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Holiday miracle to cut absence

Want a discount on that Mediterranean break during the school holidays? Then send your child to school in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.

Its education welfare officers have achieved a miracle: they have persuaded some local travel agents to shave their profits in the interests of cutting absence from school.

Previous attempts to stop parents removing their children from school to take advantage of cheap, off-peak holidays have failed to stem the flow abroad. Even when schools said they would not authorise the absence, families went anyway. Last year, 18 per cent of pupil absence in the borough was due to family holidays.

So Kingston's principal education welfare officer, Ming Zhang, had the idea of approaching local travel agents to see if they could help. Could they provide encouragement for good behaviour?

Most said their profit margins were too slim to oblige. But three have agreed to offer some discounts to parents of pupils registered at Kingston schools when they make bookings during school holidays.

American Express Travel Service and Travelharbour are offering a discount of 5 per cent on selected operators. Superclubs is offering a 10 per cent discount on hotel bookings in the Caribbean.

Barry Collins, general manager of Travelharbour, concedes the discount falls well short of plugging the gap between peak and off-peak rates. "You'd have to change the fare structure of tour operators to do that," he says, "and that's a matter of supply and demand. But it's a step in the right direction."

The difference between June and August rates on a two-week holiday to Spain might be pound;500. The discount would only make a difference of pound;100 - "enough to take care of insurance and a little bit extra", says Mr Collins.

Which is better than a poke in the eye with a beach umbrella.

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