At first glance it is hard to question. A policy that all children should be in school during all of term time. Very well done, Mr Gove. Back up your policy with a fine, have a focus on attendance in inspections, and Bob’s your uncle, as my mum used to say. It even brings money into depleted LA coffers. In the spirit of autonomy, ask governing bodies and head teachers to decide who qualifies for ‘exceptional circumstances’ (a.k.a.’passing the buck’). What could go wrong? Let me introduce you to … The Law of Unintended Consequences.
* Head teachers and governing bodies find themselves being asked to play judge and jury on what constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’.
* This puts a strain on school/parent relationships, with parents upset about their reasons for absence being turned down.
* Families with less money are less able to afford holidays.
* Children with families overseas are disproportionately affected.
* Parents are given a bizarre financial incentive to lie to their child’s school and ‘do a sickie’. Children are asked to join in with the lie.
* Schools bring in competitions to reward 100% attendance. This happens.
* A challenge is made under Human Rights’ Legislation.
* Parents in public service jobs wonder what they should do if their holidays are limited to certain times of the year.
I would never argue that parents should be allowed to take holidays whenever they like. But what I would ask for is a bit of ‘flexible consistency’. Have a standard in mind, and support people in different ways to achieve it. You can smash every single walnut with a sledgehammer. Or you can pick up the one you need to open, place it in some nutcrackers, and give it a gentle squeeze. That’d be my recommended approach.