Families who enjoy England’s earliest start to the school holidays might find the arrangement is about to change. Many local authority-run schools in Leicester and Leicestershire broke up this week. But a council consultation could see the holidays aligned more closely with the rest of the country. BBC News talks to families about the pros and cons of the early getaway.
Alasdair Walker and his wife Melissa say they love Leicestershire’s early start to summer.
The couple have two children, one of whom is at primary school.
Mr Walker, a chartered financial planner, described the school holiday arrangements as “fantastic”.
“It wasn’t the reason we moved to Leicestershire but it’s definitely a fringe benefit we discovered,” he said.
The family, from Barrow upon Soar, have found holidays booked slightly earlier than the main summer season are generally a little cheaper.
Mr Walker said they were due to go to a holiday site next week where the early July prices were about 60% of the August charges.
“There are big price increases around the standard school holidays,” he said.
“That’s how these places make their money.
“But I think there’s something to be said not just for the saving, but also in terms of giving people the ability to get around the country without the roads getting jammed up.”
Mr Walker said while the coronavirus pandemic had not been the ideal time to take advantage of the region’s quirky holiday dates, they had demonstrated how useful they could be.
“The pandemic hasn’t been the best year to experience booking a holiday in general,” he said.
“But last spring and summer, when overseas holidays were cancelled, we were able to book an autumn half-term holiday a week earlier than many of the rest of England’s schools.”
He added he wished such flexibility was available to families across the country.
“I think the government should give individual authorities the chance to set their own term times,” he said.
“There are always going to be cases where having different holiday dates doesn’t work for everyone. But certainly, among the families we know, the early holidays work.
“One nice side-effect is that when you are able to go abroad, it’s generally just families from Leicestershire and Scotland – who also finish early.
“We went on a holiday to Bluestone, in Wales, last year and it was like a mini Leicestershire.”
‘It’s very confusing’
Kitty and Ollie Battams moved to Leicestershire from West Sussex in February but say the earlier term times took them by surprise.
“We have found the school holidays very confusing,” said Mrs Battams, whose four-year-old son will be starting school in August.
“We keep telling people our son is starting school in September, and then we have to correct ourselves.
“They even start back before the August Bank Holiday.
“I remember as a kid I loved having that long weekend before you started back at school.”
Mrs Battams, who lives near Melton Mowbray, has also found it difficult to co-ordinate their calendar with friends elsewhere in the country.
“One of my friends is a teacher in another part of England and is due to get married in the October half term,” she said.
“But when I looked at the dates to book some leave, I realised our son will still be at school that week.”
Despite the confusion, the family say they are not rushing into judgements about the earlier school breaks.
“Obviously we’re trying to work out what that means in terms of the rest of the year and what you gain from it,” said Mrs Battams.
“People have suggested the early start makes things less busy and less expensive but some of the private schools will be off then anyway and schools in Scotland are off, so it’s not like the travel companies haven’t wised up to that.
“I haven’t actually voted yet in the council’s consultation because I don’t know how much it will affect us until we have experienced it.”
Why so early?
- Leicester and Leicestershire’s “July fortnight” was born in the 1960s, thanks to a ballot held among the region’s workers.
- The idea was that each area of the Midlands would head to popular local seaside resorts – such as Skegness, in Lincolnshire – at different times, preventing overcrowding.
- Both city and county council are now consulting families on three options: they can keep the same arrangement, they can alter their autumn and spring half terms to run at similar times to other authorities or they can finish their summer holiday a week before other schools in England break up and have a shorter Easter break and a two-week autumn half-term. The consultation is due to run until 18 July and the results will be made known in the autumn.
Source: Leicestershire County Council
Deborah Taylor, cabinet member for children and families at the county council, said: “We feel it is important people are given the opportunity to have their say and share their thoughts before we go ahead and set future [term] dates.
“This consultation will help us gauge opinion, give us an opportunity to check if the patterns we have are working and see if there is a desire to maintain them or realign them.”
Elly Cutkelvin, assistant mayor for education in Leicester, said: “We know lots of people will have a view on how holidays and term times should be set.”