Why I’m annoyed about fines to take kids out of school. And I’m not even a parent…

1383974_10153399113055160_1813354456_nNow… I don’t have children, but I’d like to say that reading all these news reports about these new laws, saying parents can’t take their kids out of school for a holiday now unless they’re willing to pay a fine are really upsetting me. Just last week a British couple were fined £1,300 for taking their children to the Greek island of Rhodes for a week during term time. That’s probably more than the holiday cost!

New rules state that head teachers can now only give pupils leave in term time in “exceptional circumstances”. In its defense, a Department for Education spokesman recently said: “Poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect, and children who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent.”

This may be true. But it might not be. I know I’m just one person but to be honest I was never very academic at school. I would have failed at maths even if I’d spent five days a week studying algebra, scribbling failed equations onto a blackboard in Pythagoras’s own kitchen, so really, who gives a shit if mum and dad took me to Disney World for ten days during term time? The fact that I spent ten days with my arms in the air, yelling “whoooooooooo-weeeeeeee-waaaaaaa” as I zoomed around a magic fucking mountain with a face full of candy floss instead is neither here nor there.

But you know what that holiday in term time taught me?

It taught me there’s a world… a magical world outside of England, and I don’t just mean Disney. It taught me that rules are made to be broken, that it’s a really small world after all, and that wonderful, incredible, life-changing things can happen once you’ve hopped on a plane and flown away for a while, even if it merely changes your way of thinking… shifts your perspective when you come home, somehow.

I came back laden with Mickey Mouse t-shirts and Pop Tarts in weird new flavours for my friends. I regaled with starry-eyes the stories of the tropical heat, the drive through torrential tropical rain when dad could barely see out of the window, the spare ribs so big I could barely imagine the size of the animal they must have come from. I came back obsessed with travelling, with seeing even more of the world, and with a newfound respect for geography and cultural differences that I’d never have found sitting in a classroom.

And now parents are gonna be taxed for giving this gift to their kids?

Like I said, I’m just one person, but being taken away from my normal routine, being made to feel special on that carefully-planned family holiday changed my life. It went a long way towards making me who I am today… which is perhaps a little irresponsible, perhaps a little too freewheeling, yes, and perhaps even too much of a dreamer, sometimes. But it’s who I was supposed to be, and no one stifled that.

No government tried to shut me down.

My family were never made to feel bad for giving me that opportunity.

We all saw it as a gift.

Saying that, some people are reminding us that in places like Canada, families take their kids out of school for months at a time and when they come back, the kids are still bumped up to the next grade whether their education has suffered or not. So perhaps imposing stricter rules on keeping kids in schools here is a good idea, but there’s something about all these fines that sounds like nothing but another tax for British citizens already trying their damned best to do the right thing by their families when factoring in things like holiday leave, incurred costs for holidays outside of term time and of course, quality time together as a unit.

The kicker is that if you don’t pay these fees within 21 days, the fine doubles. It’s the saddest thing I’ve heard in a while, and to be honest, adds to the list of reasons why I would prefer not to raise a family in the UK, if faced with a choice down the line.

Come on England. It’s a small world after all. Shouldn’t we at least have the freedom to decide when we see it? And for families who can’t afford to take their kids away outside of term time, when prices double, sometimes triple, shouldn’t there instead be fixed rates on certain package deals, or discounted flights for families, or… I don’t know… some kind of compensation? It’s all a bit one-sided from where I’m sitting.

I’m grateful I was educated at time when parents were able to choose what kind of education was best for their kids. Seems like those days are slowly slipping away. I’d ride the Disney rollercoaster of life any day over a government’s pre-conceived notion of what makes a good education.

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