A family holiday was not always my favourite out-of-school experience as a child; as much as I disliked school itself, at least I was free of it from 3.30pm onwards – though home could often be as unpleasant as the classroom; not having to endure a full twenty-four hours in the company of either family or fellow pupils meant the division of the day made a degree of sense. Come the school holidays, my day was essentially my own, with working parents and the freedom to roam; for this period of ecstatic emancipation to be curtailed always seemed unfair, and on the rare occasions when family holidays took place during the six-week summer break, it felt as though I’d been robbed.
However, this didn’t happen very often. Mostly, family holidays were scheduled in term time, meaning that even if the holiday contained the usual tensions exacerbated by the unnatural nature of two weeks in the sardine can, at least I was missing out on tedious lessons, playground Capones, and slap-happy sadists masquerading as teachers. If you’ve paid any attention to the headlines over the past couple of days, you probably know where I’m going with this.
It’s amusing to think that, if today’s rules had applied 35-40 years ago, my parents would have faced fines and possible imprisonment during my school days, both for taking me out of school for a fortnight and for ‘allowing’ me to take myself out of school. The latter occasions were those days when I preferred taking on my partner-in-truancy Stuart at PONG, playing air bass ala John Taylor to his copy of ‘Rio’ as he did his best Simon Le Bon (with a pair of his mother’s tights acting as makeshift New Romantic headband) or simply spending the afternoon up a tree on my own.
The fanatical obsession with endless exams, intense tests and putting pupils under all-day surveillance in the bureaucratic battle to ascend the league tables has placed both them and their parents under a strain I was spared, for which I am eternally grateful. I wasn’t viewed as a future financial investment by either parents or the State, which (as it turned out) was fairly shrewd foresight.
The legal victory on Friday of John Platt against the Isle of Wight Council following his refusal to pay a £120 fine for taking his six-year-old daughter out of school and on holiday during term time has been celebrated in some quarters as a triumph for common sense and two defiant fingers up at The Man. It is ironic at a moment when there is a continuous government emphasis on reducing the interference of the State in the lives of the individual that the State actually has more power to interfere today where some scenarios are concerned than it ever has previously. With regards to John Platt, he had managed to persuade magistrates on the Isle of Wight to overturn the fine, but the local authority appealed and took the case to the High Court. His argument was that it was not up to local authorities to decide what was best for his children, and this argument appears to have been vindicated following the High Court’s decision in his favour.
Of course, there is also the crucial truth that the travel agencies hike up their prices during official school holidays, aware that changes to the rules of the game mean parents now risk incurring the wrath of the watchdogs if they decide to holiday when prices aren’t so astronomical. Most don’t like making a fuss and adhere to the system, but for those who don’t, one has to ask what the child actually loses out on by missing a week or two in the classroom. All I can really recall about the aftermath of a holiday in term time is returning to school and being filled in on the latest gossip about who snogged who, who had a fight with who, and who went to the toilet in their trousers when a teacher refused them permission to go to the loo during a lesson. I don’t remember missing out on some vital piece of information that cost me dear come an exam, and (much to my chagrin) I was never absent from an exam due to a family holiday anyway.
Following the case of John Platt, there are now renewed calls for the law to be tightened. The Department of Education has pompously proclaimed ‘The evidence is clear that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.’ Really? Does that mean, even if they miraculously acquire a precious degree, they still won’t be qualified enough to make it as a zero-hours contract, unpaid intern for a corporation whose billions are funnelled through to the Cayman Islands via Luxembourg or Eire and only ever reach the pockets of fat cat shareholders based in Monaco? All because they weren’t present for a physics lesson one moribund Monday afternoon? Education, education, education, eh?
© The Editor