A note from mum for a family field trip

The costs and crowds during school holidays make it tempting for parents to take children out of class to travel during term time.

WITH a week to go until the school holidays, how many families have taken off on a trip already?

Travel agents say there is an accelerating trend whereby parents are withdrawing their children from school during term time to take advantage of cheaper flights or avoid paying peak-season prices for accommodation. Parents pull their children out early or bring them back to school late, or take them out of class in the middle of a term to ensure a cheaper break.

The director of family travel specialist BYO Kids (byokids

.com.au), Leah Squire, says while there's a growing appreciation of the educational benefits of travel - making it easier for parents to justify disrupting a school term - it is primarily about avoiding peak-season pricing.

"I think money is a bit tighter, so people are considering that it's worth doing it to save the money," she says. "It's a lot cheaper to travel within term times; prices are generally about 30 per cent higher during school holiday periods. The thing that really makes the difference is flight costs; fares can sometimes triple."

Squire says many parents ask to have travel costed on dates that fall within both school term time and holidays. When they see the difference in price, they make the decision to take their children out of school.

"If you're paying $1000 more for exactly the same holiday ... there are a lot of other things you can do with that money," she says.

Taking children out of class in term time has become an issue in Britain, where parents can be hit with fines of £50 ($88) or more for failing to ensure their children attend school.

Many risk the fines to avoid paying inflated prices on holiday packages, especially those charged for ski resorts and other family-oriented travel.

A recent survey undertaken by Tesco Bank found 44 per cent of parents take their children out of school during term time to avoid paying peak travel prices.

Another survey, by Teletext Holidays, found 17 per cent of parents have lied to schools about their children's holiday-related absences, with tales about a delayed plane or their children being ill used to explain the classroom no-show.

In Australia, no fines are levied by the NSW Department of Education and Training for taking students out of school, so parents are generally able to be open about their plans, especially with children of primary school age.

The official line from the department is that "parents are encouraged not to withdraw their children from school for family holidays" and parents may be required to apply for a certificate of exemption. However, the department says the educational merits of the holiday would be taken into account, along with any agreement for the children to complete assignments while away.

Squire says parents with children in private schools are less likely to go away during term time because they take into account the cost of prepaid school fees that would be sacrificed.

Those with high school-age children also tend to think twice.

Squire says while saving money is a key factor, some parents take their children out of school because they have left it too late to book travel during the holidays.

"Often there is just no availability in school holidays, the resorts are fully booked," she says. "They have to pull their kids out of school if they want to go."

Others do it because they find places too crowded to be enjoyable during school holidays.

The national brand leader at Escape Travel, Sally Wiseman, says big savings and more choice are available when travelling outside of peak holiday periods.

"If you can be flexible with your travel dates and holiday destination, you can find great value outside the traditional period," she says.

And while some may be reluctant to be seen encouraging the practice, Wiseman is unapologetic about doing so.

"A holiday can be just as educational and enlightening for children, especially if you're exploring a new country or delving in a new culture," she says.

Squire agrees, saying children are always learning when exposed to new environments.

"My kids have spent months and months out of school," she says. "They have learnt lots of things out of travel that you can't learn in school."

An apple for the teacher

IF YOU want to travel during school holiday times, there is little you can do about prices. However, you might be able to save money in other ways.

Even during school holidays, many resorts offer deals such as "kids stay free", "kids eat free" or prepaid meal packages that represent good value.

Some travel agents and sites also have access to exclusive deals such as room upgrades or included activities, so it pays to shop around.

Also look for bonus-night deals, such as "stay seven for the price of five".

jane@janefraser.com.au

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