I’ve been thinking about the government’s decision to impose fines for non-attendance on parents and the tightening up of the regulations around when a child can be absent from school and I can’t help but think that this approach cannot be productive. We seem to be seeing a gradual but relentless erosion of the rights of the parent and the child in favour of having our children’s “bums on seats” in the classroom.
The government fails to recognise that education and learning is much, much, more than just learning to a pre-determined academic standard in a classroom. If, as parents, we have a responsibility to ensure our children receive an education it follows that we also have a right to have our say in what that education involves. We need to reclaim that right.
The decision by the government to put a blanket ban on term-time holidays and other trips is a case in point. For many families a holiday is their time to re-connect as a cohesive unit. With many parents working full time and children in school every day, families become disjointed; disconnected from each other. Holidays have huge emotional and educational benefits, as the family experiences different environment and cultures as a joined-up unit. It is a time for parents to enjoy time with their children and a chance for children to see their parents relaxing and having fun. A connected, close, family unit will help the child cope with stressful situations not just now but potentialy for life. These children will require less support from the system and potentially be less likely to be involved with the police and other services. For this reason alone, it makes sense to encourage a cohesive family unit. For some it is simply impossible to take holidays during the official school holiday time because of the costs involved. Unscrupulous holliday companies have realised that they have a capitve audience and have inflated their prices so much as to make holidays at thise time unaffordable for many.
What about a family educational trip, for example a trip to one of the national museums in London? Many schools are so under pressure to deliver the national curriculm and so afraid of health and safety law that children simply do not go on trips such as this any more. Children should not have to miss out on the hugely rich, multisensory educational experiences avaliable on these type of trips because of this. What about reconnecting with our environment? Being out in “nature” is arguably one of the most important things our children can experience when they are young to develop a healthy respect for their environment when they are older.
If schools can’t offer these experiences, if they are not required to listen to our views as parents with regards to our children’s education, we as parents should be free to decide that these type of experiences are important to our children’s education and well-being. We should be able to choose to take our children out of school so that they can experience a richer, wider educational experience than our schools can offer.
It is often stated that some parents will not take attendance seriously if there is not a financial penalty for non-attendance. To proponents of this argument, I would ask, why does the child not want to attend school? Most children who do not want to attend school feel this way because there is a problem that needs adressing. Forcing parents to force children to attend school does not help their learning and it certainly does not help the relationship between parent and child. This approach can damage a child’s approach to learning for life and damage their relationship with their parents irreparably. Instead, we should ask, what is the school not doing to support and engage this child and make them want to attend school and interact with their peers? Perhaps we should be fining the school or the Local Education Authority for non-attendance as they have obviously failed in their duty to support, engage, nurture and encourage the growing minds that they are entrusted with.
What about periods of illness? I hear stories of schoools requiring ridiculous proof of children’s illness, sometimes so invasive that it could be considered as harassment. Schools should accept proof of ilness on the same basis as if you were off work. This implication that when children are off ill, the parent is lying and proof needs to be provided is simply unacceptable.
So, parents, let’s reclaim our rights and assert our moral responsiblity to do the best for our children. Our government needs to listen. We are not bad parents just because our children have time off of school. We as parents know what’s best for our children and we have a right to be listened to.