If I still did the school-run, it might well be 24,001. I believe in a proper education as fervently as any Education Secretary, but I have nothing but sympathy for the 200,000 parents who have signed a petition demanding a change of heart from Michael Gove on the vexed matter of time off from the classroom.
If my child were of that age, I’d have added my name too. And if I’d been the mother of the girl from Staffordshire recently refused leave to attend her grandfather’s funeral, it would have been more than a petition I was waving.
We asked permission to take our son out of school on several occasions, for a variety of reasons – not just because my husband suffers an allergic reaction both to other people’s children and paying through the nose (if the government really wants to stop families going away in term time, their best bet would be to ban the airlines from inflating their prices the minute the kids break up) – and were never refused. I was always polite.
I always promised missed work would be made up. I would generally emphasise the learning opportunities of my son spending, say, two days on a road trip with his father, taking in sites of cultural and historical interest (and keep quiet about the bribe I’d offered him if he begged to see Ely Cathedral or Brunel’s SS Great Britain, because I had a book to finish).
But how much of a lasting impression these outings had, I cannot say. Asked to recall educational jaunts taken with his fond parents, my son wrinkles his nose. “There was a big old house we went to”, he recalls, “when dad was in a bad mood” (This did not help to narrow it down). “And that air memorial place when you stayed at home (This turned out to be the Imperial War Museum, Duxford). His warmest reminiscing is reserved for the morning the whole class were allowed to stay at home while England played Brazil in the World Cup.
Nevertheless, I am firm in my stance. While clearly children must go to school as much as possible to have a fighting chance of knowing how many beans make five, there are many of life’s small nuggets of experience that cannot be met in the classroom. There can be many reasons why families may need to take an occasional holiday outside the traditional breaks, or visit far-flung relatives at short notice, and some encounters will be just as valuable as double maths. As parents, we should be allowed to make that judgement call. I remind my son of art galleries in Florence, mosques in Egypt and the boys weaving baskets from bamboo leaves on the white sands of the Dominican Republic. “That’s why I’m rubbish at Roman numerals,” he offers. “They did them in Year Three when we were in Lanzarote.” This is the first time I have been appraised of this gaping gap in his knowledge and am suitably shocked. “I can teach you those,” I say, rattling them off up to ten (X). The boy looks at me witheringly. “Even I know that far,” he says, correcting me onwards from four.
I HAVE just returned from a week teaching a course at the fab Chez-Castillon in the Dordogne.
I left home at 4am to get to Heathrow and sat in hours of traffic on the M25 on the way back. From the moment of the plane touching down to my walking in through my front door took over four hours.
The last time I returned from Bordeaux, the same transition was completed in under 40 minutes. So yes, thank you Ms Gloag, I am still cross about Manston….
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