EALING Times reader Ella Moss offers some thoughts on a dilemma facing some families: do you take your children out of school for a holiday during term time?
The article was first published on www.money.co.uk/article/1010331-are-term-time-holidays-worth-it.htm
Mum of two Ella, from Northfields, writes a popular blog, which is nominated for a national award this year ealingtimes.co.uk/news/localnews/11113037.Northfields_mum_nominated_for_MAD_blog_award/?ref=var_0
TAKING the kids out of school to go on holiday has always been an option, but with tighter regulations and fines for term-time absence you're likely to be wondering whether it's worth the hassle and cost. We investigate.
Like many things in life, the answer is complicated: sometimes it is worth taking the kids on holiday in term time, and sometimes it really isn't.
Changes to school holiday regulations
In the past, head teachers have been able to approve absences of up to 10 days for family holidays, with the wording of "special circumstances" allowing for individual discretion.
However, last September new rules were put in place to restrict these absences to "exceptional circumstances", such as illness in the family, funerals, and so on.
According to the Department for Education, holidays during term-time can have a damaging effect on academic success, which is why the new regulations have been put into place.
For families who decide to go on holiday during term-time anyway, fines of £60 per pupil (which rise to £120 per pupil if not paid during 28 days) are imposed.
Though these fines can quickly add up (one family in Telford was forced to pay close to £1,000 in fees and court costs), many have decided to accept the fines as part of their holiday costs. In autumn 2013, 5300 penalties were issued.
However, many parents still wonder whether term-time trips are the right answer for their family.
If you decide to go in term time and face the fines, then you must pay up in time or you could face prosecution, a fine of up to £2,500, and a community order or up to three months in jail! You'll also be given a Parenting Order and forced to go to parenting classes.
Weighing the cost of term time holidays
Theoretically, a term-time holiday would be "worth it" if the total cost of the holiday, including fines, was less than it would be to go on holiday during peak season.
However, this doesn't include the educational cost of pulling your child out from school, or non-financial positives of term-time holidays: greater flexibility, smaller crowds, and so on.
For example, if you get the chance to visit family in exotic parts of the world during term-time, you might decide that it's worth the fines in order for your children to see their aunts, uncles and cousins and experience a completely different culture.
Or, if your child is struggling in his/her class, even a difference of hundreds of pounds between term-time and peak season holidays may not be enough to justify the lost days in school.
These are personal issues which are difficult to measure, and you should think about their situation before making a decision on whether term-time holidays are right for your family.
Of course, there's no denying that financial considerations play a big part in whether holidays are even an option at all, so it's worth looking at whether the savings you'll make by going in term time will outweigh the cost.
With many school resources now available online, it may be that you can 'home school' your child while you're away, so you save on the cost, get time as a family and ensure they don't miss out on an important part of the curriculum.
Peak vs term-time all-inclusive holidays
It can be difficult to get an accurate figure for the amount your holiday will cost once you factor in dining out, entertainment etc, but all-inclusives make comparing the cost of holidays much easier.
Take a week-long Thomas Cook all-inclusive holiday to Aquasol Village in Cyprus for example. For a family of two adults and two children, this trip would cost £1,194 for the end of April, £2,968 in mid-August, £1,882 in mid-October, and £2,182 at the end of October.
The difference between term-time and peak period rates can vary dramatically from one month to another - there's a £1,774 difference between the cost of the same holiday term-time in April and peak season in August.
However, in October the same holiday varies in price by just £300 and even the difference between April and mid-October (£688) is greater.
For this example, the cheapest choice is likely to either be a term-time trip in April (paying the £240+ fines), or if you don't want to take the kids out of class, an autumn half-term trip in late October.
Of course, prices will differ dramatically from one all-inclusive to another, and visiting Cancun during the rainy season will always be less pricey than a trip during the sunniest months.
You'll need to investigate different options depending on where and when you want to travel.
One way of getting around peak holiday costs without pulling your child from school or having to pay expensive fines is to take advantage of last-minute deals, travel off the beaten track, take a staycation or even look to house swap or camp.
While going on holiday during the rainy season is rarely worth the cost, other seasonal factors may make for a cheaper, equally enjoyable holiday and could actually be more family friendly.
Slightly cooler temperatures and less busy attractions could actually help to make your family holiday more stress-free. You just need to do your research to make sure the cheap break you've found isn't likely to leave you stuck indoors while a hurricane rages!
If you do decide to take term-time holidays then play the game strategically; Disneyland Paris isn't likely to be worth the fines (you could always go over on a weekend), but a long haul might be if the price is right.
It's always worth speaking to other parents to see how seriously the school takes term-time absences. If they take a hard line and report everyone that does it, you may be better off sticking with holidays in school holidays instead.
Whether you go in term time or play by the rules and vacation in the holidays just remember to be smart about how you book.
Shop around for the cheapest deal possible, read reviews, get travel insurance, check for ATOL protection and pay by credit card so you get Section 75 back up too.