Call for staggered term times to cut holiday costs

Holiday companies have been accused of 'cashing in' during the school holidays. Picture: PA
Holiday companies have been accused of 'cashing in' during the school holidays. Picture: PA
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STAGGERING school term dates and giving heads more say on letting children go on holiday before term ends was suggested by MPs last night in a debate on the soaring cost of holidays.

The debate was prompted by an e-petition calling for action to stop holiday companies “cashing in” by ramping up prices during the school holidays.Jenny Willott MP, minister for consumer affairs, said there was no need for government intervention to curb holiday companies raising their prices during school holidays.

Instead, head teachers should decide if a parents’ applications to take their children out of school before the end of term should be granted, she said.

It was also suggested holidays be staggered, with schools in different regions going on holiday at different dates, as is the case in France and Germany. This would effectively spread out numbers and stop price hikes in weeks seeing peak demand.

Ms Willott said: “The Government hasn’t said that no absence is possible. It has given headteachers discretion to make that call and we also haven’t specified what constitutes exceptional circumstances as we think individual cases need to be considered individually.”

Meanwhile, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills defended the companies, saying the holiday industry was “extremely competitive” and relied on peak times for profits.

The issue was selected for debate at the House of Commons after an e-petition demanding “guilt-free family time” for parents secured 170,000 signatures on the government’s website.

Donna Thresher, a mother-of-two from Essex, set up the petition last March after being angered at the £600 cost difference in taking her family for a weekend break during the holidays.

She said: “It’s time to stop the holiday companies cashing in on school holidays and let parents have some guilt-free family time.”

The Association of British Travel Agents has said 85 per cent of members supported proposals to stagger holidays by region during the summer and February breaks in particular.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of national charity 4Children, said: “The hugely inflated prices families face when planning a holiday during the school holidays cannot be justified.

Brian Cooper, head of communications at the Educational Institute of Scotland, said taking pupils out of school before the end of term could be detrimental to learning, and welcomed the focus on flexible term times.

“Initiatives and incentives aimed at keeping down the price of holidays during peak holiday season would be welcomed by many families, while also allowing children to benefit from staying in school right up until the end of term,” he said.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We want to see these proposals go even further, having long argued that power over Air Passenger Duty be devolved to Scotland.”