Holiday free-for-all

Like quite a few of Gove’s ideas, the latest announcement about term dates has a grain of justification. Leaving aside that the long summer hols are about the only perk left to teachers, it probably makes sense on educational and child care grounds to have a look at changing. However, no one with an ounce of common sense would think of handing over decisions to individual headteachers.

We live in one local authority area which is where our son went to school. My wife and I worked over the border for another LA. On several occasions half term holidays did not coincide so it is easy to imagine the chaos that would ensue if even neighbouring schools had different term dates. Arranging child care and family holidays would be a nightmare. Someone needs to have responsibility for coordinating but ideology dictates that Gove must give heads ‘freedom’ to do their own thing.

“I blame the teachers!”

When my sister and I first went into teaching, back in the Seventies, my dad was a little disparaging about the long holidays and short working day but he soon admitted his mistake when he saw how hard we worked and how stressful the job was.

This government is clearly out to ‘get’ public service workers. Their pensions, a joke back in the Eighties when private pension funds were earning a bomb, are now comparatively generous and their pay, which again lagged behind what we could have earned in equivalent jobs in the private sector, seems reasonable in a world where everything is ‘squeezed’ elsewhere. Of course, back then, if you thought about pensions at all, you saw them as compensation in the future for your less-than-generous salaries. Now that’s all over. The public sector has been portrayed in the media as ‘bloated’, inefficient, not ‘wealth-creating’ and failing to do well enough what it is supposed to be doing. In the wake of the mid-Staffordshire scandal, lots of stories of uncaring nurses and they’ve all got to serve a year as a drudge before starting out on their chosen career. It has occurred to me that it might be the tranches of managers who might be the uncaring ones, who ought to spend a bit more time at the sharp end but it is part of the government’s bigger purpose to blame the nurses.

And so to the latest  attacks on education. Over the years I had fooled myself into believing that most sensible people had got over the ‘long holidays/cushy job’ teacher stereotype but Michael Gove is, of course, shameless in appealing to the basest,  crudest ignoramuses. Over Easter he obviously spent his time musing on where to stick his boot next and decided to just say it out loud: school holidays are too long and school days are too short. This appears to be trying to move us to an Asian-style education where students are crammed full of facts hour after hour. I’m not sure if it’s his beloved ‘back to the future’ curriculum or hatred of teachers that’s motivating him. Or maybe he sees himself as Thatcher’s heir and he is looking to provoke one of the public service unions into a year-long strike a la the miners so he can smash them and become the saviour of the nation (Mark 2).

The latest, of course, is the attack on nursery schools where, in another stereotype, the children just run around chaotically rather than sitting and quietly being taught like they are in France apparently (or just not going to school at all  ’til they’re seven, like in Finland? No, didn’t think that’d appeal to you Govesters!) This time it’s our old friend Elizabeth Truss doing the lecturing, she who thinks it’s ok for an adult to supervise more little children as long as they’ve got GCSE English. I won’t pretend to know a great deal about nursery education, but this coordinated onslaught (Wilshaw has stuck his oar in, threatening to change ‘Satisfactory’ to ‘Requiring improvement’ for nursery school inspections) is part of the wider policy. And, just in case Gove or Truss are reading this (as if!) I’ll just confirm their stereotype of me as a dyed-in-the-wool trendy and ask: why is it that every stage of education has to focus on getting the child ready for the next stage until the last, which is supposed to have made them ready for a lifetime of work? What’s wrong with enjoying childhood, being creative and just learning for its own sake? Dear me, what a dangerous dewy-eyed liberal I am!