Thursday 16 January 2014

A Good Man Is In Court Today

I've written about this before, so am encouraged to see someone standing up to a new law applied in an unnecessarily heavy-handed fashion.
A couple who took their children out of school so they could have their first family holiday in five years risk being jailed after refusing to pay fines introduced under controversial new laws. 
Stewart and Natasha Sutherland will appear before Telford Magistrates' Court tomorrow after they took their three children to the Greek island of Rhodes during the school term. 
The couple were given an initial fine of £360 after the family of five went away for seven days at the end of September, but were unwilling to pay. 
The penalty then doubled to £720 because they did not pay the fee within 21 days.
Now, I'm sure there are parents who require, ahem, encouragement to send their kids to school. Maybe some sanctions for repeated frivolous or neglectful attendance might be required under such circumstances. But this ain't one of those cases.

On the contrary, Stewart Sutherland seems erudite and makes a very good case.
The couple are arguing that the education authority has no appeal process and they have no choice but to go to court to have their say. 
‘We are their parents; it should be up to us. I have no concerns over any of my children or their level of education. They are all in the top sets, and we believe quality family time is just as important as schooling. 
‘We are bringing our children up to value their education, we know how important it is, but we are being punished for three things, because we work full-time, the fines are double because we are married, and finally because we were honest enough to tell the school the truth about the holiday instead of simply saying the kids were ill.’
Natural justice should surely mean opportunity for appeal should be mandatory in education just as it is in every other area - he is 100% correct in that. It's also disturbing that this should be imposed when some level of courteous understanding should have come into play.
The family booked the holiday in October 2012, before the new guidelines were put into force on September 1 least year.
In 2012, I also tackled the point about getting around the rules by citing illness.
What is Gove planning to do when 'sickness' absences rise dramatically, which is the only fully predictable outcome, especially since mobile phones now mean a parent can call a child in sick from bloody Goa if they choose? 
Monitoring of movement? Mandatory child check ups to prove the sickness has occurred? Home visits by state inspectors to ensure the family hasn't done a moonlight flit? Investigations into where calls are made from? You know, the sort of thing Conservatives used to accuse Labour of.
Because these new tough rules are, after all, a Tory policy having been installed during their tenure.
When you boil it all down, this is the end destination for Gove's policy. The state's inalienable right to educating kids over and above any ability of parents to decide marginal benefits/drawbacks of missing out on a week or two - or even more if they see fit - for themselves.
I might add that when teachers strike there is no talk of fines for desecrating the sanctity of education. The same state employees who enforce fines for the crime of missing a week, for one family here or there, seem to value that precious time far less when they are depriving every child in the school and, with it, an exponentially larger count of lost education days. Not to mention the time off work and commensurate lost wages/payments to childcare that go with it for parents.

I suppose it wouldn't matter so much if there wasn't such a huge amount of flabbiness in the curriculum anyway, as I've mentioned in the past when told we are supposed to 'respect' schools and teachers (from 2011 and do click through the links for more).
Well, let's talk about some of the activities undertaken recently by the little Puddlecotes at school, shall we? 
Today, the boy has spent the entire day at a nearby theatre rehearsing for an evening choir performance - it's a culmination of weeks of in-class training in the vital skill of singing pop songs. This follows two fund-raising mufti days in the past couple of weeks, the focus of one being a full programme of having a right laugh and being 'educated' about Comic Relief. The other was less - for want of a better word - intense, but was capped with finishing at lunch in favour of a cake and book sale for visiting parents, with the kids as stall holders. 
The girl has also been fully educated (for this year, at least) in X-Factor appreciation after weeks of preparing for a celebrity-studded concert at the O2 with thousands of others. The obligatory charity days were also observed. 
Now, that may seem part of a well-rounded education, except that there isn't much meaningful education being added to the rounding, as regular readers will ably recall
The boy most recently regaled me with how he had been instructed to write a rap song about the environment, whilst the girl was tasked with producing a poster advising on the dangers of smoking and drugs. 
All of which makes me wonder what, exactly, we should be asking our kids to respect here.
Or, put another way.
Schools have a total of 38 weeks with our children, much of which is taken up by execrably useless subjects such as PSHE and nagging about lifestyle choices, sex education, and bloody environmentalism. This is without mentioning mufti days at the behest of professional charity fund-raisers, childhood damaging health and safety hysteria, politically-correct nonsense, and other fripperies that have no place whatsoever being taught by the government.
So good luck to Mr Sutherland. I expect a week with someone as switched on as him - in a horizon-broadening environment for kids - was equally as useful as the week his youngsters missed in the state's care ... but will have caught up on just as anyone in work catches up with their backlog after the compulsory EU 5.6 weeks of annual paid leave.

All power to your elbow today in court, Sir.


JonathanBagley said...

I'm in two minds about this but the fact that for one of the six days school these children missed, the teachers, according to the parent, were on strike, blows a hole in the usual teachers' claim that parents are doing irrevocable damage to their children's education.
Perhaps schools should shunt all the crap you describe into the last week of September and the first week of October. Why not the first two weeks of September, I hear you say? Because that's when I go on holiday and I want cheap flights on aircraft free of children.

grumpyangler said...

he should have changed his name to something suitably ethnic, told 'em he's off to 'his village' where his daughters would be married off to cousins as required by his culture.
No one would have batted an eyelid

DP said...

Dear Mr Puddlecote

Fines without due process are illegal and void under our written constitution covering presumption of innocence. Our government seems determined to over-ride our constitution in favour of the Napoleonic code which presumes guilt.

