Schools warn parents over term-time holidays

PARENTS in Suffolk are ignoring the threat of fines or even jail by taking their children on cut-price holidays during term times, it has been revealed.

Kate McGrath

PARENTS in Suffolk are ignoring the threat of fines or even jail by taking their children on cut-price holidays during term times, it has been revealed.

As the recession deepens and the cost of foreign travel rises especially during school holidays, an increasing number of families are risking fines of up to �100.

In this school year, nearly 1,500 warning letters have been sent by Suffolk County Council to parents who remove their children for unauthorised holiday and this number is expected to rise.

Twenty three parents have already been fined �50, which increases to �100 if not paid within 28 days.

Although families can save substantial amounts by booking foreign and UK holidays during term time, Adrian Orr from Suffolk County Council says the true cost of missing school is not the financial gain, but the risk to the child's attainment.

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Mr Orr, who is a senior advisor (social inclusion) for inclusive school improvement, said: “Whilst we understand the present economic climate and do not underestimate the value of a family holiday, that cheap holiday will have a serious consequence on your child's attainment. What is the real price of that cheap holiday?

“We know there is a very clear link between attainment and achievement. About 18 months ago, the Government commissioned a study looking at GCSE results and plotting these against absence. They found that if the pupil missed 20 school days a year, it is the equivalent of a whole grade drop in their GCSE results.

“Whilst there is an issue here, the vast majority of parents ensure they do not take their children out of school during term time.”

The Department of Children, Schools and Families estimate that if a child misses just one day a week, over the course of their school career they will miss two years of schooling.

Suffolk headteachers can grant up to ten days off a year but can only do this in very exceptional circumstances, for example, to fit in with parental work commitments or a family crisis.

A recent survey by found that some parents would rather accept the �50 penalty because the cost is outweighed by significant savings that can be made.

Margaret Morrissey, of the lobby group Parents OutLoud, said parents needed 'sympathy' on this issue.

“None of us want to disrupt children's education but it is very difficult for parents financially and not realistic to say that we can all get time off work at the same time during the school holidays. The downturn is going to make it even more difficult for parents.”

However, a spokesperson for ABTA, who represent travel agencies and tour operators, said there are bargains available during peak times if you hunt for them.

“Many foreign resorts have dropped their prices because of the recession. Another thing to do is book early. Many tour operators have sales after Christmas or at Easter so you need to be aware.

She added that holiday prices rise during peak season because of supply and demand.

In 2007/2008 1,742 letters were sent out and 18 penalty notices issued to parents in Suffolk.