System of holiday fines creates too much conflict

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The system of fining parents if their children miss school without permission was no doubt brought in with the best of intentions.

After all, nobody would dispute that children should go to school – regardless which side of the argument you fall upon, the importance of education is not in dispute, and the penalties were designed to increase attendance, and in turn improve learning and achievement.

But as we report today, it has created conflict, some of which is not helpful in the wider context of the relationship between parents and schools.

No-one would expect those parents who have been fined to be happy with the situation, obviously, but that’s not the problem. What this system of fines has done is to lead some parents to now weigh up the cost of missing education in financial, rather than educational terms.

It’s long been a scandal that holiday firms charge so much more during school holiday times than term times. Regardless of the free-market principle of supply and demand, the differences from one week to the next are astronomical and it’s entirely understandable that some parents see missing a few days – particularly at the end of each term when the intensity of school often winds down – as acceptable.

But with a set structure of £60 per child per week of unauthorised absence, it means parents will often look at the cost of a holiday, do the maths, and decide it is worth it. It becomes a matter of playing the system, and education overall becomes slightly diminished.

No wonder that the National Union of Teachers and the Local Government Association are against the scheme – it sets parents against headteachers, money against education.

Far better, as the union suggests, to work with parents to look for compromise. And, this may be wishful thinking, but wouldn’t a holiday company set up on the basis of fairer summer holiday prices do well? We’re sure most parents would agree there is a gap in the market for a more ‘ethical’ travel agency...