More than 5 million school days were lost last year to parents going on naughty term time holidays.  There is every chance we will break this record some time this year, with over 2.5 million missed days so far, and we’re only half way through the school year.

Teachers might be walking out for better pay but we should be much more concerned about irresponsible parents helping their children skive off school for a term time jolly.

The law requires parents to take responsibility for their children getting to school and councils can slap a fine of £120 on parents who let their children miss school. The fine is cut to £60 for early payment but many councils don’t bother at all. The there will be plenty of parents who can afford a £60 fine and will simply consider it an added holiday expense.

Parents will never take education seriously if we look the other way as children bunk off school, but many councils don’t bother fining parents. Is it really believable that not a single parent in Suffolk took a term time holiday last year but more than 6,000 in Essex did?  There are five local councils who handed out no fines at all last year. Hartlepool Borough Council, with a population of almost 100,000, managed just two; the toughest councils were handing out 34 a day. This means some lucky parents are living in places where local education chiefs will turn a blind eye to a term time bunk. If you live in London or the Southwest you’re likely to dodge a fine, but be warned if you live in Yorkshire or the North West, the odds are stacked against you. That is unless you don’t care and are happy to hand over £60 on your return.

The year before the pandemic just five per cent of unauthorised term time holiday absence Resulted in a £60 fine. Last year just 186,000 fines were handed out by councils, a fall of over 100,000 since the pandemic.

A closer look at this data reveals that parents with the youngest children are the most likely to take their children out without permission. Just a few days off school can have an impact and children quickly fall behind, especially when they are learning to read and write in primary school.

Councils who don’t bother fining parents need to be stripped of this power, with ministers stepping in and increasing the amount they fine well-off parents. It will either act as a deterrent or a welcome bit of unexpected income which could be spent on extra lessons. If the government really wanted to make a point it could place truancy officers at airport terminals to catch out parents.

We should be doing something about these parents before term time holiday bunks reach record pre-pandemic levels – and it means hiking up fines for well healed parents treating it like an inconvenience, a bit like an unexpected taxi fare or an excess baggage charge. A bigger threat is needed to dissuade the middle-class family taking an extra ski break.

While we should expect a lot more of parents, they are not the only culprits. Companies marketing holidays for families with huge term time discounts need to be punished too – every parent will know of popular holiday destinations targeted at families that hike up prices as soon as the school holidays kick in. It’s not uncommon for prices to more than double. This sharp practice makes it much more expensive to do the right thing and take a holiday when schools are closed, ministers need to crack down on these firms too. Many parents will price in the risk of a fine if it means a cheaper deal. 

Ministers are planning a new approach to school absence later this year and this guidance needs to start with parents taking responsibility if we are to ever get the number of school days lost for unauthorised family holidays below 5 million. What a depressing statistic. Striking teachers might be testing the patience of parents, but there are plenty of parents who need to take a good look at their own behaviour before they point the finger.

Frank Young is editorial director at the Civitas think tank.