Education Secretary Michael Gove is rumoured to be cracking down on parents taking their children out of school during term time so that they can go on holiday. This is meant to be in a drive to improve attendance and therefore standards in schools.
There seems to be shock at this decision and I can see two main arguments against Gove’s policy. Firstly, that if we are looking for parents to become more responsible, then parents must be able to make decisions about their own children and that covers their education and decisions about when they take their holiday. People don’t want to live in a nanny state and be told when they can or can’t take their holiday by the Education Secretary. In addition to this if you have family who live abroad it can cost double to travel during the school holidays and can be prohibitive for many, meaning that they may be unable to attend family reunions.
I am sympathetic to both those points. Extended family is incredibly important and helps children to develop their own sense of identity and their value base. Being unable to visit family because of the increased cost of travel during the holidays is very sad and makes me feel uncomfortable. In addition, I think that personal freedom is one of the most important rights that we have and parents should have autonomy to bring up their children how they see fit as long as these freedoms don’t impact other people in a negative way.
On the other hand, along with love, education is one of the most important gifts we can give our children as parents. In my view social mobility, tolerance and self esteem thrive through a good education and as parents and as a society that is what we should be aiming for. For our children to strive to be all that they can has to be our goal and we need to give them the best education we can to achieve this. Taking children out of school during term time must go against all of that.
If all parents were free to choose which school their children attend then there is a case to say that the head teacher could be free to impose a ban on taking children out of school during the school holidays. If parents didn’t want that then they would have to put up with the decision or else to change schools. But if they haven’t chosen a school what then?
Personal freedoms are extended to adults but when children are concerned there are times when the state has to step in and these are to secure a child’s health, safety and education. A child of 5 by law has to go to school, she has to sit in a car seat in the car and be taken to seek medical help if needed. Why not extend this legal requirement to refuse leave during term time.
When I started writing this I thought that this was a straight forward case and that parents shouldn’t be allowed to take their children out of school. What I’ve realised is that it’s not that parents shouldn’t be allowed to take children out of school but that they shouldn’t take them out of school. But that if for whatever reason parents decide that it’s in the child’s interest to take them out of school to go on holiday then they should be allowed to do so. This isn’t an ideal solution but I think that giving parenting responsibility to parents is how we will make parents better in the long term and it is a learnt skill and isn’t something that can be mandated by law. Ultimately outsourcing the nanny to the state won’t deliver better children or parenting.