As UK teenagers knuckle down to their GCSEs, parents and teachers are debating the ethics of taking kids out of school for term-time trips abroad, with nearly forty thousand (to date) signing a petition to waive Airport Passenger Duty during school holidays
The “Fight the Parent Trap” campaign, started by online travel deals company Travelzoo, only needed 10,000 signatures to get the petition debated in parliament, and is still open for signatures until July 23rd 2014.
Travelzoo surveyed parents and found that 50% of parents admitted to taking kids out of school for term-time travel, often to avoid a whopping 40% increase in the average cost of a package holiday during the six week summer break. This is despite the risk of being fined for doing so.
The legislation, which came into force last year, allows headteachers increased authority to deny requests for time off, and lets them enforce fines of up to £120 per child. In January this year, parents Stewarts and Natasha Sutherland fined £1,000 + costs for their failure to pay a £720 penalty for a trip booked before, but taken immediately after, the new rules came into force. Mr Sutherland claimed his MoD job made it impossible to get time off to coincide with the school holidays, but many parents choose to go abroad in term time just because prices get so high when school’s out.
Although the Association for British Travel Agents argue that other factors like good weather add to the high demand and subsequent increased prices, many parents are outraged that the government is not only restricting when they can travel, but then taxing them what seem like extortionate rates to fly during term breaks.
Airport Passenger Duty (APD), introduced in the 1970s, is 400% higher in Britain than most other EU countries, and Travelzoo’s European managing director Richard Singer says that removing it would save a family of four around £350 on a summer package holiday.
A father himself, Singer points out that other countries such as Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands have stopped charging APD entirely, and thinks that if UK politicians want to restrict parents with the threat of fines, they should also waive or at least reduce APD when parents are allowed to travel.
Teachers typically agree that interrupting kids’ schooling is a really bad idea, with better access to cheaper out-of-term travel far more preferable. Most subjects are taught by building on what has been taught before, with a new concept explained in the context of a previous one. Just as a house without foundations is likely to have trouble staying up, miss a segment of your curriculum and you’ll struggle to understand the new ideas being learnt when you come back. Hence the argument that it’s really unfair on your kids to make them miss out.
Although reducing the APD is not the only answer – longer school holidays have also been suggested, although this will require more intensive study during shorter terms – it is clear from the survey and petition that something needs to change.