There are some subjects that reduce perfectly rational adults to frothing, raving half-wits…
Not least among them is the ‘emotive’ subject of holidays during term time and whether or not it’s right that parents can get hefty fines.
Since September in England, local authorities can fine parents for taking their children out of school during the term time to, for example, go on holiday. Fines can be up to £60 a day per child and doubling for non-payment.
Head teachers have discretion about whether an absence can be authorised or not, but new rules are tougher. This has cause fury among those who rely on taking their youngsters on holiday during term time when the prices are at rock bottom.
The latest chapter in this saga of silliness happened when a ski holiday company made the headline-grabbing offer to pay the fines of any families willing to book a break during term time.
There has been the predictable head scratching and shouting. Reactions range from “Will they be charged with encouraging crime?” to “Good on the company, where can I book?”
It really is time to have a long, hard look at the whole situation, before the madness infects us all and we forget what really matters.
Access to education is a human right, enshrined in the United Nations Conveintion on the Rights of a Child. It’s one of the things people fight for – die for even. Whatever you might think of Mr Gove and his ilk, we have, in general, an excellent education system paid for by taxes and open to every child.
However, it is a system that works best when everyone turns up when they’re supposed to. If a teacher has to spend their time covering a topic twice for the benefit of pupils who were away on the piste the first time round, everyone suffers.
Access to reasonably priced family holidays is not a human right. Yes, it’s frustrating, enraging even, that holiday companies hike their prices as soon as the final school bell rings, but that’s because we live in a free market economy.
It feels all wrong that travel bosses are cashing in on the fact we can only get away during the same few weeks every summer, but that’s because we appear to be stuck with it. It’s no different to overpriced roses on Valentine’s Day or expensive pumpkins at Halloween.
You wouldn’t expect any other company to cut the price of their most popular items, just because not everyone can afford it, would you?
Here’s the thing. Quality family time doesn’t depend on dependable sunshine, hotel accommodation or all-inclusive entertainment. It’s about making time for each other and doing stuff together – all of which you can do without packing a suitcase. All it requires is a bit of an effort.
Quality education time also requires an effort, the effort of ensuring your child turns up to make the best of what’s been given to him or her.
Of course, this doesn’t solve the vexatious school holiday issue. My solution: simply allow each local authority to set the holidays they want, restructuring term times if necessary. That way, there wouldn’t be a peak holiday season, costs would be stable year-round and everyone would be happy (except the travel companies). All it takes is a little cool and sane thinking.