To boost our seasonal spirits, the UK government is entering the New Year with a new phase of its war on truancy. Not content with locking up parents whose children persistently play hooky from school, it has now teamed up with travel agents to issue £100 fines to parents who take their children out of class for a family holiday (1).
The move has been widely interpreted as an attack on middle-class parents, who arrogantly assume that the benefits to their children of a week’s quality time together in the sun outweigh those of sitting in a classroom going over yet more revision exercises for upcoming national tests. Indeed, given the warped logic of today’s generation of officials, it is easy to see the holiday fines as a cack-handed attempt to level the playing field, by showing that people who live on housing estates and take their kids out of school to go shoplifting do not have a monopoly on irresponsible parenting.
Whoever the government hopes to target with this latest madcap scheme, however, it clearly is parents, not children. Each manifestation of New Labour’s war on truancy has not been a practical attempt to deal with a real problem so much as a political stunt designed to show the kind of attitude and behaviour it expects from the mums and dads of Britain. That is: total acquiescence to the fact that, for most weeks of the year, it is the state raising your children (if not educating them all that well), and those pesky parents who attempt to interfere with this process will be sent to the bottom of the class.
‘Taking a holiday during term-time can mean that children miss important schoolwork and coursework and it will be difficult for them to catch up later on’, intoned education minster Ivan Lewis. ‘Taking a child out of school for a holiday without the head’s permission is unacceptable and will be treated as truancy.’ (2) The first bit of this is nonsense; the second is rather telling.
To argue that a child’s education will be seriously damaged by missing a few days of school here or there implies an incredibly weak education system, and rock-bottom expectations of pupils – neither of which are warranted today, whatever your views of contemporary teaching or the nation’s yoof. The clause about getting permission from the head, meanwhile, sums up the government’s view of parents – that they are the naughty children, in need of enhanced discipline from the authorities. And if arguments alone don’t work, send in the travel agents to warn that booking that bargain break could result in a £100 fine.