The David Lidington column: School should take priority over family holidays

David Lidington and, below, John Bercow
David Lidington and, below, John Bercow

Last week there was a debate in Parliament about when, if ever, it’s right for children to be out of school during term time.

The debate was prompted by a public-petition about the cost of holidays out-of-term.

Every parent knows it.

You check out a website to book a your family holiday, find a cottage or hotel getaway that seems right – and then discover that from the first day of the school holidays the price goes through the roof.

Hoteliers and travel operators would argue that there’s nothing surprising about this.

More people want to go on holiday during school breaks so prices rise to match demand and supply: no different in principle to the difference between rush hour and off-peak fares.

To parents, wincing at the cost, it all seems less fair. And of course for some parents it’s not simply a problem about prices.

Working parents can’t guarantee to get leave dates that neatly match school holidays.

Grandparents may live abroad with visits hard to slot neatly outside term dates.

So what can be wrong with parents having leeway to take their children out of school for an affordable holiday?

Well, for one thing the evidence shows a clear relationship between regular attendance and good educational results.

Is it right to harm a child’s school performance for the sake of a holiday?

And if we think pupil absence during term time is OK, would we be equally relaxed if our child’s teacher said that she was taking a week off in the middle of term because that was the only time she and her husband could get away? I suspect not.

I come down for term time absence to be allowed only in exceptional circumstances.

Family funerals or a holiday with a parent about to go on active duty with the armed forces are the kind of exceptions I’d think justified.

It should be for the head teacher, who knows the pupil and the family circumstances, to judge whether the case for exceptional absence has been made.

As a general principle, school should come first.