Angry Portsmouth mum turns to Facebook over holiday price hikes

HOLIDAY WOE Catherine Gatrell has launched a Facebook campaign against inflated holiday prices at school holiday times.  Picture: Allan Hutchings (120973-924)
HOLIDAY WOE Catherine Gatrell has launched a Facebook campaign against inflated holiday prices at school holiday times. Picture: Allan Hutchings (120973-924)
Newbridge Junior School Picture: Maria Bujor

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MUM Catherine Gatrell has launched a Facebook campaign to make a stand against school holiday price hikes.

She started it after being told if she took her children on holiday in term-time she would be fined by their school – even though it’s the family’s only chance for a break abroad.

Her daughters Grace, eight, and Olivia, five, attend Court Lane Juniors and Infants in Cosham and she had hoped to go to France for six days in September with her partner and his children. But Court Lane Infants’ policy forbids holidays in September.

Miss Gatrell, of Peronne Close, Hilsea, said: ‘I’d love to be able to afford to take my kids on holiday when schools break up but it’s too expensive for me because travel agents charge such extortionate amounts.

‘When my boyfriend offered to treat us all to a holiday I thought it would be a great opportunity to take the kids abroad and expose them to a new culture and scenery.

‘But now I’m facing a £50 fine which I can’t afford and I have to contemplate telling the children that we can’t go.

‘It doesn’t help anyone that schools have such varied policies on school holiday allowances, but you can’t blame them for the daylight robbery that’s being committed by the travel agents.

‘I know I’m not alone in being penalised by a system that prices out poor families.

‘If enough parents sign up to the campaign I hope we can compel the authorities to clamp down on these unethical price hikes.’

Headteachers have the power to sanction up to two weeks’ absence per pupil each year, to give some flexibility to families as they cope with illness, bereavement or bad weather. But many are put under pressure to grant pupils time off to go on holiday.

A leaked report earlier this year suggested education secretary Michael Gove plans to ban authorised absences to improve school attendance rates – a move that would price out even more families, Miss Gatrell argues.

Chris Twigg, headteacher of Court Lane Infants, said she sympathised with Miss Gatrell but defended her school attendance policy.

She said: ‘Taking a fortnight off school causes much more disruption than a fortnight of learning, particularly in September when children have transferred classes.

‘I can see their point of view about the cost of holidays in August but we have to do what’s best for the child’s education.’

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: ‘We would like tour operators to take account of the pressures on families but ultimately each one makes its own commercial decision.’

· To join Miss Gatrell’s campaign search for School Holidays are Penalising Families on Facebook.