I’ve saved £5,000 by taking my children out of school in term time

My children once had 100 per cent attendance records and would be sent to school regardless of whichever ailment or illness they complained of. But then, as fellow parents prepared to send their children back to lessons, I was getting ready for a fortnight of theme parks, beach trips and memory-making. Taking my children out of school to go on holiday was not a decision taken lightly, but it is absolutely one I expect to repeat.

I’m not the only one, it would appear. Research from TravelSupermarket, the holiday package comparison site, found that 30 per cent of family holiday searches from England are for the week before the start of the summer holidays (this date can vary across local authorities; the research set 25 July as the average start date).

Perhaps, like me, other parents are looking to make the most of cheaper flights and accommodation outside of the peak weeks.

Other studies have found a post-Covid shift in attitudes towards term-time holidays. Research last year by consultancy Public First pointed out that overall absence was up by more than 50 per cent since 2019 and found that “term-time holidays are now entirely socially acceptable across all socioeconomic groups”.

According to research by The University of Law, 56 per cent of parents admitted they have taken their child out of school for a term-time holiday, with 28 per cent saying they’d do so again.

It is the local authority’s responsibility to decide whether to issue fixed penalty notices to parents. Our’s is known for doing so. Fines are considered if a pupil misses five days of school in an unauthorised absence. For now, the penalties start at £60 per parent, per pupil, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

In February, the Government announced that fines for unauthorised absences are set to rise by 33 per cent in August. And, under a new framework, all schools will be required to consider a fine for five days of absence for unauthorised reasons.

This won’t deter me from considering term-time breaks.

With our children of an age where they will be able to remember it for years to come, my partner and I felt we should plan a “holiday of a lifetime” for our family – in Orlando, Florida. We’d be enjoying four separate Disney parks, plus Gatorland, Kennedy Space Centre and Universal Studios. And, to make the most of a long-haul trip like this, you need at least two weeks.

Having researched the cost of travelling during school holidays, we swiftly realised our dream could be over before it began. Over the state school break, it would be almost £15,000 – and that’s on a B&B basis, often before the cost of entry fees, food, and all the extras.

We looked at booking flights, accommodation and tickets separately, rather than package deals. Flights within the confines of school holidays worked out at a whopping £8,000, for four, based on economy seats.

Then we played with the dates and, with each day staggered slightly later, the cost was reduced further. If we missed one day of school, we’d save around £500. What about two days? The price dropped again. By flying home one week after school goes back, we realised we would save more than £4,000 on flights alone. The villa we had found was cheaper outside of the school break, too. And we would both be able to get the time off work – which is not always possible in school holidays when you work with other parents of school-aged children.

Aerial view of Orlando skyline and reflection in Lake Eola.
Lake Eola in Orlando, Florida. ‘By flying home one week after school goes back, we realised we would save more than £4,000 on flights alone’ (Photo: Getty)

In the past year, we have enjoyed several one-off days out of school and work, which we have felt have enriched our children’s lives, and done no damage to their education. Each experience was infinitely more enjoyable outside of school holidays with fewer crowds, lower costs, and less stress.

For this trip, our children are missing five days of school, but we have “saved” more than £5,000. We were also able upgrade our seats on the flights.

Even if we were to receive the £120 per parent, per child fine (so £480 in total for my partner and I), we would still be making a saving of £4,520.

We would have preferred to leave in the week preceding, rather than following, the holidays (little school work ever seems to occur during that final week, anyway), but perhaps holiday companies have cottoned on to this tactic, as the financial savings were not so significant.

My partner and I considered the effect on our children’s schooling, of course. One child has exams approaching and the other has been struggling somewhat with several subjects. But, by bringing books for the plane, asking them to work out the costs of things when we’re out and about (to hone their maths), and having a few general chats about school topics, we felt we were on top of it.

There’s also the issue of more teacher strikes looming, which, admittedly, has affected our views of whether a holiday in term time is right. Last year, my children went through two full terms unsure of when they would be in school. And I spent days rearranging work and losing money accommodating strike days.

The sense of unease in the children so soon after the trauma of lockdown, during which I became used to home schooling them, was evident. I fully support everyone’s right to engage in industrial action, but if schools aren’t facing levies for not teaching children, why should I be fined for not sending them in?

I told my children’s schools they would be absent for the first week of term, and was honest as to why. My partner and I would accept any fine and any judgement that comes with our decision. The few other parents we told, and even some teachers, understood our reasoning and voiced support, even envy. I didn’t worry about the week of school they missed. I felt we would more than made up for it with the time they had to read, chat and gain life experience.

We realise we are lucky to be able to enjoy this type of holiday. But – to be able to give our children a rich and fulfilling childhood – it is highly likely that we will be taking them out during term time again.