Tuesday, January 05, 2010

We Don't Need No ...

Some children skip school and their parents are committing a criminal offence if they encourage it, allow it or don't seem to be trying terribly hard to stop it.

Middle-class parents taking exotic holidays in term-time definitely wouldn't agree, but they are every bit as guilty of this as the poor parents with chaotic lives who can't or won't stop their offspring bunking off.

In this Information Age, if the kid is AWOL once, the school will telephone, write, email, twitter, poke and/or text the parents to make sure they are aware.

If the truanting continues, the school's pastoral staff of teachers and civilians will get into the act and if necessary would work with the family to resolve any of the billion possible underlying reasons.

Eventually a face-to-face will be set up to discuss needs and responsibilities and agree a way forward. If that doesn't work out and the child keeps absenting themselves, the Local Education Authority can issue a Fixed Penalty Notice - almost identical to the one you would get for littering. They've tried the Carrot of social work and now it's time for the Stick of costing real money.

Guess where the parents who don't pay the fixed penalty end up?

Not a very pleasant experience for anyone involved. Not for the skint single mum who just wanted everyone to leave her alone. Not for the teachers called as witnesses. And certainly not for this Magistrate who suspected inadequacy rather than malice here and would much rather spend his time dealing with genuinely bad people rather than acting as some kind of school prefect.

But hey, there has to be a final sanction or else the system is toothless and this wonderful compulsory education system becomes optional and kids run around unsupervised. This lady's already meagre benefits will now be short by £5 for the next couple of years and I don't feel great about that, but she did have dozens of opportunities to sort this and she passed up every one.

I know my first instinct was that this was a waste of Magistrate time, but actually this couldn't be more crucial. After all, what are the best three ways of reducing crime ?

Education. Education. And Education.


phatboy said...

Just on the point of middle class parents taking holidays... when I was about 10, we went on a holiday with my cousins, uncle, aunt and parents to France. It was during term time and I knew that the teachers were furious about it and tried to tell my mum that I couldn't go, which obviously didn't work.

I learnt a lot more in that fortnight away than I would have in school... in fact it seemed to me when I got back that they hadn't really done anything as I remember doing the catch up work in just a single day (as I said I missed a fortnight of school).

Stan said...

No problem with agreed absences, but I'm more and more convinced that we shouldn't allow people to choose which laws they feel like obeying.

That said, I agree that a one-off fortnight won't hurt much. With some parents, it's twice a year, every year - maybe more.