A survey of more than 1000 parents around the UK, conducted for the tonight programme from ITV, has revealed that 22% of parents have been fined for taking children on holidays during term time without authorisation. Furthermore, the majority of parents have lied about term time holidays in order to avoid getting into trouble.
In total, 54% of parents admitted to telling deliberate lies in order to get authorisation to take their children out of school during term time. The most common lies told involved illness, visiting relatives who were sick, or going to a family wedding.
Fining was most prevalent in the East and West Midlands, where more than a third of parents had faced fines for taking their children out of school for a holiday.
These findings follow the introduction of new rules at the start of the current school year. Beforehand, headteachers had discretion in granting up to two weeks of leave for a term-time holiday. Now, the rules have been significantly tightened. Leave can only be granted in exceptional circumstances and councils have been empowered to levy fines. According to education secretary Michael Gove, “there is no excuse for skipping school.”
These new rules apply to England only, but there are similar schemes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. As the rules have only been in effect for a few months, the responses include experiences parents have had under the old system.
According to the survey, most parents do not feel their child’s education would suffer if they missed school for family holidays. However, in the wake of the new rules only 17% of parents say they intend to take their children out of school in the current academic year, compared to 44% who say they have taken a holiday in term time at some point to date. 73% agree that schools are now stricter when it comes to granting term time leave.
Part of the reason for the new regulations being unpopular – and for the phenomenon of term time holidays in general – is a marked price difference. Due to demand, accommodation during school holidays can cost significantly more than staying at the same place during term time. Many parents are drawn by the potential savings or simply cannot afford to take holidays outside of term time. Almost half of respondents gave cost as a reason for taking holidays during term time, as most holiday and travel firms charge more for holidays during peak seasons, such as Easter and during the school holidays. There was, however, a lot of variation between different areas on this point. The highest number of parents taking holidays for cost-related reasons was in Northern Ireland, with 57%.
The Department for Education maintains that the stricter policies benefit a child’s education. They claim that two weeks of leave from school for holidays every year, combined with average numbers of sick days, would lead to children missing almost an entire year of school over the course of their education.