February 23, 2003
Please Sir, Can I take my children on holiday?

Julius Blumfeld criticises the latest government attempt to combat truancy:

The growing trend among middle-class parents of taking their children on holiday during term time is to be tackled with on-the-spot fines, according to a report in today's Observer.

At first I thought this was to be welcomed. Sometimes it feels as though the growth of the ever more bloated Nanny State goes unnoticed by the Great British Public. But this policy, which combines in one swoop, all of the most obnoxious characteristics of modern British Government, would surely infuriate even the most torpid parents. After all -

- It is bullying. Not content with cajoling, the Government threatens criminal convictions for those who don’t comply.

- It is patronizing. Adults must obtain “permission” from other adults (i.e. teachers) to take their own children on holiday.

- It is pointless. Nobody, not even the Government, believes that taking a child on holiday or shopping during term time is likely to have the slightest adverse effect on that child’s education.

- It is mean-minded. It prevents parents from doing the sensible thing and taking holidays when fares are low and crowds are small.

- It betrays a deep distrust of people. The message it conveys is that no parents (not even the educationally-obsessed middle-classes) can be trusted with the educational welfare of their children.

- It is nakedly unprincipled. As Britain’s Education Minister, Ivan Lewis, proudly declares: “the Government would be guilty of 'double standards' if it expected its policies on truancy to apply only to disadvantaged parents who allowed their children to roam the streets”. So the reason for the new policy of criminalizing families who go on holiday is not even to improve educational standards but to protect the Government from allegations of “double standards”.

Full of naïve optimism that the new initiative would arouse the latent libertarian instincts in the British Public, I turned to the BBC's "Talking Point" column to read what people have to say on the subject.

It turns out that I was well wide of the mark. With a few honorable exceptions (David Geran – whoever you are – you are not alone!) the view seems to be that the policy is a bad idea, not for any of the reasons I thought, but because … wait for it … the Government is failing to tackle the real villains of the piece … the holiday companies who deliberately inflate their prices during school holidays.

I give up.


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:58 PM
Category: Politics