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Should school holidays be staggered?
Tuesday February 25, 2014 - Email this article to a friend

Last month during half-term the slopes were busy and expensive; last week MPs debated whether prices should be capped and dates varied following public calls for change.

Perhaps the most pressing problem facing the whole snowsports industry is the lack of young people taking up the sport. 

The overall numbers of people skiing and snowboarding from the UK have declined by around 30% in the past 5 years and the most worrying area is the fall in children and young people - they are the future.

The debate about family ski holidays is therefore crucial.

The Parliamentary debate followed an online petition that gathered widespread support from parents with 168,000 people signing it.

It wasn't just about ski holidays but the implications are obvious for an industry that sees its busiest periods in school holidays.

The parents who signed the petition opposed the higher prices charged by tour operators and travel firms during peak season dates.

The e-petition called on the government to "enforce action that caps the percentage increase on holiday prices in school holidays."

The debate was requested by the Liberal Democrat, John Hemming MP.  He said the issue was of  "considerable concern" to many.

No MPs in the debate called for prices to be capped and most recognised it was simply the market forces of supply and demand at work.

They said it was simply impractical.

The debate instead focused on whether school holidays should be staggered and the rights and wrongs of recent legislation that limited the ability of parents to take a child out of school during term time.

In parts of continental Europe, such as Germany and France, holidays are on different dates and there is some staggering in Scotland.

"If the half-term holidays were staggered then prices would be reduced, more people would go skiing and those out in the mountains would be on less-crowded slopes," said the sales and marketing director of VIP SKI, Gareth Crump. 

"It is certainly something both the industry and holidaymakers would benefit from."

There could be probelms for parents with children at different schools in different areas, but the idea has been welcomed by others.

Child participation is the futureChild participation is the future











The Association of British Travel Agents believes it could help spread demand during peak season.

"Following the debate in the House of Commons on school holiday prices, ABTA welcomes the recognition by the majority of MPs who spoke during the debate of the extremely competitive nature of the British travel industry and also that holiday costs are driven by market forces," said the head of Public Affairs, Stephen D'Alfonso, to the web site TravelMole.

"We look forward to working with both the Education Select Committee and the Department of Education to assess the feasibility of staggering school holiday dates by region," he added.

Last September legislation was introduced only allowing head teachers to grant time off in "exceptional circumstances".

Previously parents were allowed to take a child away from school for 10 days a year.

We reported on the news laws at the time here on PlanetSKI.

The legislation has had a significant impact according to a recent survey.

Travelzoo said 85% of holiday companies it surveyed had seen a financial impact and 66% say they will have to cut staff and reduce capacity.

25% said they may need to put prices up during the summer holidays to offset the loss of income during term time.

ABTA has said that most of its members back the idea of staggering school holidays.

The Consumer Affairs Minister, Jenny Willott, said she was sympathetic to parents who struggled to afford a holiday but "they should not be at the expense of a child's education, and school attendance throughout the school year does remain absolutely critical."

In the debate she said that staggering holidays could reduce prices but it should be examined at a local level and not a national level.

One PlanetSKI readers, who works in the ski travel industry, has offered her view.

"People should stop blaming the holiday companies. How on earth do they expect a family ski operator, for example, to operate when the demand is reduced to about 5 weeks across the season? I'm also not sure whether staggering the school holidays is practical either - it will be a nightmare if you have children at different schools,' she said.

"What they need to do is give control back to the school and the Head Teacher to make sensible decisions on the pupil's attendance and performance at school."

Hooked for life?Hooked for life?












Ahead of the debate the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, criticised parents who take their children out of school.

"There's no need to sacrifice your child's education in order to secure a cheaper holiday. Schools now have the freedom to change their term dates in order to allow students and families the opportunity to go on holiday at different times," Mr Gove said to Sky News.

"There are schools, like the David Young Community Academy in Leeds, which have altered their term times in order to enable parents to take advantage of cut-price deals.

"My own view is that the holiday industry needs to look at itself in the mirror and ask is it doing enough?

"But as far as schools are concerned, they have that flexibility, the coalition Government has granted it to them and so parents do have the freedom to ask schools to be flexible and understanding in when they fix the term dates."

Kids on Kandahar race campKids on Kandahar race camp













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