Alice 2 - CopyA 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

10 thoughts on “SCHOOL’S OUT WHEN WE SAY SO

  1. I can only agree. I find it hard not to form the impression that the Ruling Classes are less concerned with education in its widest sense than with drilling compliant martinets who will be subsumed by the Order which serves them so well. What did “education” get me? It go me some good things, and it got me bankrupt at 51 with my profession being destroyed. As I have already hinted, it is not education these politicos want. If that was the case we can just scarp none tenths of the curriculum and teach philosophy, languages, classical history, dialectic, cosmology, cooking, art, music, rhetoric and sword play: in short, the education of a medieval Prince. Indeed, books like “The Prince” would be required reading! But no. What these people want is an exercise in form filling, for people who will spend the rest of their lives – filling in forms.

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    1. Too true. Not for the first time, I’m thankful my childhood and school days took place when they did, and that I’m not (and mercifully never will be) a parent.


  2. At a macro-level, it is undoubtedly true that, if a child only attends for 1% of the school-days, that child will gain less of the planned education than a child who attends 100% of the days: that would appear to make the case for the authorities (if we accept that the ‘planned education’ is itself valid, of course). But somewhere on that grey-scale between 1% and 100%, there’s a point of reasonable balance, although that point will be different for different kids and different parents. The problem is that the mechanical nanny-state aims for a one-size-fits-all standard, which means that it rarely, if ever, does – but that’s also true of comprehensive schooling in toto.

    With good parents, any time away from school (evenings, weekends, half-term, summer break etc.) is just another extension of life-learning, with additional features being layered onto the child at a pace which that child can accommodate – this also includes foreign holidays, where the child’s positive exposure to alien situations, cultures and languages brings huge development opportunities. Sadly, not all parenting is ‘good’ and the other type usually sees education as something that they have completely delegated to the school/state, therefore they have no part to play. It is also true that they have been encouraged in that belief by the increasingly-instrusive state-machine, enabling that machine to grow in power while the parental input and influence was deliberately diminished.

    One solution would be for parents of all state-school kids to sign a ‘contract’ with the school when their child starts – this would confirm the roles and responsibilities of both parties and detail any penalties or sanctions for transgression. If the parents don’t like ‘the deal’, they have choices – go to another school offering a different ‘deal’, go into the private sector or educate the child at home. But once the ‘contract’ is signed, then everyone knows where they stand, what they signed up to and what will happen if they breach it. No more tabloid tales or daft court cases.

    But this would also be very challenging for the schools, as they would then have to commit to the service-level they will provide, so no excuses for closing just because there’s an inch of snow on the ground or if there’s a teachers’ strike or a powr-cut, and they would be driven to commit to the output quality of their students, which is what the parents should really want anyway. And that’s why they won’t do it.

    In many ways this problem is symptomatic of wealth: it’s only because folk have the money for foreign holidays that the issue arises. It’s not compulsory to holiday abroad – if the parents stopped paying those over-priced rates, then the holiday companies would have to stop charging them.
    In my 50s and 60s schooling, it was never an issue – at primary school, none of the working-class parents could ever afford anything other than a single ‘wakes week’ in Blackpool or Morecambe when the factories and mills were shut down, always outside term-time. At grammar school, despite some quite wealthy parents, the ‘deal’ was well understood, you turned up every day unless perilously close to your death-bed and could prove it – no-one ever breached that ‘deal’ than. The key difference is that wealth has now spread into a range of hands who are unaware how to use it wisely. Progress, eh !

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  3. If teachers were at all entrepreneurial they would offer, for a fee, to provide catch-up classes after normal school hours to those children whose parents had taken them away on a cheap holiday during term time. But as they probably aren’t, they won’t. The children concerned will be the losers.


    1. So the money you save on a cheaper family holiday, you spend on supplemental education? That makes no sense for the parents.

      Schooldays – the best days of my life. It got me away from the parents. School holidays were a form of purgatory.


      1. Roderick: think of the children? Well, I don’t need to, but I thought economics was the ONLY consideration in anything these days.


  4. As a schoolboy during the war, evacuated from London, I and my schoolfriends, encouraged by our school, used to volunteer to spend the long summer holidays in camp, working on small farms for the Devon War Agricultural Committee. That was an education in itself, much enjoyed as we could indulge ourselves in illicit cider and fags away from interfering foster parents, and take advantage of the generosity of the GIs camped nearby who were always good for chocolate bars and unlimited gum.

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    1. If there was an illicit Rosie with all that illicit cider, tell us more…… but chances are Rosie got nylons from the GIs, trumping whatever you ecavuee kids had to offer her.

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  5. As a border just commencing the Lower Sixth I was prevented by my Father from taking the weekend off so that I might travel south some eighty miles or so to attend the wedding of my one and only cousin (a big sister in all but name as her own Father had been killed in Normandy in 1944) on the grounds that absence from school would interfere with my studies. What one learns from school, however, or at least what I recall is not necessarily the lesson that one is formally being taught but those other lessons about life, people, and their true though perhaps unconscious motivations.

    My Father however made up for this oversight by insisting – a week before sitting A’ levels – that I return to my parents for the duration of half-term (whilst my class-mates were remained at school to make the best use of their time prior to the imminent examinations). I leave it to you to decide which of the two events proved the greater educational deprivation.

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