Opinion: Staggering school holidays is the answer to the Parent Trap

Richard Singer, European president of Travelzoo, explains what he thinks should now happen after parent Jon Platt successfully fought fines for taking his daughter out of school

Following the high profile Jon Platt (pictured) ruling last weekend, travel companies have already reported a spike in families booking term-time holidays.

Much debate has followed on the potential confusion this significant ruling presents for families faced with the ongoing struggle to rationalise the cost of holidays against the potential damage caused by missed school days. 

As usual the finger of blame is finding its way back to ‘the travel industry’ who are typically painted as the bad guy in this debate about pricing and ‘fairness’ for families.
The Jon Platt case suggests that a 10% absence is now acceptable, meaning parents could theoretically take their children out of school for up to 19 days across an academic year. 

This is significant as before Michael Gove’s change to legislation in 2013, parents were allowed just ten days ‘discretionary leave’ which could be used for family holidays. 

This immediate surge in bookings of term-time holidays reflects the mild panic parents are feeling as they rush to book cheaper holidays before the rules are tightened up yet again. 

Travelzoo thinks this case is a sad indictment of how ill-conceived legislation has backfired.
For three years we have been fighting against what we call the Parent Trap, which is the toxic combination of 1) Gove’s fines for term time holidays 2) the highest flight tax in the world and 3) the peak pricing families face if they travel during school holiday dates.    
We are pleased to see some movement on the stance on the fines, however, we think that taking children out of school during term time just to access a cheaper holiday is not a feasible longer term solution and it has many obvious downsides.
On the second taxation issue, it is encouraging that there have been two changes to APD over the past 18 months, yet we do support the Fair Tax on Flying campaign in that a full removal of APD is needed to really impact the price of holidays during peak season. 
Regarding the third ‘pillar’ of the Parent Trap – the thorny issue of peak pricing –  we firmly believe that the most viable solution has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way. 
We think that Gove’s final swansong of introducing legislation whereby all schools (not just Academies) can now set their own term dates, has the potential to backfire in the same way as his ill-conceived fining system. 

A viable solution using staggering continues to be overlooked. 

If staggering school holiday dates by region rather than by school were implemented, this would have a positive effect on pricing, providing a longer window across which families could travel.

France and Germany already do this. We know from working in those markets that there are less steep peaks across the year, and that there is a direct benefit to both outbound and domestic tourism pricing. 

We would urge both the education department and the travel industry to tackle this together and move away from the fragmented ‘school by school’ date-setting we currently have.

We want to see a simpler and more effective solution, benefiting both the cost of travel for families and addressing the impending disruption to classrooms that this latest Platt case development will inevitably bring.

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