skool’s out

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Asking what Alice Cooper and Cliff Richard have in common sounds like a weak pub-quiz trivia question. No, even though Vincent Furnier (Alice) is indeed the son of a minister, he’s not a born-again, and to the best of my knowledge Cliff is neither an ex-alcoholic nor fanatical about golf, it’s just that ‘school’s out’ time of year again when families ‘all go on a summer holiday’ (groan – ed). Or at least they used to.

Until recently, many parents appeared to be ignoring the obligation of ensuring their children attend school, taking term-time holidays to avoid the higher charges experienced during peak periods. Realising this was becoming an increasing disruptive problem, legislation was introduced in 2013 to restrict this action to situations of an ‘exceptional’ nature. However, following last year’s ruling on this litigation seeking to prevent parents taking their family holidays during term-time, the practice appeared to be in danger of becoming the norm. The High Court determined that repeat offender, Jon Platt, had ‘no case to answer’ for removing his child from school for holidays in Florida and Lapland, as the child had, with these exceptions, ‘regularly attended’. Thankfully, the Supreme Court have today rightly over-ruled this judgement and deemed it an offence to do so. Mr Platt has ‘pivoted’ and is now arguing that it’s a case of the state determining control over the actions of parents wrt to their children. Whatever.

School absenteeism is a major problem and upwards of 400,000 pupils miss out on over a full month of lessons every year, and this is disruptive on everyone concerned: the pupils themselves, the teachers, fellow classmates, the school and the Department for Education that’s attempting to implement a logical & achievable curriculum for all. To my mind, and with my son now teaching history at secondary school, I do not believe parents/families should have an inalienable right to go on holiday whenever they choose, or whenever their finances allows. If you can afford Florida over Fleetwood and New York over Newquay, fine, and good for you, but only when school time permits. Them’s the rules.

Now, if Jon’s not happy with the hours a school keeps, or believes his daughter isn’t going to miss anything of importance during those absences, then it is entirely within his remit, and within the law, for him to remove his child permanently and home-school her. Somehow, I suspect this wouldn’t fit into his busy schedule, budget or lifestyle. The blatant, flagrant non-adherence to these rules highlights a selfish, self-centred and isolated approach to society. Furthermore, it undermines the belief that education is of great import and value and must be held in a regard above a Disneyworld or Santa Land experience.

The one sensible debate that this situation should elicit however, concerns the actual timings of the school day and the extended nature of the summer holidays. It is entirely justified to question the nine to three-thirty day, with a six-week summer holiday period, and to analyse their relevance to today’s lives.

The origins of this stem from our agricultural past, when families required their children’s labour in the fields to pick summer fruit, harvest ripening crops and tend & farm the land. As far as I’m aware, not many of my son’s charges have toiled in hay-making of late. Rather, they spend their summer forgetting what they’ve learnt during term, being bored, updating their social media profiles and, by the third or fourth week, generally getting into mischief. The rationale behind the three-thirty finish was largely the same: children were needed to lend a hand with the chores of cleaning, cooking and laundry. Nowadays, that’s what the Filipino maid’s for.

The sunrise start in order to milk the cows and a mid-afternoon finish to hit the cider-house have long since passed to folklore and given way to the modern day nine-to-five. So much so that it’s almost unheard of for a working parent to be at home at the end of the school day, which is why we see such costs for after-school provision. I for one would have heartily supported a later finish as I didn’t want a latch-key-kid or pay for expensive childminders. Why, then, can’t we bring the school day in line with our own normal, operational working day? Similarly, would it not make complete sense to have clearly defined term-times with regular, and more frequent, two-week breaks, allowing families many more options for vacations?

Update – June 2017:

This week, Jon Platt, at a cost of almost £140,000 to the public purse, was found guilty of failing to secure his daughter’s regular attendance at school. Being given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £2000 costs, Mr Platt commented “This has gone on far too long and far too much much money has been spent on it.” Jon, I couldn’t agree more so, next time, just play by the rules and ensure your children attend school when they have to.