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Published on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Term-time holiday fines are damaging UK tourist industry, say MPs


MPs are calling for a review of the Government's ban on term-time holidays after producing evidence that it is damaging the UK tourist industry.

A parliamentary debate held yesterday also heard that the policy, introduced by Michael Gove in 2013, undermines parents and intrudes on families.

So far, 120,000 people have signed a petition opposing the new fines for parents who ignore the ban on term-time holidays.

Leading yesterday's debate, Steve Double, MP for St Austell and Newquay in Cornwall, which has lost £87,000 in tourism revenue every year due to an 8% drop in visitors since the fines were introduced said: "Whilst I support the aim of getting children to attend school regularly, I fundamentally disagree that telling parents when they can and cannot take their children on holiday is a job for the state.

"This policy effectively says to people who cannot take a holiday during school holiday times that they cannot have a family holiday - this to me seems completely unfair."

Double said it should be up to parents to decide 'what is best and right for their child'.  MPs said the policy 'arguably intrudes on families'.

Before the rules were introduced, headteachers had discretion to grant up to two weeks' leave during term-time. Since 2013, heads can only grant leave in 'exceptional circumstances' and parents who take their children out of school risk a £60 fine by the local authority.

Headteachers have been given new powers to set their school holidays outside peak periods to enable parents to take advantage of lower prices, but a YouGov survey of nearly 500 schools found that only 4% plan to do so.

Over half of teachers and heads surveyed as part of a Parent Trap study by holiday deals website Travelzoo weren't even aware of the changes, which were due to come into effect in September, and nearly two-thirds said they opposed the idea.

TravelZoo is pushing for holidays to be set per region, not per school.

European MD Richard Singer said: "Most of the travel companies we've spoken to agree staggering should be investigated further, as it could lead to more affordable holidays for state-school parents.

"However, we believe it would only work if holidays were set per region, and not per school. It's obvious that not enough is been done to help schools understand how best to use it, and that's been backed up by our meetings with head teachers and from our research."

Travelzoo put forward recommendations to investigate regional staggering of holidays to MPs as part of yesterday's debate.

It claims its study shows 58% of teachers feel heads and governors haven't been given enough guidance on how to implement staggering, even though half believe the new rules will give parents access to cheaper holidays.

Singer added: "For UK holidays in particular we are confident costs could come down.  If, for example, the summer-holiday period were staggered to encompass a 10-week period rather than our current six weeks, this would mean tourist hotspots like Devon and Cornwall would have a bigger window of opportunity to welcome UK families.

"This in turn would have a dramatic effect on local businesses, which suffer from excess demand in July and August followed by bookings dropping off a cliff in September.   

"Some of the major airlines have also told us that prices would drop if UK school holidays were staggered regionally, in the same way they are in France and Germany. We urge the government to help the education bodies and schools implement staggering in this way before we miss out on the biggest opportunity we have to fight the Parent Trap." 

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