Would you risk the fine to take your children on holiday during term time?

Ellen's children, on a previous holiday

Ellen's children, on a previous holiday - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 children

I’ve just won the lottery! An incredible windfall of, er, £10.

Well, it’s a start, isn’t it?

And a good one, really, when you consider that this gambling lark is a new thing for me.

Up until fairly recently, I couldn’t see the point of taking that one-in-13,983,815 chance of scooping the jackpot.

So why the change of heart?

It came about after I settled down to choose where the clan would troop off to this year, on holiday.

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I had visions of teaching my son to swim off the Amalfi coast, of spending a few blissful weeks scoffing pain au chocolat and helping my daughter brush up her basic French in the Dordogne.

I wanted to show them the Coliseum in Rome, to kick up the dust on the streets of Vesuvius, sail a catamaran in the clear blue waters of Cyprus, let them sample the delights of pasta, pecorino and gelati in Venice or scale the Eiffel Tower in Paris – where I met and fell in love with their father.

Then my husband burst my bubble. “You’ve got the dates wrong,” he said, an air of smugness about his know-it-all tone. “The kids break up a week later ? and watch the prices jump.”

“But we have been saving up,” I wailed in horror.

“It’s a caravan in Bognor or nothing,” came the reply.

I did a quick Google of Bognor.

“Bog off,” I said.

I was prepared to look at other holidays in the UK, however.

I imagined log cabins in Sherwood Forest, glamping in the Lake District, a sunny spot in Cornwall.

But – and here was the crux of the matter – as soon as I put in the dates of the children’s school holiday into the various sites I came across, the prices went through the roof.

Every parent has experienced this.

The crushing disappointment of the holiday price hike.

And a quick price check of leading tour operators reveals that, home or abroad, the cost of family holidays often doubles during peak periods in the summer. Hoteliers and airlines would argue that there’s nothing surprising about this.

More people want to go on holiday during school breaks, so prices rise to match demand and supply: no different in principle to the difference between rush hour and off-peak fares.

But to us parents, wincing at the cost, it all seems less fair.

It is hardly surprising that more and more are deciding to flout the rules and play truant, is it?

According to a recent survey, two-fifths of parents claim they would risk being fined for a term-time break, and the number of fines issued to parents for taking children on term-time holidays has increased by 70% ? playing this out.

Nearly 5,300 penalties were handed to families by 34 councils across England during last year’s autumn term, with a maximum penalty of £60 per pupil per parent issued (a drop in the ocean compared to the £1,000 you can save on airfares).

Last year we risked the fine and did it ourselves.

We took our son out of nursery and daughter out of school for a week in Barcelona.

Now, some of you are bound to frown at this.

The main argument seems to be that it is detrimental to a child’s education to remove them from the classroom.

But during our trip my daughter learnt to swim like a fish, mastered some basic Spanish and carried out a project on the architecture of Antoni Gaudi.

If you ask me, in many cases a trip can be more of an education than they would experience in the classroom.

But aside from what you can learn from other countries and cultures, family holidays are also about having time together.

And, really, this is why such a vast number of parents are hitting back. Earlier this year a father vented his fury on Facebook about trying to book a Center Parcs holiday with his seven-year-old daughter.

Paul Cookson found the price for half-term was £300 higher than the week before and wrote: “I don’t think I should be penalised for sticking to the rules.”

He was among many others who signed an e-petition on the unfairness of school holiday price hikes which was presented to the government.

Since then a few potential solutions to the problem have been mooted.

The first is that schools should be given the option of changing school holiday dates so parents can take advantage of cheaper deals.

However, allowing schools to set dates could be difficult for parents with children at different schools.

Other suggestions have included taking the German approach of dividing the country into regions with different holidays, or cutting Air Passenger Duty at peak times.

But what about the holiday companies? Have any of them agreed to lower prices at peak times? Unfortunately not. This is capitalism, after all.

Only one – a ski company – has addressed the problem; but instead of lowering prices, it is offering to pay fines of up to £700 so parents can take children on term-time holidays. Now if that’s not taking the piste, I don’t know what is.

The long and short of it is that until a better system can be devised for families like mine, I don’t suppose we will be traveling abroad at all.

Unless, of course, I win big.

Now I’m off to buy some more scratchcards.

What will you do this summer? Take the risk and book a term-time break, or stick to the rules and raid the savings account?

Join Ellen for a Women’s Hour live web chat to discuss this and other parenting issues. To take part, log on to www.eadt.co.uk from 8pm Tuesday.