Opinion: It's time for a rethink on school holidays

Opinion: It's time for a rethink on school holidays

Abta boss Mark Tanzer says the association has been countering damaging accusations that the industry profiteers out of school holiday demand, but insists the answer is to stagger term times

The recent successful court case by parent Jon Platt, in which the High Court ruled that as long as children attended regularly they could be taken out of school without permission, was interpreted by many parents as a green light to take their children out of school in term time.

It also placed the national media spotlight firmly back on the issue of increased prices during school holidays. The constant concern in this area is that the industry is open to criticism it is taking advantage of a captive market and profiteering on the back of parents.

To counter these highly damaging charges, Abta has always led the way in taking a strong media line.

We set out the economic realities of supply and demand, and the problems caused by funnelling millions of families’ holidays into a six-week band in July and August, when the industry also competes with millions of European holidaymakers for accommodation.

We have also been active behind the scenes, setting out the realities of industry pricing to MPs and policy makers, and we continue to engage with government at the highest levels following this case. 

The solution is staggering

At the heart of this problem is supply and demand. For well over a decade, Abta has proposed that the government, working with local authorities, should look at staggering school holiday dates. This policy followed discussion with members. We canvassed views again recently and they still support this policy.

If dates were staggered in a structured fashion, by region, it would go some way to flattening out the extremes in peaks and troughs that we currently see. Letting individual schools set their holiday dates, as some have suggested, would not address the problem adequately and would also raise problems for parents with children in different schools.

The fact Abta has continued with this message, often in the face of hostile press reaction, has helped to produce a shift away from attacking the industry to a growing understanding the current system is flawed. However, there is always a danger the emphasis could shift again.

There may be criticism as to whether staggering would work. The answer is, it already does. Many countries on the continent, including Germany and France, spread out their summer holidays, with each region taking it in turn to head off for a summer break.

Not only does this help families, it also helps the industry with increased demand during ‘shoulder’ periods of June and September.

The fact hotels and other suppliers have to discount substantially when demand is low is not a message the public easily understands – many simply see increased prices as companies penalising parents.

Travel is educational

Whatever solution the government proposes must, in our view, balance the need to ensure school attendance levels are maintained with recognition travelling offers significant educational benefits, such as enriching cultural experiences and language learning.  

The original reason our schools’ summer holidays are crammed into six weeks was to allow children to head off into the fields to help get the harvest in. Surely it’s now time for a rethink.


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