It has been a very bad month for those who care about raising our children in a way that develops their potential to the fullest and equips them for a secure future. (It is always an indication of trouble when the headlines refer to them as “kids”!) First, the extraordinary action of so-called caring parents to keep their children out of school for a strike against SATs. Whether those tests are too difficult or not is open to argument. But the principle that parents should co-operate with teachers and the school in the orderly testing of their children must be beyond argument. It was a terrible example to set to their children – that is, if you don’t like what today holds, or you find it stressful, just skip it. If the children were stressed, it was most likely because of the tension exhibited by their parents, or possibly teachers. The lesson that should have been learned is that every day of life may well present stressful or unavoidable testing situations and one has to learn to cope.
The second bad event was the almost unbelievable decision of the court that it was not an offence to take one’s children out of school term time for a holiday, provided attendance for the rest of the year was regular. Again, a rotten example to set to the children, that their pleasure or their parents’ convenience counts for more than the extra burden placed on the teacher, the need to catch up and the detrimental effect on the rest of the class. Moreover it is hard to argue that there is much educational experience to be gained from the average holiday in Florida or any other regular seaside resort. I know that travel agents push up prices in school holidays, and that is the evil that should be tackled. Of course there may have to be unavoidable absences due to family situations, but holidays should not count as such in my opinion. The lack of respect for teachers evident in both these situations is worrying; it is shown by the parents’ actions and will no doubt be reflected in the children’s attitudes. It would be interesting to know more about the demographics of the parents who take their children away during term and skip tests.
Third, the report that there are at least 100 illegal schools operating, which offer substandard education, possibly inculcate extremism, and expose children to inadequacies and risks. This is part of a bigger problem, namely, that after centuries of struggle to ensure that all young children receive free education from the state, some parents are not letting their children benefit from this. Some may be home-schooling, for good or not so good reasons. This will bring down on my head the wrath of the very militant home-schooling parents (why so defensive?), but there is good reason to expect the government to make arrangements to track every primary school age child and find out whether they are going to school and if not, why not. Home-schoolers ought to have to provide good reasons and to open their classes to occasional inspection. Maybe even worse is the newly uncovered practice of educating, or more likely brainwashing, little children in religious schools that are unregistered. Getting all our children into school and keeping them there for all the days offered should be a matter of urgency.