Travelling chimps

The challenges of Brighton’s two week half-term holiday

Brighton & Hove parent’s and carers may want a cheap half-term holiday break but as we come to the end of a two-year trial, it seems the answer is not an extended October half-term.

Why did Brighton & Hove have a two-week half-term?

In 2016, Brighton & Hove ran a consultation with parents, carers and the children, young people and skills committee. Families were fed up of paying higher prices to travel during school breaks and wanted a way to reduce costs. Brighton and Hove decided to trial a new extended half-term holiday, lopping off days from Easter and Christmas, so that no educational days were missed.  I wasn’t aware of the consultation at the time, in fact only one person I know actually responded, but thought it might help support families struggling to pay for holidays.

Is travelling in school holidays much more expensive?

Campervan selfie
Summer holidays – van life!

FairFX looked at the price of family holidays for 4 (2 adults, 2 kids), comparing costs in June and July while the kids were at school against August prices, when school holidays have started. Predictably August was more expensive; out of the nine destinations they looked at, the average increase was £905 more in July and £1310 in June. We usually avoid the problem with a cheap family holiday in August to France – the van is our summer saviour – but it often isn’t super hot. I was quite up for using the extra half-term week for a sunny package holiday.

Why can’t you take kids out during term time?

In 2013 the Government issued national guidelines to head teachers about child absence. The rules state that a child can only be granted absence in ‘exceptional circumstances’ and family holidays are not in this category. You can make it as educational as you like, writing diaries, visiting sites relevant to your child’s learning or even bringing things back to school, but the headteacher’s hands are tied – if there is an absence because of holiday, they have to log it and a fine is issued.  Holiday operators rejoiced; with families no longer able to take kids out of school during term-time, they could further increase prices. What’a captive audience to do?

Pay or fight the fine?

Although the fine is a pain –  it’s £60 per child, per parent – for big holidays it often works out cheaper to travel during term time and pay the charge.  If you want a cheap family holiday though, adding a further £240 (2 kids) to the bill would prevent a lot of people booking. There’s no point fighting it – someone already tried that and failed. In 2015, father Jon Platt took his daughter out of school for seven-days and was fined by the Isle of Wight Council. He fought the charge and was initially successful but then the supreme court upheld the fine and not only did he have to pay, it cost tax payers £140,000.

So was the the two-week half-term holiday a success?

No. Although on paper it sounds like a fine idea, at the end of the trial a survey was sent out to see how people felt. Almost 4,500 people responded to say they wanted to revert to the existing pattern of school holidays. 

What went wrong?

Cyprus - empty, beautiful and hot in October
Cyprus – empty, beautiful and hot in October

I think that a lot of parents liked the idea but didn’t think it worked in October / November:

  1. It’s too soon: they’ve only just gone back to school after 6 long weeks of summer. As a working parent that meant 6 weeks of juggling childcare , followed by a month playing catch-up. It’s even worse for new reception starters, who joined the school later – they have barely been in the classroom for a month. I have a lot of pals that just don’t really want to go another family holiday and have been really struggling to cope with an additional cold, wet-weather week off school. Yuck!
  2. Money is tight: After 6 weeks of haemorrhaging money on summer activities and Christmas on the horizon, a family holiday is tough to justify for lots of families.
  3. The sun is further away:  Holiday brochures and websites would have you believe that Europe has a wealth of sunshine, beaches and swimming pools and they do, as long as you go before the end of September. If you want that same kind of holiday in October / November, Europe is cooling down rapidly. You need to go much further south if you want the sun. We had friends that went to Italy (cool), the Canaries (stormy) and Florida (lovely).  It’s hit and miss – we were in Cyprus last year and it was gorgeous.
  4. Longer flights = higher prices: If you want to go on a big holiday to America or Africa etc. an extra week at the end of October / November is ideal as you can make some real savings. If you wanted to get a last-minute cheap deal though, it’s tough. Cyprus was pricey last year and we had friends that had to pay out £2k+ for a trip to Lanzarote this half-term.
  5. Family and friends: Lots of our friends spend their holidays with family but unless they live in Sussex, that doesn’t work.
  6. Teaching parents: A few of our pals are teachers in West Sussex – we live close to the border – and they don’t have the same holidays as their children.
  7. School friends at the buffet: It seemed that half of our school were going to the Canaries for the additional week. We love our school friends but there is a reason why we all book our own holidays and don’t book as a massive group – we all like to get away from our Brighton & Hove life when we holiday. We want to hang out with our own kids, do our own thing. If you bump into school pals on the beach or in the restaurant, it feels weird to not join up.  It’s also impossible if the kids all spot each other!

What about switching to the February or May half-term holiday?

February would be just as expensive for sunny holidays but May would have been lovely. The Mediterranean is great at that time of year and you wouldn’t have to go far. We spent the last May half-term holiday cycling through Northern France to Paris and it was gorgeous. The one before that we had a cheap villa in the Algarve and it was glorious sunshine everyday. The problem is SATS. It’s a bad time of year for the year 6’s and the teachers, so May appears to have been vetoed.

Did the Travelling Chimps make use of the extra week?

Of course we did! We wanted to book a cheap overseas break but, for a few of the reasons above, decided it wouldn’t work for us. We didn’t fancy the van in the cold, so booked a last-minute cottage in Kingsand, Cornwall through Coolstays. We lucked out with the weather and had sunshine most days. It was cold but as we weren’t in Fuerteventura expecting it to be bikini weather, that was fine. This was more a log-fire and cosy blanket holiday!

We spent much of the week pottering. Kingsand and Cawsand are two quintessentially Cornish villages, joined together via a selection of narrow windy streets with just a few pubs and cafes and one shop. Because the roads are so narrow, there is no space for cars to park, which really made me want to live in a place where traffic does not exist. It was lovely just to wander around the multi-coloured, car-free streets, deciding which of the crooked houses we’d most like to live in. We went down to the beach every day – just a couple of minutes from our cottage – it was perfect for rock-pooling but it also had a wonderful old pub on the beach with a log fire and local craft beers.

In terms of location, Kingsand is perfectly placed for a family holiday. You get the quaintness of a perfect Cornish village plus easy access to family activities. On day one we trekked for 5 miles to Rame Head, day 3 we managed a 3 mile walk to Edgecombe House, timed to coincide with a Halloween treasure hunt, and on day 6 we took the ferry from Cawsand Beach to Plymouth. The little boat takes just 30 minutes (an activity in itself) and gives you access to the city. We went to the National Marine Aquarium and made a little google movie of our day out.