Counting the cost of school holidays – BBC News

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Image caption BBC reporter Susannah Streeter and family

Reminders that we are hurtling towards the end of term have been clogging up my inbox.

From email alerts that holiday club spaces are booking up fast to Facebook reminders that collections for teachers are doing the rounds, the notifications are coming in thick and fast.

While the final weeks whiz by in a blur of fetes, sports days and hastily made packed lunches, the school holidays loom towards us, a chasm of summer days demanding to be filled with some kind of entertainment.

Working parents are meant to look forward to the break as a chance to unwind and reconnect with our kids, but instead many are faced with a logistical nightmare.

Children typically get 13 weeks off school each year, while parents working full time will get just four or five weeks holiday.

Much is made of the hike in the cost of going away during the school holidays, but staying put can be very expensive as well.

According to the latest holiday childcare cost survey from the Family and Childcare Trust, the cost of a week’s holiday care at 124.22 per child, up by 4%.

Only 20% of local areas have enough holiday childcare for working families.

So, for many parents, the job of finding childcare and entertainment for the long stretch of summer becomes an intricate task demanding hours of planning that, for me, always seems to be left until the last minute.

Image caption Susannah says she’s lucky to have a supportive network of friends and family to help out

This year we’ve tried to be organised. I’ve missed some school assemblies and trips and have saved two weeks annual leave for the summer. I’m also allowed to buy back another week, for a monthly deduction in my salary. But that still leaves three weeks of juggling between child minder, family, friends and holiday clubs.

I am fortunate to have a support network of friends sharing similar challenges, and family close enough to share the burden. But many parents who live in towns and cities far from family and old friends have little option but to pay the price for holiday childcare.

Career sacrifice

The cost and complication of organising cover for not just the six weeks of summer but Christmas, Easter and half terms too, means that many parents have to make some stark choices in terms of their careers.

Some of my friends have left the corporate world to set up as freelancers and have taken a big salary drop as a compromise for flexibility. One writes into her contracts with clients that she’ll work overtime in term time, but holidays are ring fenced for family.

For the last two years another friend has found a job in September but then given notice in June, so that she is ready to take over when the school gates shut.

Image caption The price of holiday day trips and treats can mount up quickly

She knows it might soon look rather suspect on her CV but without family to help she can’t seem to find an alternative.

If parents do manage to negotiate enough time off work, they quickly find out the true cost of drizzly day. When you can’t rely on the park for free entertainment, .

From cinema seats to theme park rides, tickets are rarely cheap and if you want to take a break from crisps and a sandwich, eating out, even with a discount code can put a big dent in the weekly budget.

Finding a new way to explore free museums has become a regular challenge for my family and tramping the West Country woods come rain or shine is still a favourite activity, egged on by the promise of an electronic device for an hour in the evening and the lure of an ice cream or two.

But like millions of other mums and dads the six week stretch is often far from a rest, instead it’s a test of our ability to plan on a tight budget, a task which would be made much easier, if the holidays were just a little bit shorter.

If you’re a parent, how do you manage looking after your children when school’s out for the summer? Send us your top tips to

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