Worms Start Turning…

Peter Preston on the double-standard relating to school attendance:

Parents are responsible for making sure their children go to school. Headteachers say so; ministers say so; the law says so. If your child is registered to attend a school, then he or she must turn up – and the full weight of Section 444 of the 1996 Education Act is there to make sure that happens. If you find yourself in court charged under 444, there’s a fine of £1,000 waiting. And now an official report commissioned by education secretary Michael Gove advocates deducting instant fines from child benefit payments just to save time.

Note that: ‘advocates’. Who expects it to actually make it into law?

If you do, you must not have been paying much attention the last few times headline-grabbing, ‘populist’ sanctions were suggested by this government, or the one before…

Well, maybe that’s just for persistent truancy, you say. It’s not for people like us, seeking a few days’ extra holiday with the family in term time, a chance to fit in with parental work schedules, or to save a few pounds by travelling off-peak?

But it turns out, it is.

After all, ‘people like you’ are an easier target; you want to avoid the shame of a fine, you will give your real name and address, you won’t simply ignore the fine, and you certainly won’t threaten the truant officer…

Not so with the persistent truant’s parents, eh?

No: the importance of going to school day after day has never been more weightily stressed, nor more relentlessly enforced. Heads are being given less and less discretion. The message is clear: every single day matters.

But Peter’s noticed a little discrepancy:

But then wander down to my local junior school and read the sign on the door. Another meeting of parents and school supporters – of “friends” – has been cancelled because teachers there are on strike. Again. And there will be many more such signs around this summer as the two biggest unions launch into a new round of strikes. Pensions, pay freezes, targets et al meld into yet more days of action.

And this poses something of a dilemma, does it not?

“We will not be setting out deliberately to undermine the exams season,” says Christine Blower, the NUT’s general secretary. Oh good. Only the learning days before the testing days are at risk here. That’s all right then?

Well, no. No, it clearly isn’t. If it isn’t OK for parents to do it, then how can it be ok for state employees to do it?

It’s not all right, though, because it breaks the essential compact of responsibility. Parents may soon find their child benefit docked for a few days of missed school. Teachers can go on strike and shut school gates against children with impunity.

So…ban striking?

Should teaching be put on a no-strike basis, deemed too essential for any unauthorised time off? The logic is there, perhaps, but not the practicality.

Well, why not? The forces can’t strike. The police can’t strike. It might be a hard thing to bring in, but it would at least resolve the issue that parents are potentially to be punished financially, while teachers are not, for the same derogation of ‘duty’.

And whilst we’re on the subject of practicalities, Gove’s proposed fines – should they actually ever materialise – aren’t practical, because they are lower than the expected expense of taking holidays during school break!

Teaching is a profession with an implied professional commitment to young lives and young hopes. Teachers, parents and children stand together, joined in responsibility. And responsibility, remember, cuts two ways.

Yes, it does indeed. And people are starting to see that, for the State and its employees, it’s only perceived as running one way.

And they are getting more than a little fed up with it…

5 comments for “Worms Start Turning…

  1. DerekP
    April 24, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    “If it isn’t OK for parents to do it, then how can it be ok for state employees to do it?”


    Teachers can strike and protest all they like between terms, when they are still being paid a salary but when pupils’ attendance would not be affected (it would eat into the teachers’ holidays though, wouldn’t it?).

    The fact that teachers are allowed to strike during term time confirms that ‘State Education’ is for the benefit of teachers, not the pupils; in much the same way teachers (bored of the repetition of getting pupils to learn and practice reading, writing and arithmatic) enthusiastically embrace trendy subjects which make the teachers feel good but are of no practical use to the pupils.

    If the schools can spend all that time on trendy rubbish (such as CAGW or branding white infants ‘racist’) then the parents obviously won’t see any harm in taking children out of school for a few weeks, because they understand the children won’t be missing anything useful.

  2. Tattyfalarr
    April 25, 2012 at 1:05 am

    Parents are responsible for making sure their children go to school.

    I can only hope that when my son is a 6ft teenager that I sufficiently trained him from an early age (non-violently, of course) to be averse to crossing me and will still do as he is told when I ask nicely. 😉

  3. April 25, 2012 at 9:06 am

    I’m raising my head above the parapet here to say a few words in defence – not of teachers as a whole, you understand, and certainly not of the NUT – and explanation of a phenomenon seldom fully understood outside the profession.

    With false compensation claims and allegations at an all-time high, it is highly unwise for teachers to set foot in the classroom without legal insurance. The most cost-effective way to get this is by joining a union – which one often depends on who has reps in your first school.

    Think of it as you do your car breakdown insurance – expensive and only useful if something goes wrong, but being without it could turn out costly and difficult in case of a problem.

    However, this allows the unions to claim collectively the endorsement of virtually all teachers, even though the conferences inevitably consist of the small proportion of activists leavening a mass far too preoccupied with the day-to-day minutiae of the job.

    That said, the drastic lowering of entrance requirements – IMHO, a deliberate attempt to ‘democratise’ teaching and break what was seen as reactionary academic elitism – meant an influx of candidates without the sense of vocation that once brought in top-level graduates despite the lure of better-paid jobs elsewhere.

    As you have pointed out in your blog, many of these teachers lack the maturity (or intelligence) to see that the price of their position should be a complete sacrifice of facebook and social media and an obligation to act with integrity in and out of the classroom.

    ‘Teachers’ who fail to understand this are hardly likely to see a problem with disrupting the education of their charges; it only takes a few of them going on strike to close a school, since legal requirements mean a certain number of staff must be present when pupils are on site.

    No prospect, these days, of drafting in parents to help maintain the correct ratio – CRB checks have seen to that – and no teacher would now dare to risk the insurance nightmare of working with their pupils elsewhere.

    There are plenty of people – I hesitate in this case to dignify them with the title of teachers – who are prepared to hold children’s education hostage, but please don’t assume it is unanimous.

    It’s often a case of ‘Some out, all out’, whether the rest like it or not.

    • General Pyston Broak
      April 25, 2012 at 2:31 pm

      Looks like an opportunity for a specialist teachers insurance company, any entrepreneurs out there wanting to stop teachers striking could make a few bob.

    • Watchman
      April 25, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      Probably worth pointing out that unions are, despite our current lots behaviour, a bastion of liberty, in that they can be independent of the state but still allow organisation. So suggesting that the state bans unions from striking due to a false dichotomy (parents are responsible for ensuring children are educated as a responsibility; teachers are paid to do a job – not have parental responsibility (in loco parentis does not make them parents) is actually stating that state power should be increased to limit another profession from striking. Yes, strikes are a pain – that is the point of them. No, banning collective action is not the answer.

      Breaking up the national unions might be the answer here – which will be better done by ending statist tendencies such as national pay bargaining (thus depriving the union’s central offices of their key function and allowing branches a much more prominent role) than by trying to ban striking.

      It is easy to fall into traps of assuming the TUC is all unions are – but the TUC is a statist creation in that it’s power and those of its larger members derives from dealing with centralised power. Decentralised power would result in decentralised unions.

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