Published:

Phil Eastment works as a communications manager in Parliament.

If the Prime Minister survives “partygate”, he will remain under considerable pressure with a United Kingdom traversing deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.

In April the energy price cap will be lifted, possibly by as much as 51 per cent, potentially leading to an average increase of £700 to annual household energy bills. This increase is on top of rising costs of everything, from food to transport, and this combination of rising prices and tax hikes is an electorally toxic mix. It is one that will be seized on by opposition parties going into the next General Election.

There is a policy, a freedom, that the Government could grant parents that could potentially save families thousands of pounds. It is a policy based in the Conservative values of empowering the individual to make their own decisions and to take personal responsibility for their actions, and for their families. This policy is granting parents a certain number of days each year (ideally 10, to allow for two full weeks) to take their children on holiday outside the peak times of school breaks.

The present law against taking children out of school during term time is based on the logic that absenteeism is damaging for a child’s education and long-term prospects. However, it ignores the invaluable benefits that time away as a family brings to a child along with the educational benefits and joys of experiencing new cultures and activities.

Although it is a law that is often cited as a protection of the most vulnerable children, it is, in reality, hugely discriminatory against the poorest households. By mandating that families may only go on holiday outside term time, the laws of supply and demand dictate that the cost of holidays during school breaks are becoming ever further out of the reach for families on low incomes.

In 2019, research by online holiday giant Expedia revealed that 59 per cent of parents said that they were unable to afford to take their children away during the summer holidays as it is too expensive, rather electing to take their children out of school during term time and absorbing the government fine (around £120). This is a trend that has sadly been accelerated by the impact of travel restrictions during the pandemic and by the increase in demand for “staycations.”

The need to catch up after two years of educational disruption is a strong argument against granting parents this freedom. However, the experiences of parents throughout the pandemic suggest the opposite. When Covid-19 struck, the Government surrendered its responsibility to educate our children on site in schools and, literally overnight, transferred this responsibility to parents.

Throughout the UK, millions of parents had to adapt to balancing the responsibilities of home schooling their children with working from home themselves. Through the use of technology, and with the support of hundreds and thousands of dedicated teachers, many parents will attest that, although challenging, they were able to maintain their children’s educational development.

The technology, and professional expertise, has been refined to make granting this freedom even more plausible. Crucially, after two years of restrictions, lockdowns and all the emotional distress that the pandemic has inflicted on our children their need to enjoy the freedom that family holidays bring is more important than ever.

Denying parents the freedom to take their children out of school in a responsible manner, when a plan is agreed to make up for time away, to enjoy all the benefits that a holiday can bring is a control that isn’t conservative. Criminalising parents who are forced into unauthorised absenteeism as they cannot afford to take their children on holidays during term time is grotesquely immoral.

By giving headteachers discretion to allow this freedom, millions of families will be able to take advantage of more affordable holidays outside of peak times and countless children will benefit from the precious memories of that first flight or the excitement and intrigue of using a new currency. It is time that this ban is ended and the freedom for parents to make a responsible decision is granted.