Family Vacations Get Costlier

Most parents of school age children are all too aware of the challenges facing families who attempt to plan a family vacation during school break or "peak season." It's not only more difficult, it's much more expensive. Some try to avoid the inflated costs by pulling their kids out of school during the year, but as of recently, that too is posing more of a challenge.  Last month I was contacted by writer, Ella Moss, who alerted me to a law imposed by the Department of Education in the UK which fines parents if they take their kids out of school for a getaway.  Penalties start at about $100 per student, per parent. That doubles if not paid within seven days and can lead to jail time for those who refuse to pay altogether.  Should schools be allowed to dictate how families choose to spend their time?  You decide.


Are Term Time Holidays Worth It?   

By Ella Moss

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.  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, teachers in the UK have been able to approve absences of up to ten days for family holidays, with the wording of "special circumstances" allowing for individual discretion on the part of the head teachers.  However, in September 2013, 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 approximately $100 per student (which rise to about $200 if not paid during 28 days) are imposed.  Although these fines can quickly add up (one family in Telford, England was forced to pay over $1,600 in fees and court costs), many families have decided to accept the fines as part of their holiday costs. In fact, in the fall of 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 term time and face the fines, then you must pay up in time or you could face prosecution, a fine of over $4,000 and a community order or up to 3 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 cost 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 part 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.  However,  if your child is struggling in their classes, the difference between term-time and peak season holidays may not be worth 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 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 that you save on the cost, get time as a family and ensure they don't miss out on an important part of the curriculum.


Other solutions

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, just as 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 that 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. Make sure that you have a handle on what your child will be missing so you can make sure they don't lose out.  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.