Brighton and Hove City Council is considering changing the summer holidays to allow family vacations to occur during off-peak times…
The issue of school holidays is one that has been debated endlessly. Vacationing during July and August costs considerably more than at any other time of the year, putting a summer holiday firmly out of the reach of many low to medium income families.
Government changes brought in during September 2013 caused a furore among parents, as it meant children could only be taken out of school under exceptional circumstances. This meant an end to family holidays during the school term, when prices are lower.
Teachers had previously been given the power to grant up to 10 days of discretionary leave in special circumstances. Now, unauthorised absences are referred to the Education Investigation Services and can often result in a fine for parents who flout the rules.
The new government policy means children with less than 90 per cent attendance are classed as “persistently absent”. This equates to missing seven mornings or afternoons in a half term.
Parents can face fines of up to £60 per child, increasing to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days, for removing them from school. Failure to pay the fine can result in prosecution, with a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.
In a bold move, Brighton and Hove City Council said it is considering overhauling the summer holiday. The city council hopes doing so would enable parents to avoid the higher costs of going away during the peak season.
If the proposal goes ahead it would mean tens of thousands of school children would be granted a “stand-alone” week’s holiday without the risk of being fined.
This could be achieved by changing the summer holiday period from six weeks to four, enabling the council to get around government rules.
The council also said schools could consider bunching inset days together to create a long weekend or even a full week’s break during a low peak period.
The city council’s committee for children, young people and skills will meet on the 11 January to discuss whether to put the idea before the city’s schools. Any decisions made would not come into force until the 2017-18 academic year.
Committee chairman Tom Bewick said: “If there is something we can do to offer lower-income families in particular the chance to take holidays that would otherwise be unaffordable then I think it’s worth exploring.
“Being able to take a cheap family holiday in March, for example, would make a huge difference to thousands of local people including, of course, our teachers.
“The long summer holiday goes back to the 19th century when children helped bring in the harvest. It’s time to take a fresh look at this and try and find a consensus for what works best for families in the 21st century.”
Despite the risk of fines, figures published in October by the Press Association revealed councils had issued 50,414 penalty notices to parents who had removed their children from school for vacations. This was an increase on the year before, which saw 40,218 penalties.
If councillors decide to move forward with the proposals a consultation with parents, carers, and schools will be the next step.