Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 14:47 UK

Back to school - the tell-tale signs

Children on school bus

By Caroline McClatchey
BBC News

Scottish schoolchildren returned two weeks ago, while their counterparts elsewhere in the UK are filtering back to the classroom this week and next. But surely that was obvious, as the tell-tale signs are everywhere...


It is the bane of every parent's life. They can only take a big break when classes are out and as most families have the same narrow window of opportunity, prices tend to rocket during school holidays.

But when pupils return to their desks, it is a bumper holiday time for singletons, childless couples, families with very young children and those whose offspring have flown the nest

Abta, the travel agents' association, said the majority of British families do travel during school holidays, and only a minority will take their children out of lessons to take advantage of cheaper prices.

Empty sunbeds on beach
You are more likely to find a free sunbed in September

Sean Tipton from the organisation said holidays in September were about 25-30% cheaper than the previous two months, but it was wrong to blame the tour operators.

"About 80% of holidays will be taken around the Mediterranean and the French, Spanish and Greeks also go to the Med in July and August, so hotels put their prices up," he said.

"It is a simple case of supply and demand."

As well as September being cheaper, he said the slightly lower temperatures made it "much more pleasant".

Mr Tipton added that, while more people holidayed at home this summer to save money, it did not mean there were more cheap deals on the market.

"The bad weather meant a lot of people wanted to get away at short notice and that pushed prices up," he said.


Roads are crammed during the school run; it is more difficult to get a seat on buses, which were quieter in every sense of the word during the summer; and it is business as usual on the trains as commuters return en masse.

Simon Calder, travel editor of the Independent, said: "Lots of us have enjoyed, particularly during the month of August and on the routes in and out of London, blissful, undercrowded trains."

Phil Tonks, from Bus Users UK, said September brought the usual round of complaints about traffic congestion returning to pre-summer levels and slowing down their journey.

"Most people can tell the difference when everyone goes back to work and school, and everyone moans about it.

"On a serious note, this is something local authorities need to be more pro-active about. Buses are very efficient movers of people and we should give them more priority."


Despite all the optimistic predictions, the "barbecue summer" turned into a "brolly summer", leaving parents no choice but to seek shelter indoors.

Richard Dodd, from the British Retail Consortium, said that last year, the footfall in shops fell 11% from August to September, but more money was spent in September.

Busy town centre
Parents, children and tourists keep retailers busy during summer

"The fall in footfall is partly down to children going back to school and also adults going back to work," he said.

"There are obviously other factors and there was a major financial crash in September last year."

He said shopping was a "major leisure activity" and it might be the case that parents get more actual shopping done without the children.

Shops may also be quieter once the school uniform price war has come to an end. Mr Dodd said the "battle" among the big retailers was a "phenomenon of the last few years".

"It is a significant seasonal boost to retail sales," he said.

"A bit like Christmas and Easter, it is a big increase in demand over a short period of time. Retailers, especially in difficult times, are fighting to secure as much of the back-to-school custom as possible."


Back to school also means back to work for many parents but it can also spell freedom for the full-time mothers and fathers out there.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of online forum Mumsnet, said at this time of year, many parents are "jumping for joy".

Child's painting of a face
September is a good month for many parents

"Generally, both kids and parents are excited and relieved to have moved on from what can be quite a long stint together," she said.

"Full-time parents can do all the things they haven't got around to doing. They can tidy the house and read a newspaper."

But it also brings the "horrors" of the school run and a big dent in the bank account.

A recent report found the cost of sending a child to school in the UK has risen to £1,077 a year.

The study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found rising food prices have hit the cost of meals and petrol prices have made the school run more expensive.

School meals accounted for the biggest chunk of the spending, at £388 a year for each child.

This was followed by £266 for the cost of school uniforms, and £207 for sports kits.

"The disastrous thing is that children grow. It means a trip to the uniform shop for most parents, unless you are canny enough with hand-me-downs or second-hand clothes," said mother-of-four Justine Roberts.

"Then there is the pencil case and all the stuff that goes in it, which will probably never be used."

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