Laugh? We almost had to stay home

22nd July 2005 at 01:00
It's not often that the Government cheers us all up, but the new comic double-act of Blair and Kelly have done their best this week to give heads and teachers a good laugh before the summer holidays.

Well done to them for keeping straight faces as they suggested their task force on naughty pupils should consider making errant parents stay at home with excluded kids. Ruth Kelly, questioned on the Today programme, backtracked to suggest they were "brainstorming" the problem, which invites the question: who's suffering the brainstorm?

Let's explore the practicalities. Take a family, living in an inner-city flat. There are four children and two working parents, both doing long hours. Let's call them the Blairs.

So if a young Blair gets excluded from school, who stays at home? Does Dad ring in and say: "Sorry, but I can't be Prime Minister this week as my child has been excluded from school," or does mum throw a court case into disarray? What headteacher is going to be brave enough to suggest it?

Or take mother-of-four Ruth Kelly. Is she likely to take the week off from being Education Secretary under those circumstances? Can rich parents nominate the nanny to stay at home instead?

But it's not really aimed at those parents, is it? The families in the frame are likely to be having real trouble with a 14 or 15-year-old son, and money is going to be so tight that enforced, unpaid leave from work is going to cause real problems. Not to mention the dim view an employer would take of it all. And not to mention the complete breakdown in relations with the school which would ensue.

What head in their right mind would want these powers? They're reluctant to use some of the powers they've got, for just those reasons. Thank goodness the eminently sensible Sir Alan Steer, who's been quietly running a great school for 20 years, is in charge of this taskforce and not the headline-grabbing comedians at the top.

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