It’s some measure of how nervous I am of Michael Gove’s police state on school attendance that I’m not willing to confirm or deny that I am going to do this: take the kids out of school on a school day. But it hasn’t happened yet. It may not happen. I’m not saying anything.
Recently, policy has changed. Where parents were once allowed up to ten discretionary days for special occasions, we state school parents have no legal right to take our kids out of school. The rules are clear. Get found out and pay a fine: £60 per child rising to £120 if not paid within two weeks. It smacks of totalitarianism; that my neighbour (that’s you, dear reader) might tattle on me if they suspect I’m bending the rules.
Oh, I get it – the state is paying for my children’s education so I do understand that they need to ensure that we plebs and our state funded offspring are getting their money’s worth. It does no one any favours to take the piss with our taxes. Swanning off to Tenerife to take advantage of cheap airfares for a week, or buggering off to Bangladesh to visit relatives for six months is one thing. But in the long run, the state likes to keep tabs on where we, and our children are, and god forbid the poorerst people, the ones who need to avail themselves to state funded education have a holiday they can actually afford. But taking a day off to attend a wedding – or hush, say it really quietly - have a fun day out when it’s not packed at a theme park – probably doesn’t count as an educational reason to takes one’s kids out of school, much though it may do wonders for family well being.
But in the wake of a holiday where Jonah’s privately schooled peers have only just gone back from their three and a half week Easter break, often managing not one but two trips away and several day trips – horse riding, the Tower of London…golf at St Andrews, in between, that I fail to buy the argument that kids whose parents take them out of school on a rare day out are doing them any harm at all.
It just so happens that Tom has a free day in addition to his 20 days of holiday a year – a European holiday where it’ll be really quiet at his work, so he can officially take the day off with impunity. I, officially redundant as of last week, depressed, though enjoying the weather, am taking a day out from LinkedIn updates and long-winded meetings with recruiters, and are thinking – just thinking, of pulling a kids’ sickie so we can go and have a nice day somewhere that on a weekend or holiday in summer will be packed to the rafters. We haven’t even told the kids yet, so secretive is this potential mission. I am nervous; conscientious even in the face of bureaucratic nonsense. Tom is blase. After all, the kids are rarely actually sick. They are streaks ahead academically. One day won’t matter. Except if we get caught.
But of course it’s the principal of the thing. We’re teaching them the valuable lesson that it’s okay to pull a sickie sometimes, when in actual fact, it can get you into trouble… It’s a bit like telling your kids you don’t mind if they smoke cannabis as long as they never take heroin – both can get you executed in Singapore. But this is England. Isn’t it part of the national culture to not always toe the line? To be able to take everything on a case by case basis? To see the bigger picture rather than having a blanket rule where one size is supposed to fit all (when in realty it’s much more fine to break the rules for those who can afford to pay them).
The idea that parents, especially poorer ones, have lost control of a vital aspect of parenting – that of being able to take the odd decision about their children’s lives that may buck the ideal but still remains the best thing for them, is no longer okay seems to me to be laughable, if it weren’t so goddamned frightening. But the fact is that I spend a LOT of time toeing a lot of lines. If it weren’t for the odd escapade, life wouldn’t be worth living, and so, in all likelihood, I’m taking the executive decision to pull my kids out of school for a jolly tomorrow. Please don’t dob me in.
The fact is I’ve recently been made redundant, something that has thrown my mental health into a downward verring tangent. I’m scared I don’t have the cash to pay a fine (or really, go to Chessington either, except that Kellogg’s have handily put vouchers on the side of fruit winder packets) but I know in my logical mind that this situation won’t last for long. I will be back in the grind of an eight to six job where it doesn’t make financial sense to pay for childminders in the holidays, so I have to suck up the premium rates and queues that go along with a nonsense education system that shoehorns everyone into the same holiday season.
I know that these rules are in place in order for education for all to be affordable at all. But for one day only, I’m (probably) breaking the rules. But like all sickies, I’ll probably spend the whole day feeling a bit shit about it. But at least I won’t have to cope with Jonah in a two hour queue for a ride.
Except that if anyone asks, he’s being sick, and not from too many goes on the pirate ship.