Jayne Dawson: Decent parents are being forced to act like criminals

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Parenthood is a big old journey and participants learn a lot along the way - new life skills, new vocabulary even.

For instance, one phrase you hear parents of school age children saying a lot these days is: “One couple I know just did it anyway and paid the fine” - and that’s a surprise because you don’t expect perfectly ordinary mums and dads to be making small talk about deliberate law-breaking.

But that’s the way it’s going.

The law-breaking in question involves taking children out of school in term time and there is reason to believe the strict, some might say Draconian, rules on unauthorised absence imposed by government are producing a generation of otherwise responsible parents daring each other to defy authority.

Some go beyond talking and actually do it. They take their children out of school even though they are not supposed to and pay the fine which can subsequently be imposed on them - usually £60 per child, per parent. They do it because it means their off-peak holiday still works out cheaper, even adding in the cost of the fine, because holiday costs ramp up so alarmingly at peak times.

I heard a story recently of a detective inspector who had done just that and you don’t expect that from your law-enforcers, do you?

This week, a primary school refused a nine-year-old boy three days’ absence to attend his own mother’s wedding, taking place in another part of the country.

Now that school had only been given a few days’ notice of his absence, and you might have expected the bride and groom to have given a bit more than that, since their wedding must have been some time in the planning. But still, his own mother?

And the Internet is full of horror stories about children not being allowed time off to attend funerals of people who meant a lot to them, even though they were not immediate family. After all, families can be complex these days and people who are not immediate blood relatives can be important in a child’s life.

One woman writes that her child was not allowed to travel with her to Australia for a month over Christmas, where her own father lay dying.

It’s all a bit nasty really, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I have some sympathy with teachers here, which is odd because I don’t often have sympathy with teachers.

They in this they are just doing as they are told to do and, anyway, a lot of parents can be a right pain with a frankly irresponsible attitude to education which means their children suffer.

But these parents, the feckless, stupid ones who don’t care if their child turns up in the classroom or not, will probably just carry on regardless.

The caring ones, the ones who want to give their children holidays but who haven’t got much money, are the ones who are being hit by this inflexible attitude.

And if time in the classroom is so important in every school year, maybe it’s time to start looking at how much teaching time our children receive.

There are questions to answer here: Why are schools on holiday for 13 weeks of the year? Why do we have such a long summer break - we don’t need our youngsters to help bring in the harvest any more? Why is the school day so short? Why do teachers go on courses in term time and not when the children are on holiday? Why do schools close for training days? Why do schools close in bad weather leaving working parents to arrange emergency childcare?

That’s a lot of questions but if time in the classroom is so vital then they need to be answered. Either that or stop making good parents feel like bad ones.

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Sarah Champion MP

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