Gove mustn’t play to the collectivists’ tune

Conservative Education Policies – one of the problematic flaws in an otherwise robust Education manifesto.

It is most unfortunate that the absurd collectivist notion that formal schooling is in ANY way superior to time with family appears to have invaded the otherwise largely sound Education policies of Mr Gove’s administration. Talk of a “crack-down” on parents taking children out of school in term time is something more at home in one of the old Eastern Block communist countries than in a Western Democracy.

Indeed, it is my overwhelming experience (as a former professional educationalist) that:

1. the brightest children do well in performance measures more frequently  in spite of being subjected to

formal schooling rather than because of it.

2. pupils of all achievement levels almost  always benefit more from appropriate non-school experiences

(most particularly with parents) than from an equivalent time in a classroom.

3. educational outcomes (both academic and social) are statistically  always better among children where the family is both supportive  and the  dominant influence in a child’s life.

Social and Economic downside of this policy.

There are many social and economic reasons why Conservatives should draw a  clear distinction between

truancy and “family holidays in term time”. The Economic reasons are clear. Not everyone can take holidays at the same time. Typically, the less senior an employee, the less likely they are to be able to take their holidays during school breaks. Currently, all those who can and want to take their holidays during school breaks do so . This places an extraordinary burden on businesses and a more extraordinary burden on those who are not able to take their holidays during these few weeks. The result is often resentment and a consequent reduction in productivity – not just from a decimated workforce but from reduced motivation and even outright stubbornness by those remaining in the “office”. In Britain we have even developed something of a “cultural moray” on not expecting anything to be done during the “silly season”.

The social implications of restricting family holidays to school breaks are possibly even more damaging to the economy that the direct economic fallout. Typically it will be the least privileged families that will have no option. There can be little doubt that multiple years without a family holiday together has the potential to diminish the positive role parents may play in preventing crime, misbehaviour and, dare I say it, even truancy! All of these have often been stated in the press and the social media – particularly in parents’ rights groups. All are well documented from both a populist social media perspective as well as frightening amounts of academic research.

Political and educational downside.

But now, as an educationalist and a Conservative activist, I want to add the educational reasons and the political reasons why we must address this flaw in our policy. There has arisen a tendency for teachers (and some head-teachers in particular) to use the false notions that children’s absence from school is disruptive to the school and/or disruptive to the education of the absent child. This tendency may be motivated by the fear that the realities (see above) will be exposed if parents are permitted to have more influence than the school. The plea of “school or class disruption” is particularly repellent and is a  marker of the lazy and/or incompetent teacher/head-teacher.

A successful Education System at both the school and supra-school levels will seek to re-educate such people and/or remove them from the educative process. As a qualified, experienced and practised educationalist on both sides of the planet I will say categorically: “A child’s absence from classes to engage family activities is neither disruptive to their own education nor disruptive to a well-run school managed by competent professionals.” I have asked the Secretary of State for Education to reverse this policy so as to encourage “time as a family” to take  precedence over formal schooling and for parents to have a  statutory right to be with their children whenever they so choose.

I have further asked him to reappraise this policy NOT  just because :

1. as Conservatives, our core ethos includes the value we place on “family” being before and ahead of any “value” that may be ascribed to the state; and the value we place on individual responsibility being more important than a statist agenda.

2. our electoral prospects are damaged every time we impose the discredited notion that “the state knows better than you (or the parent) what’s good for you (or your child)”.

3. Conservative electoral outcomes are inextricably linked to the extent to which the electorate believe that they have been  enabled to exercise freedom of choice and control over their own lives. As those things erode so do our support-base along with the reasons why others might support us.

But  because:

1. it is an educationally sound thing to do and would be in the best interests of children of all ability levels and in the best interests of their families.

2. it would improve the dreadfully low level of trust parents have for schools and teachers.

3. it would help to expose those teachers (and particularly head teachers) who harbour counter-productive

and harmful agendae.

There should be no requirement for recourse to a statist “authority” for “permission” for parents to do what is intrinsically right and educationally sound for their children. Parents, in a free society, would have a statutory right to inform the school (as a courtesy!, but perhaps as a requirement for readmission?) that the family will be on holiday together.

Conservative ethos is about setting people FREE from the State. It is the  essence of why we are different from parties that pursue a Collectivist agenda. Conservative policy should be about enabling people to DO things – the diametric antithesis of restriction and unnecessary rules. Conservative policy should NEVER be about rules to restrict choice or reduce freedom. If we fail to demonstrate to the electorate that we have the integrity and courage to not only stand by our own core beliefs but to deliver policies that enable people to reap the benefits of those beliefs, then we are truly lost.

If we are going to ask people to trust us in May 2015 then we will need to demonstrate that we have the courage to trust THEM. We will need to stop saying ludicrous things like “crackdown on parents”. We will need to show that we have the integrity to admit that “school attendance” per se is NOT in ANY WAY a measure of successful education outcomes and that it is not even a starting point for ANY useful outcomes of any kind. If we fail to demonstrate to our activists that we have such courage and integrity then how can we hope to demonstrate such integrity to the voters we need, to see-off another attempt to derail the country?

Jim Tucker, B.Sc., Dip. Ed., THC, M.Ed, is a retired educationalist from Australia and has lived in the UK since the 1980s. He currently serves as a member of Bicester Town Council.