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Must cheap holidays be just a flight of fancy, asks Sean Coughlan

Earlier this term, a headteacher in Grimsby was criticised for taking a holiday in the Caribbean during term-time. But there must have been some sympathy in the staffroom - after all, how many teachers have been frustrated by the cheap flights available outside the school holidays?

The south of France for 50 quid? You can imagine cool wine on a hot afternoon - but you can forget all that if you've got to be in school on Monday morning. Many parents take their children out of school to take cheaper holidays, but for teachers this remains a mirage.

And the difference in price is substantial. Take two single flights with a discount airline on the same journey from London to Rome, but one month apart. On June 24 the cheapest ticket is pound;57, on July 24 it is pound;90. For package deals, the difference can run into hundreds of pounds.

So what would happen if someone suggested teachers should receive an allowance for having to take holidays at the most expensive time of year? They'd be mocked as whingers. But when teachers' pay is under such scrutiny, it is worth considering how other public sector workers claim allowances. If there are payments for anti-social hours, why not for flexible holiday times?

GPs have a list of allowances as long as an NHS waiting list, including payments for night-time call-outs and so on, and even a "deprivation payment" for every patient "resident in an area with a high level of deprivation". Teachers would be told that this was all part of the job.

Or take the police. They get allowances for rent, housing, dog-handling, motor vehicles, payments for working on rest days, and bonus payments of up to pound;500 for any work of a "demanding, unpleasant or important nature".

MPs have an incidental expenses allowance worth over pound;18,000 per year, plus computer equipment worth about pound;3,000. Peers in the House of Lords can claim an overnight subsistence allowance of pound;120.

Teachers are always being lectured about professionalism. They should bear in mind that one of the most venerable of professional institutions is the expenses form.

s.coughlan@virgin.netl See Get away, page 31, for holiday ideas

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