Michael Gove’s many proposed changes to education have been praised as a “revolution of education” by the Conservative Prime Minister. Frankly, his education reforms are not worthy of a title so similar to that of the previous Australian government’s Building the Education Revolution programme, which saw over $16 billion spent on providing new and refurbished libraries and classrooms in primary schools, and improving science laboratories, language centres, outdoor learning areas and sporting facilities across Australia. A stark contrast to butchery of our education system, which schoolteachers have branded “chaotic”.
Let me give you an example. My brother received this letter home from my nieces’ primary school. Now, I recognise that local councils and schools have a duty to follow the law, and The Herald reported the changes to being allowed to take children out of school here. I also recognised Councillor Nicky Williams’ concern that “pupils attending less than 85 per cent of the time are much more likely to achieve lower grades”, and would always encourage parents and children to ensure that they have the best education they possibly can, but some of the unauthorised absences on the list just seem ridiculous:
– Family holidays: Alright, so a family holiday is, particularly in this day and age, considered a luxury, but why should that luxury only be extended to those who can afford to take their children on holiday during the school holidays? Holiday agents have already admitted penalising families to the tune of double the price for a holiday outside term time. Parents aren’t happy, and I can’t say I blame them. I don’t have children, and I can’t afford a holiday during July and August – because the price is just too high. If it’s pricing me out of the holiday market, what of families with more than two people in them? How do they afford it? Simple answer is – they don’t.
– To care for other family members: This one has infuriated me the most. As a young carer – and I wrote about my experiences of caring for my wonderful, wonderful Grandad here – I know just how difficult it can be as a young carer. I know the feeling when you’re all ready to go to school, and something happens to prevent you from going, forcing a sinking feeling in your stomach – the fear of not being able to go to school again, what will they say this time, how many more missed days am I away from failing my exams? I found that hard enough as a teenager – school became somewhere I looked forward to going to, simply because it meant I could break the cycle of care, eat, care, study, care care care for just a few hours. I just can’t imagine how much more difficult that must become when you’re a child at primary school, when the roles are reversed and suddenly you find yourself having to look after your parents at such a young age. When my brother posted this letter onto Facebook, someone responded to say that this wasn’t harsh, but schools should be providing more support for young carers. I may well be on my own with this, but how is fining parents whose children may have to care for them “supporting” young people in this position? I’ll let you answer that one.
– Bullying: I wonder if Michael Gove was bullied as a child? I wonder if he worried about going to school in the mornings, scared to go outside at break times in case you’re cornered in the playground, walking down the stairs pressed against the wall, gripping the rails tight with both hands just in case they come behind you and try to push you. I wonder if he sat in his classroom at school with his head down, not wanting to answer teachers’ questions, even if you knew the answers, so as not to draw attention, because doing that invites comments, nasty, stinging comments which drive themselves underneath your skin, until you begin to believe that you’re as worthless as they say you are. Because I have. And no amount of “peer mediation” helped, telling my teachers only gave them more reason to mock me, their taunts continued unaffected – worse, even – when I tried to stand up for myself. If it was my child being mercilessly bullied by someone else, I’d do everything I could to protect them from that, not least because I recognise the damage that such exposure can do to someone’s self esteem, and to their sense of self worth. Schools have a duty to ensure their pupils are protected from bullying – and if the situation is constant, I can’t say I blame parents for not wanting to put their child into that environment day after day.
– Travel problems: This boils down to (mostly) uncontrollable factors. Transport is undeniably going to cause issues every now and again – when my bus was late/would break down on the way to school, it was naturally my fault that we were late. When parents are given more choice over the schools that their children go to, and competition for schools in a high position in a league table meaning a lot of competition for few places, its inevitable that some children will end up at schools that aren’t local to them. When these children rely on their parents to make it to school, when there are transport issues, or even parental illness, what are these children supposed to do? The assumption made is that there is somebody else to take a child to school, or there’s money available to be able to put the child in a taxi to school. In isolated, single parent or low income families (or all three), those assumption becomes problematic. Too often, schools, but more importantly the government, don’t recognise the strain on families, the vast differences in income and opportunity – to some families, the idea of not being able to go to school if Mum’s ill is not one that’s ever been considered, because there is dad, or older brothers/sisters, or extended family, or a friend down the road with children at the same school, to deliver them safely. To many families, that’s the reality. And a £60 fine isn’t going to make that any easier.
Apparently, “ministers believe that high levels of truancy are a key reason for under-attainment. They believe that children from poorer backgrounds are held back by teachers being unwilling to enforce attendance.” This is equally as damaging – penalising parents, many of whom are unable to afford it, for not always being able to enforce attendance, whether it’s because they can’t afford to get their child to school, or they aren’t well enough to.
Fining low-income families £60 per child will only make matters worse. Children from working class families are already said to achieve less than their middle-class counterparts. In what world will widening that gap improve their educational attainment? Revolution of education? Yeah, right.