Lady Hale, daughter of two head teachers, married (sequentially) to two other law lecturers, graduate of Girton College Cambridge, former Lecturer at Manchester University, barrister and now deputy President of the Supreme Court, whose only association, I suspect, with the tourist industry is as a user, handed down this ruling and said that "Unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect, not only on the education of the individual child, but also on the work of other pupils, and of their teachers."
Whilst, with respect, I disagree with her ladyship – and, although I feel she has reached an unfortunate conclusion, in all sincerity, I do respect her – we have to accept that the law is now decided unless and until either the Supreme Court changes its mind, which is unlikely in the immediate future, or parliament changes the law.
It has always surprised me that this measure was introduced by a Conservative government, since I had always had the impression that, whatever else they might or might not believe, they believed (a) that government interference in everyday lives should be minimised and (b) in the importance of family. I talked about the question with Peter Heaton-Jones before he was elected as our MP, and, at that time, he agreed with me that the best people to determine whether children should be allowed time off from school would be, in most cases, the parents.
Part of my problem with this policy is that, with schools now judged, at least in part, on how many absences there are, head teachers have a strong incentive to minimise all absences and absence to go on holiday is an easy target. Even if the so-called “holiday” has educational benefits, any sensible head teacher would hesitate to give approval since it would lower his or her ranking.
Another part of my problem is that we are now hearing calls to mitigate the effects of this ruling by putting a cap on the difference charged during and out of school holidays. In other words, adding yet more layers of authoritarianism to an already authoritarian policy.
Whilst the motive behind this policy may have been good, I am afraid that its effect is far from good – the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Looking back on my life, it seems to me that there has been a slow nibbling away of freedoms, all for the very best of reasons, but gradually limiting personal freedom in a way that no one would have thought likely 50 years ago. If we continue in this way, I fear we are sleep walking into the demise of our democracy.
Just under a year ago, I said the following:
I was pleased to see the following quote from our MP, Peter Heaton-Jones “I understand that children have to go to school. But I would urge the Government to think again about the rules they have put in place. We certainly do not need to tighten [them]”.
The Department of Education justifies the policy by arguing that even one day away from school has been shown to affect a child’s attainment at GCSE. Frankly, I suspect this is balderdash. So far as I am aware, they have asserted this without producing evidence. If it were true, then there would be no excuse for shutting schools for, for example, use as polling stations, or for teacher training. Children would be encouraged to attend regardless of their health, unless they were actually at death’s door. If our education system is so sensitive to the odd day or so away from it, then there is something wrong with the education system, and it is that that needs fixing, not the occasional family holiday.
While we still have a democracy, let’s make the best of it.
Below is a list of those standing for Council in our district.
I know three of the candidates personally and all are worthy candidates. I am assured that the two I don’t know are equally worthy, so I urge you to make up your own mind who to vote for. Just one suggestion – vote for the person, not the party, and make sure that whoever you vote for supports whatever you regard as the most important local, not national, issues.
And finally….We have had some lovely weather recently. In my garden, the magnolias, camellia, and flowering cherry are all in bloom. Bluebells, primroses and some tulips are out, while a few last daffodils are holding on. This must be one of the loveliest times of year. Let’s enjoy it.