Gove: Term-time holidays 'wrong'
It is "wrong" for parents to take children out of school during term time to take advantage of cheaper holidays, Education Secretary Michael Gove has said.
Mr Gove was speaking as Parliament prepared to debate a petition calling for action to stop holiday companies "cashing in" by ramping up prices during the school holidays.
The Education Secretary said that parents should instead lobby their schools to change their term dates to allow pupils to go on holiday at different times, as the coalition Government has given them the ability to do.
And he said that the holiday industry should "look at itself in the mirror" and ask whether it was doing enough to help its customers.
"It's wrong to take children out of school when they should be at school because it's important that we make sure that children learn," said Mr Gove.
"If we are worried about people being hard-pressed and facing economic tough times, the answer to that is to make sure that our country as a whole is better educated and more competitive, and it doesn't help anyone if you take your children out of school during term time."
Meanwhile, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills defended the companies, pointing out that they face fierce competition for flights and hotel rooms during peak periods and insisting that it was "for business to decide the market worth of their products and to price accordingly".
The issue has been selected for debate in Westminster Hall at the House of Commons after an e-petition demanding "guilt-free family time" for parents secured 170,000 signatures on the Government's own website.
Created by Donna Thresher, the petition said: "Family time is so much more essential in the current working world, but so many people cannot afford holidays in school holidays.
"A break at home is not the same as getting away from it all where there isn't any house work or DIY to get done, instead focus is on family. It's time to stop the holiday companies cashing in on school holidays and let parents have some guilt-free family time!
"Enforce action that caps the percentage increase on holiday prices in school holidays."
Anne Longfield, chief executive of family charity 4Children, said that the "hugely inflated" prices charged during the school holidays "cannot be justified", but that taking children out of school during term time could in some cases put their education "at risk".
" I hope that this debate will kick-start real action to bring down the sky high prices which take holidays out of reach for many of the struggling families who need them most," said Ms Longfield.
Mr Gove told Sky News: "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.
"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."
Responding to the e-petition, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills pointed out that there i s "fierce competition" in the holiday market and that holiday companies seek to make a reasonable profit during the peak periods to make up for quiet periods throughout the year.
"In a competitive market it is for business to decide the market worth of their products and to price accordingly," said the Department.
"In the holiday market there is fierce competition for custom. Prices rises in peak periods are a reflection of the international competition holiday companies face for hotel accommodation and other services in destinations which are popular with consumers from many other countries and where there are limits to capacity.
"These consumers also wish to holiday during these peak periods. We are advised also that holiday companies must seek to make a reasonable profit during the peak periods so that they are able to operate throughout the year when demand and therefore prices and profits are lower."
A poll for ITV News found that half (51%) of parents of children under the age of 18 would take them out of school during term time if it meant they could get a significantly cheaper holiday. Some 42% of the wider British public agreed they would be right to do so.
Just one in eight British adults (13%) questioned by pollsters ComRes agreed that current travel prices for booking trips abroad during the school holidays are fair, while seven in 10 (71%) disagreed.
More than half (54%) of those questioned said it was not reasonable for parents to be fined as much as £120 per child for taking them out of school for a holiday, while 30% said it was reasonable reasonable. Just one in six (17%) said that a prison sentence of up to three months was reasonable, compared to more than two thirds (69%) who disagreed.
However, the poll found that half of Britons (49%) think that parents should not be able to take their children out of school at any time they like, compared to one third (35%) who think this should be allowed.