What began earlier this year in the UK when a court ruling nullified a fine on a parent who took his child out of school in term (while schools are in session) in order to take a holiday became a highly visible issue when the subject was featured last month in the annual World Travel Market 2016 Industry Report. And now it has the travel trade in the UK scratching its collective head as to what it will do should more families with school-age children and begin taking their holidays in-term, rather than during the once-sacrosanct term breaks for schools. The situation also affects U.S. suppliers and receptive tour operators in the U.S.—particularly in Florida, for whom UK families make the country Florida’s largest overseas source market—as the certainty of term break travel becomes less certain and predictable.
Background—The Importance of School Terms and Breaks: In England, schools nationwide pretty much have the same school year schedules, although each of the 150 Local Education Authorities (LGAs) in England set their own term dates, and some schools—including academies—do deviate from this calendar. With this in mind, the below dates can be used as a guideline. INSET (teacher training) days, five per year, may appear on either side of breaks or mid-way through the term. For most schools, the school term schedule then looks something like this:
School term dates 2016-2017
Autumn term 2016:
School starts: Monday 5 September 2016
Half term break: Monday 24 October to Friday 28 October 2016
Christmas holidays (last day of term): Friday 16 December 2016
Spring term 2017:
School starts: Thursday 5 January 2017
Half term break: Monday 13 February 2017 to Friday 17 February 2017
Easter holidays: (last day of term) Friday 31 March 2017 (Easter falls on Sunday April 16th 2017)
Summer term 2017
Easter Monday bank holiday: Monday 17 April 2017
School starts: Tuesday 18 April 2017
Early May bank holiday: Monday 1 May 2017
Half term break: Monday 29 May 2017 to Friday 2 June 2017
Summer holidays: (last day of term) Friday 21 July 2017
For the most part, the schedule above encourages most families who are going to take a holiday to do so during the breaks. If you review the schedule above, you can understand why so many British families crowd Orlando’s theme parks and Florida’s beaches at roughly the same times of the year—during term breaks. Individual schools have always been able to allow parents whose children have good attendance records and are otherwise good students to waive required attendance—but only in rare instances. For a parent to take a child out of school otherwise was to face a stiff fine. As UK travel abroad began to pick up after the Global Economic Recession of 2009-10, some Britons began to ignore term dates and started taking their families on holidays in term. The authorities did not like this and took measures to stop the practice. Consider this passage from Gov.UK on the matter of non-term holidays:
“You can be fined for taking your child on holiday during term time without the school’s permission. If your request for leave is unauthorised and you still choose to take your child out of school for a holiday or another reason, you may be fined £60 ($76) per child per parent, rising to £120 ($152) per child per parent if not paid within 21 days. If the fine is unpaid after 28 days, court proceedings can be initiated.”
According to published reports last month that cited the most recent figures available, 50,414 fines were issued to parents in the academic year 2014/15, generating £3 million ($3.818 million).”
The Court Ruling that Changed Things: Last year, Mr. Jon Platt, refused to pay a fine issued by the Isle of Wight education authority and was taken to court. After the judge found in Platt’s favor, the Isle of Wight council then took the case to the High Court, which earlier this year upheld the original ruling, saying a parent could take a child out of school for a holiday if they had a good attendance record. Immediately after, there was a surge in bookings and searches for term-time family holidays. In the meantime, the High Court ruling is being appealed, leading to an atmosphere of uncertainty.
Into this setting, the World Travel Market 2016 Industry Report released last month had this to say:
“The majority of parents have no qualms about taking their children on holiday during term time, as confusion reigns about the legality of term-time fines. When asked how likely respondents were to take children on holiday during school time following a High Court ruling that a father should not have been fined for doing so, 56 percent of respondents (with children of school age) said they would take their child away during term time. The rest were split equally between being ‘not at all likely’ and ‘not very likely’ to take their kids out of school for a family holiday.”
The High Court has recently ruled in favor against fining parents for taking their children out of school during term time. How likely are you to take your children on holiday during school time? (UK holidaymakers survey)
The Final Word—a Difference, Yes … a Surge, No: Well into this mess with no definitive answer, the Inbound Report turned to Greg Evans, a long-time veteran of the UK tour and travel industry who publishes an insiders intelligence newsletter on the industry and asked him what he thought about the matter.
Evans told us: “This issue has always been high on the agenda of UK families due to the increases in holiday pricing over peak travel periods. Some parents have always taken their children out of school to avoid these higher prices and it wasn’t until around 4 or 5 years ago that the UK government implemented these mandatory fines for parents doing so.
“Whilst the isle of Wight case has set a precedent for this, when it comes to family travel to the USA this is mainly based around the central Florida market which tends to be considered a once in a lifetime trip due to the overall cost. So whilst we may see an increase in family bookings outside of school holiday periods I wouldn’t say it would be a surge.”