Understanding the new term-time holiday rules for parents

Photo of Jacob LewisPhoto of Jacob Lewis
By Jacob Lewis

5 March 20245 min read

Side view of family with luggage walking at airport terminal, using escalator

We all love a bargain, and for families, those tempting term-time holiday prices can be hard to resist.

But you might want to hold on a second before clicking 'book', because fines for taking children out of school across England are set to increase significantly, rising from £60 to £80.

Don't worry, we won't let this put a complete damper on your travel plans. Let's break down the changes and help you decide the best time for your next getaway with the kids.

What are the rules around taking children away on holiday during term time right now?

In England, the current rules around taking your children out of school for a holiday during term time are quite restrictive. Children have to be in school every day it's open unless there's a really good reason. These include:

  • Being too ill to attend
  • Receiving advance permission from the school due to exceptional circumstances
  • Religious observance prevents them from being in school

Unfortunately, just wanting a cheaper holiday doesn't usually count as an 'exceptional circumstance'. If you take a child out of school on holiday without permission, this counts as an 'unauthorised absence'. Schools and local councils can take action, including issuing a £60 fine.

What are the new rules and why are they changing?

From August 2024, there's going to be a stricter approach in England to make sure every council follows the same guidelines. Schools must consider a fine when a child misses ten or more sessions (five days) due to unauthorised absences – and that includes term-time holidays without the school's permission.

Parents can be fined £80 if paid within 21 days, doubling to £160 if paid late. The government hopes this will boost school attendance rates after they dropped somewhat following the pandemic. A big part of this is cracking down on families taking term-time holidays.

Does this apply everywhere in the UK?

No, these new rules specifically affect families in England. If you're in Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland, the rules are a bit different, so make sure to check those separately.

Can both parents be fined for one absence?

Yes, both parents could be responsible for paying a fine for a single child's absence. Think of it as a team effort – it's both parents' job to make sure kids get to school. If a child goes on an unauthorised holiday, both parents might have to cough up for the fine.

Could I go to prison for taking my child on holiday in term time?

While jail time is unlikely, skipping out on fines or having lots of unauthorised absences could get messy. You could be taken to court, and in extreme cases, this could lead to larger fines or, in very rare situations, a short jail sentence.

How much money can I save by travelling during term time?

Sometimes the savings are huge! One family saved a whopping £1,600 on a holiday to Egypt by going during term-time, the BBC reported. But remember, those savings need to be weighed against the risk of a hefty fine, and the fact your child will miss out on valuable school time.

I have a family of five... how much could I be fined?

If you have three school-age kids, those fines could really add up. A family of five could be looking at £480 in fines if they pay within 21 days. Miss that deadline, and the fines double to £960!

Why is the government increasing the fines?

They want to boost school attendance, which took a hit after the pandemic. A big reason kids miss school is due to those tempting term-time holidays. They also say the fines haven’t been raised in a while and they are simply keeping up with inflation.

What do teachers think of changes?

It's a mixed bag. Some teachers support having stricter rules so everyone's on the same page. Others think fines won't really fix the problem and want to see more support for families struggling to get their kids to school.

Will this definitely make kids go to school more?

The government hopes so. They think tougher fines will make parents think twice about booking those term-time breaks. But some people argue that you need to get to the root of the problem – things like kids' mental health or family difficulties – and not just rely on fines.

How can I find a great deal on a family getaway during the school holidays?

It's all about being savvy! Use TravelSupermarket to compare prices from several leading holiday companies – that way you know you're getting the absolute best deal. Planning ahead and being flexible with your dates and destinations helps too!

When is the best time to book a family holiday for the school holidays?

TravelSupermarket recently crunched the numbers and found some interesting stuff. According to the data, seven-night family holidays are cheapest when booked around five weeks before you go, while three-night city breaks are best booked nine weeks in advance.

What are the rules for the rest of the UK?

Each nation has slightly different rules:

Wales: Headteachers can decide to allow up to ten days off for certain reasons. Fines are still possible if there's no good excuse.

Scotland: There are no set fines like in England. If a child misses a lot of school, parents could be called to court, which might lead to fines or even jail time.

Northern Ireland: They don't use fines. Instead, if a child's attendance gets too low, services will step in to figure out why and offer support.

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