It’s half-term, a time for half-arsed arguments in favour of taking children on holiday in term time to join the rest of the baggage on the carousel of school life.
Strict rules on term-time absences were introduced in September 2013 and since then the number of fines has almost trebled, with 50,414 penalty notices issued in the past academic year, up 173 per cent on 2012-13.
Campaigners claim that the fines make families feel as though they are being “criminalised” and some 230,000 people have signed a petition calling for them to be scrapped.
Craig Langman, founder of the Parents Want A Say campaign that organised the petition, says that “it is not for the government to be able to say what a family can and can’t do”.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Jon Platt, who last week scored a victory when he had his £120 fine for taking his seven-year-old daughter to Disney World in term time overturned by magistrates. “I cannot allow a local education authority to tell me what is right for my kids – I know what is best for my kids,” he said. Which raises the question of why he bothers sending them to school in the first place.
The Local Government Association has now waded in to call for a change in the rules, saying that a “common-sense approach” should be applied instead. What is evident is that common sense has departed on the first EasyJet flight out of Luton.
The government has a duty to provide an education for children. As part of that, both the Department for Education and Ofsted rightly insist on strict attendance – and the evidence why is clear. Research shows that children who miss school for just seven days a year damage their “life chances”, and only 31 per cent of children who missed more than 14 days of lessons over two years achieved good grades in the traditionally academic subjects. Yes, children do miss school owing to illness and it is reasonable to expect teachers to help them make up what they missed. It is not reasonable to expect teachers to do so for frivolous reasons.
The debate over taking children out of school is not one about family time – it’s just as possible to spend quality time with one’s children in Crewe as it is in Crete. Nor is it about an infringement of civil liberties. It is about a selfish generation demanding its rights while paying no heed to its responsibilities towards the next.
Middle-class parents fight tooth and nail to get their children into the best schools, lying about religion and cheating on admission rules because they claim to want the best education possible. I’d wager my next holiday that it is these same parents who want to go away when it pleases them.
And the war they are waging against tour operators is just silly. Prices have always been higher in school holidays; this is not a new phenomenon. It is not holiday firms exploiting parents. It is basic economics: supply and demand.
Ultimately, this is not about the price of holidays; it is about the price children pay for missing valuable school time. It is not about the rights of parents; it is about the rights of children to receive a continuous education. It is about how much we really value education.