School's out: are term-time holidays acceptable?

Parents struggle to afford summer travel price hikes, but face threat of fines and disrupted education

Parents play with their child in the sea
Flights in the first week of September can be more than 30% cheaper than in the last week of August
(Image credit: Halfpoint Images/Getty)

There has been a "seismic shift" in parents' attitudes towards school attendance since the pandemic – especially about taking children on holiday during term time.

Before Covid, a child attending school every day was viewed as "a fundamental element of good parenting", according to a new study by consultancy Public First, but "parents no longer felt that to be the case". 

Researchers conducted online focus groups with parents of school-aged children in eight locations across England. They found that parents believed taking children out of school during term time for holidays was becoming increasingly "socially acceptable" – and it would take a "monumental" effort to change minds back.

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It comes amid concerns over the growing number of British children who are missing school. More than a fifth (22.3%) of pupils in England were "persistently absent" in the 2022-23 academic year, according to government figures, up from 10.9% in 2018-19. Factors behind the increase "vary between the cost-of-living crisis and a rise in mental health problems among young people", said Sky News, but the study found no evidence to suggest pupils were missing Fridays because their parents worked from home, as Dame Rachel de Souza, the children's commissioner for England, suggested earlier this year.

'Outrageous hike in prices'

It's no surprise that some parents are "resorting to breaking the rules" and going on holiday during term time, said The Daily Telegraph

One constant "as reliable as the tides and the sunrise" is the fact that the cost of holidays will "skyrocket" come mid-July, and "stay that way until the beginning of September". Travelling in the first week of September, rather than the last week of August, could mean savings of nearly 20% on package holidays, and up to 34% on flights, said the paper.

The "outrageous hike in prices" during school holidays means many families feel their only option for a holiday is to take one during term time, said James Bowen, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT). "We would like to see the government do more to intervene," he added, "and until they do, many families will continue to feel between a rock and a hard place."

Some readers of the Manchester Evening News argued that travel broadened children's horizons and taught them as much, if not more, than lessons. Others "highlighted what they believe is hypocrisy" in fining parents for children's absences, the paper said, suggesting that teachers' strikes during term time were "as disruptive as any holiday".

'Regular attendance matters'

“It is obviously important that children miss as little time at school as possible," Bowen told The Telegraph. "Regular attendance really does matter."

Taking children out of school during term time could also "pose challenges for the teacher who then has to help pupils to catch up", he added.

There are consequences to term-time holidays, added the paper. You risk a £60 fixed-penalty notice if your child misses school, rising to £120 if you don't pay within 21 days – and if you don't pay within 28 days "you could face a fine of £2,500 or even a jail sentence of up to three months; not the kind of all-inclusive you were hoping for", said The Telegraph.

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