How many days off school constitute damage?
It was last month that I heard people in charge of education, in this instance Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, tell us how damaging it was for children to miss school.
For Ms Morgan it was the controversy with parents over SATs that started the row. Some parents disagreed with her position on testing Year One children and decided they did not want to support this kind of education and instead took their five year olds into the woods to have a picnic. Ms Morgan said that by removing their child from the school parents were behaving irresponsibly and compromising the quality and continuity of their child’s education. She said even missing one day of education would have an effect on a child’s overall education.
A few weeks later, and the length of time off school had been extended. A High Court judge ruled in favour of a father taking his children to Florida for a two-week holiday. The father argued that his children attended school 93% of the time and anyway the law did not say that they had to attend every day. As such, the legal semantics won him the case. During the trial he also asked why, if each day was so important, private schools work approximately 26 days fewer per year, and why these children tend to ‘perform’ better in exams. No one wanted to discuss that element on the Radio 4 Today programme!
But I want to look at another angle of this argument about children missing education. Red Balloon, the charity of which I am the Founder and President, which provides full time education for 11-17 year olds who are too frightened to go to school because of bullying or trauma, is often approached by families who have had children out of school for days, weeks, months and in some cases years.
Recently, the family of an eleven year old, whom I shall call Charlie, living south of the M25, rang us. Their son, in Year 7, had been tormented because of his colour, called ‘gay’, kicked, punched, pushed down the stairs, threatened and told to decide whether he was going to belong to a black or white gang, until the bullying got so bad he refused to go to school. This happened on 25th November 2015.
I am now writing in June 2016 and up to this date no alternative education has been provided. No one from the school has visited him at home and only on one occasion has work been sent home – after chivvying by his parents. Nor has the local authority, while aware of the situation, done anything. So let’s just count – it’s 102 days Charlie has missed school, not because his parents don’t want him to sit an exam or they want to have him join his cousins on a family holiday – but because no one in a position of authority or power, either at the school or at the local authority, has done anything about it.
Granted, Charlie cannot/will not go to school, but surely if each day counts someone should be doing something to make sure he is not missing education. Forget one day or a couple of weeks – Charlie has been out of school for six months –surely that is damaging for his education?