Thursday, September 22, 2005


The Times reports today that truancy is up by 43% despite the government having spent a billion on anti-truancy measures.

The impression gained from the word "truancy" is of scruffy teenagers hanging around on street corners having "done a bunk" from school for the day. Where this is the case it is probably reprehensible, although if the children are avoiding bullies or bad teaching one can at least sympathise.

But of course a large number of these cases will be of children who have gone on holiday in term-time with their parents. In many cases they will have got more from a fortnight in the sun than they would have done from a fortnight in school - a chance to think, a chance to try out a foreign language, to meet people from different countries. Perhaps just the opportunity to spend some quality time with their parents.

The school year is structured around the agricultural calendar of an earlier age - long summer holidays are designed to coincide with the harvest so that children can help in the fields. That this should be dictating the way parents and children live now is clearly ridiculous.

If you were starting from scratch now you would have a school day that ran from 8am to 1:30pm so that one parent could at least work part-time, while the other was full time. The school could run non-academic activities in the afternoons for those children whose parents both worked. You would have holidays at Christmas only. Apart from that parents could take their children out of school for any other six weeks during the year. The school would have the job of helping the children catch up with the work they had missed. They could use their share of the £1bn spent on anti-truancy measures to recruit extra staff to do this. (£1bn would get nearly 30,000 teachers at £35k each.) The teachers would argue that this is impossible, to which I would say that they manage when children are off sick, so it should be possible to do it when they are off on holiday.

It's so simple it's amazing no-one has thought of it before.