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Are school term-time holiday fines fair?


Parents could be fined hundreds of pounds for taking their kids out of school for a family holiday. But given the cost of peak-season breaks, is this fair?

Family on holiday running on the beach

Taking your children away during the school holidays is rarely cheap - increased demand during holidays typically leads to increased prices.

But parents who plan family breaks during term time – when holiday costs tend to be significantly lower – could face fines.

Families who opt for term-time travel and holidays could even face possible legal action.

Court battle over term-time holiday

Stewart and Natasha Sutherland from Telford in Shropshire lost a court battle after challenging a term-time holiday fine of £720.

They took their three children on a week-long trip to Greece, just weeks after the rules were changed in 2013.

Schools in England and Wales have long been able, in theory, to impose fines on parents who take their children out of school without authorisation.

But until September 2013, head teachers had been able to grant families up to 10 days of leave every year in "special circumstances".

Term-time holiday fines

Kid on a beach with flippers jumping in the air

In practice, this meant that many schools allowed up to two weeks of term-time holidays a year.

In 2014, however, the Department for Education (DfE) told heads in England that leave should only be granted in "exceptional circumstances".

Ministers say poor attendance can have a "hugely damaging effect".

Fines can be as much as £60 per parent per child for each leave of absence, increasing to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

Fail to pay, and you could land a prison sentence for up to three months, or a £25,000 fine.

Some local authorities in Wales are following England's lead by introducing fines.

What are these “exceptional circumstances”?

This could cover a family member's funeral, for example, but not a week in Tenerife.

The DfE hasn’t specified what “exceptional circumstances” actually means, leaving head teachers of schools to determine these themselves.

In general, however, fines can be imposed, and holidays authorised, at each school’s discretion.

You may find that your particular school will have more information about their rules on the policies section of the school’s website.

You can visit GOV.UK for more information about attendance from your local council.

Mumsnet: 'Some families can only afford term-time break'

Piggy bank on the beach

Justine Roberts, CEO of parenting website Mumsnet, says: "Parents would no doubt rather not take their children out of school.

"But the only way many families can afford a holiday is to go in term time because holiday companies ratchet up the prices in school holidays to such an extent.

"Now some schools are fining families for term-time absence, even that option is closed off."

Teacher: 'Rules apply to all of us'

James Butler, Raising Standards teacher at Christ's Secondary School in Richmond, south-west London, says his school has the right to fine parents but does not exercise it.

"In reality, we judge this on a case-by-case basis, but where it is an issue it is generally with those least likely to be able to pay a fine," he says.

"I do have some sympathy with parents, but we all have to play by the same rules," he adds.

"The real problem is where a company might not authorise annual leave during the school holidays because this is when most parents request it."

Holiday costs revealed that 54% of UK parents would take their kids out of school to get a better deal on a holiday.

Some even made savings of over £1,000 by taking a child out of school two days early, or as much as £250 by taking them out one day early.

Clearly many people feel ripped off by the soaring cost of many overseas breaks booked at Easter or during the summer holidays.

A petition in 2014 calling on the government to limit how much extra travel firms can charge at these times received more than 170,000 signatures in support.

But a spokesman for the Department for Business responded, saying: "Price rises in peak periods are a reflection of the international competition holiday companies face."

How to cut the cost of holidays

Oonagh Shiel from says that parents need to do all they can to minimise the cost of trips during school holidays.

"Our advice is to do your research and book as far in advance as possible – particularly if your heart is set on two weeks on the Algarve in the second half of August," she says.

"Many holiday companies offer free child places, early-booking discounts and free kids' clubs so it's worth snapping up a deal as soon as you see them advertised.

"That might even be October for the following July or August."


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