The purpose of school is not to be a prison for the crime of being young, though increasingly it seems that it is.

Parents have sole responsibility for their childrens' health, welfare and education and can make any decisions regarding their schooling. A week out is not going to affect anyone's education. For the headmaster/mistress to pretend otherwise demonstrates his arrogance. The idea that anyone involved in schooling should be able to levy fines upon parents is laughable and highlights the government's attempt to alienate us from our constitutional heritage.

Education has devolved to a combination of custodial sentence with an assertion of proprietorial rights of government to indoctrinate children with whatever pap they decide. Being force-fed dubious facts without critical analysis is not education save in the Orwellian sense.

I hope the parents take their children to court to let them experience the stupidity of government first hand.


Callie said...

Actually they were in court yesterday, nearly £1000 fine including £63 victim surcharge ( the only victims are them) Both schools are very close, the secondary school close at the faintest wisp of snow, they have a late start on Thursdays regardless that parents have to be at work for 9. It's been a few years ago now but I removed my children from the school due to their bad attitude ( the schools not my kids)

Sam Duncan said...

Hmm. I'm really in two minds about this. In a market-based education system, there's an inbuilt incentive not to take your kids out of school during the term: you've paid for it. I had my entire schooling, from the age of 3, in the independent sector, and I don't recall anyone ever missing time for a holiday. It just didn't happen. (Neither did strikes. Or in-service training days. And the place was only ever closed once for bad weather.)

While state education is far from free, taxation, and the fact that you pay the same whether you have kids or not, creates the illusion that it is, and so the feeling that you're wasting an economic good that you've bought is lessened, if not non-existent (indeed, the very idea that education is an economic good is weakened). This is obviously an attempt to introduce that incentive into the system.

Yes, it's ham-fisted - is the state ever anything else? - and yes, it's a pain in the arse for parents on the receiving end of it, but it's a consequence of the socialist system people voted for. The wreckers and deserters mush be punished. Let everyone mind their own business and buy their own kids' education, and the problem vanishes.

smiffy01 said...

DP... how have these people suddenly got the power to impose a £360 fine in the first place... and then to decide that doubling it is a good idea? Shouldn't the parents sue the school for £720 every time it shuts due to teacher traing days or teacher rebellions etc?

JonathanBagley said...

That's interesting Sam. It got me thinking about another aspect of this issue. If it were a private school, then the school could obviously ask the child to leave if it wished. It could also, if it thought the holiday absence wasn't damaging the school, via league tables for example, tell the parents that the child would be given no help catching up and would not be provided with the missing lesson notes but otherwise the holiday is OK. That would suit many parents, as they would be in a position to fill in the gaps, either by themselves, or by hiring a tutor. State schools appear not to have that option and, it seems, have a duty to help the child catch up, at a cost to the other children. Therein lies part of the problem.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Thanks for that, just seen the article on the BBC.

Quite absurd.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Can't disagree with any of that. Well put.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Or they could provide study guides before the week's holiday. Teachers have planned out their lessons, I assume, so could let parents have what had been prepared for class. To Rhodes, that's 8 hours in the air for the kids to bone up at least (nearly three of the school days they missed).

And what of the benefits of the holiday itself. Travel broadens the mind in itself, yet that is completely disregarded by this policy - we tend to come across quite a lot of benefits being ignored with issues covered here, eh? ;)

Dick_Puddlecote said...

I heard a head teacher turning parental choice and responsibility on its head this morning by saying "children have a right to education, you can't get past that".

They're not your kids, they're the state's kids.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

They can't put any of it in October because that's Black History Month. ;)

Longrider said...

I saw this in the news a couple of days ago. What really got under my skin was the arrogance of the authorities when stating that the couple had failed to get permission. "Permission"? Who the flying fuck do they think they are? We should not need to get permission from these jobsworths because the law should not be there in the first place. Bad law and a really really vile and spiteful prosecution. I hope he wins. And the state is not your friend.

grumpyangler said...

Jax said...

I, too, am a bit torn on this one. I can understand how the parents want to take their children away on holiday, and I can understand, too, how for parents who are struggling, the high-season holiday rates could make a holiday impossible to take during school holiday time. I also understand the principle that, ultimately, children are a parents’ own responsibility – not the State’s, not the schools, not the Social Services’, not the courts’ – and that therefore it must be the parents’ decision whether or not their child misses school.

On the other hand, I hope that in the event that if parents do decide to exercise their right to decide when their children take their holidays, and if this does impact on the child’s education (because sometimes it will and sometimes it won't) – missing a particularly vital element of the course, missing an important test or
preparation for one, or just (as might be the case for a less-than-able child) losing continuity by a mid-term absence – then they won’t turn round at the end of the day and try and hold the school to blame for it or (as I expect might be very likely) assume that school staff will voluntarily give up their free time on the child's return in order to help them catch up on the work they have missed. If the courts decide in their favour and establish the principle that it is the parents’ right to take them on holiday whenever they wish, then I hope that some proviso will be included to ensure that the parents also have an obligation to make sure that the child catches up on any vital work missed themselves, if necessary at their own expense.

It’s the old maxim – no right to rights without the obligation of associated responsibility. I’m sure that there are many parents would wouldn’t object to this, but I have a suspicion that there may be more than a few who would; and I suspect, too, that those are the very parents who, given the green light by the courts, wouldn’t just do this once, in an exceptional case, but would take their holidays every year, regular as clockwork, slap-bang in the middle of term; and then expect the school to pick up the slack, year in and year out.