How a school holiday shakeup could help SMEs

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The start of the summer is a fun and exciting time for many, but for managers and owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) it can be a source of great stress.

The start of the summer is a fun and exciting time for many, but for managers and owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) it can be a source of great stress. undefined

Why? Because it is one of only two times of the year - along with Christmas - when it is practically guaranteed that every member of your workforce will want at least a week off. This can create some major headaches, both in terms of allocating leave fairly and keeping disruption to a minimum despite staffing shortages.

The problem is particularly severe for businesses who employ large numbers of parents, many of whom will want to take some leave during the school holiday period.

So is there any way of solving this conundrum, for the benefit of small firms as well as their employees?

The school holiday hitch

For parents that want to take a family holiday with their children, there is now more pressure than ever to get time off work during the school summer break, which runs for about six weeks from late July until early September.

Recent rule changes enforced by the Department for Education made it harder for parents to get a school's permission to take their children out of class during term time. The main reason that most people consider doing this is to avoid the high prices that holiday companies charge during the peak season.

The government's crackdown on children being taken out of school without permission means parents can now be fined for doing so. The maximum penalty is £60 per pupil, per parent, which rises to £120 if it is not paid within seven days.

While working mums and dads might feel aggrieved about the possibility of being fined for taking their children on holiday during term time, the government's position is that this is a genuine problem that poses a risk to children's education, meaning it necessitates strong action.

As a result, parents are restricted to planning family breaks during designated school holiday periods, and SMEs will continue to face the resulting staffing shortfalls.

Is there a solution?

The good news for parents and businesses is that there are potential solutions to this problem.

One possible approach would be to allow children to have one bonus week off at a particular point in the year, meaning parents would escape high prices and the pressure would be eased on their employers during traditionally popular holiday times.

However, it is unlikely that this idea would gain any traction with the government, as it is still reliant on children being taken out of school during term time. While one week off a year might not seem very much, a recent article in the Guardian pointed out that this would add up to at least 70 days - or three months of teaching - by the end of the child's education.

A more realistic solution is giving schools and local authorities more flexibility in how they schedule their terms. Last year, it was announced that all state schools will have the power to decide their own term dates from September 2015.

Earlier this year, the previous education secretary Michael Gove urged schools to make the most of this opportunity, so parents can benefit from off-peak holiday prices. This new flexibility could also prove advantageous for employers that have endured many difficult periods in the past as a result of the summer holiday rush. Variations in term dates at different schools would make it much easier for working parents to take time off without their leave periods clashing, reducing stress and disruption for their colleagues, managers and the business as a whole.

For the time being, firms will have to find ways of dealing with the high number of leave requests they are likely to receive in the months leading up to and during the summer. While this might seem like a daunting prospect, there is no reason why the business cannot continue to run efficiently, provided you are well prepared for the season and have clear policies and processes in place.

There are several strategies that could ease staffing pressures in the summer months, such as asking employees without children if they would be happy to take time off outside of the school holiday period.

Many organisations enforce restrictions on how many people can be off within particular departments at a single time, while an increasing number of companies are using flexible working methods to make their business more agile, adaptable and able to respond to various challenges.



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