from the council sending us to the naughty step for the unauthorised absence.

“But it was completely worth it.

“Euan is now at secondary school so I’m not sure we’d take him out of school again – but I can see why parents holiday outwith the school holidays.

“There are serious savings to be made.”

 

Education is the greatest gift we can give our children

FORMER teacher Christopher McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, stressed the knock-on effect of kids missing class.

“We think children should attend if their school is providing a decent education.

“Education is the greatest gift we can give our children.

“Given the UK’s poor educational performance, we need pupils to spend more time in school, not less.

“Holidays in term time send the wrong message to children about the importance of education and can be disruptive to teaching when a returning child has to catch up.

“Around the world the vast majority of parents value education and do all they can to get their child into school.

“Educational attainment in the UK is languishing up to three years behind the best education systems around the world by the age of 15.

“In a recent survey we came bottom among developed countries for literacy and second bottom for numeracy.

“We are the only country where grandparents out-perform their grandchildren in literacy and numeracy.

“Educational attainment continues to slip. Absence from school is unlikely to help.”

Is a family holiday worth missing school for? Tell us your views trbryce@sundaypost.com or 0141 567 2757


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