Call for regulation of ‘unscrupulous’ school holiday price hikes

Former education secretary Michael Gove, responsible for clamping down on term-time absence for holidays in 2013, has hinted that tighter rules may be needed to outlaw price hikes during peak departure periods.

He was responding to the Supreme Court ruling against campaigner Jon Platt who had won a High Court battle over taking his daughter on a term-time holiday.

The justices sent the case back to magistrates in the Isle of Wight and said Platt should be convicted for failing to ensure that his daughter attended school regularly.

Gove, writing in The Times this morning, said: “I recognise that unscrupulous tourism firms will try to rack up the costs for time away during the school holidays.

“But the answer lies in better regulation of that market, not a free for all in school attendance. In any case, schools now have the freedom to vary term times.

“Schools that opted for a shorter summer break with longer holidays at other times would not only help parents beat the tourist sharks but they would also help ensure that more of what was learnt in the summer term was retained for the autumn.”

He said: “Allowing children, and parents, to opt out of school in the name of ‘free choice’ is not a blow for liberty, it is a condemnation of those children to greater ignorance, fewer qualifications, less control over their future, less freedom to become the authors of their own life stories, which is why I tightened up the rules on truancy and encouraged the imposition of fines on parents who kept children away from school without good reason.”

Figures from currency analysts FairFX suggested that families were already being forced to pay up to double the price for a package holiday this summer if they wanted to travel during the school holidays.

The average price for a family of four cost £2,828 in during term time in the second week of July. But this rose by £905 or 32% for a departure on August 5.

A week for four in the Costa Brava cost £1,512 in June but £3,415 in August. The company compared 104 package holidays based on a family of two adults and two children aged five and seven.

FairFX chief executive, Ian Strafford-Taylor, accused travel companies of holding parents to ransom.

He told The Times: “Despite national outcry and a legal battle reaching the Supreme Court, the industry has ignored the plight families are facing up and down the country who are worried about the escalating cost of their holiday.

“Some of the price hikes we’re seeing are outrageous and bring the industry into disrepute.”

Cheapflights managing director, Andrew Shelton, warned that the Platt case “may well widen the price divide between term-time and school holiday even further”.

Currently price savings of more than 50% can be achieved by travelling during school term time.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position – that no child should be taken out of school without good reason.

“As before, head teachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent but today’s ruling removes the uncertainty for schools and local authorities that was created by the previous judgment.

“The evidence shows every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.”

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