Sociology in the News: Parental Choice Versus State Control

The supreme court this week upheld the ban on parents taking their children out of school for family holidays during term time.

The decision upheld a fine imposed on Jon Platt by the Ilse of White Council for taking his daughter out of school for an unauthorised seven-day break in April 2015.

Regulations introduced in 2013 curtailed the ability of headteachers at state schools in England to grant up to two weeks’ term-time holiday for pupils with good attendance, but they can still grant authorised absences.

The standard penalty for an unauthorised absence is £60.

Arguments for restricting parents’ freedom to take their children out of school

Firstly it’s unfair on parents who stick to the rules…

Delivering the judgment, Lady Hale, said: “Unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect, not only on the education of the individual child but also on the work of other pupils…. if one pupil can be taken out whenever it suits the parent, then so can others … Any educational system expects people to keep the rules. Not to do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the costs or inconvenience to themselves.”

Secondly, it’s unfair on teachers who are under pressure to deliver results…

Ultimately teachers will have to carry of the burden of ‘catching up’ the students who have missed lessons.

Arguments against restricting parents’ freedom to take their kids out of school

Firstly – it takes power away from parents…

Jon Plat argues that it’s wrong for the state to take the power to make decisions affecting child welfare away from parents.

Secondly, it’s unfair on the poorest sections of society…

For those on a low income, the fact that they won’t be able to save £300 (or thereabouts) by going away in the second compared to the third week of July,  will make the difference between going on holiday or not.

There’s also the fact that this will be ineffective against thick-skinned, economically rational parents – basically the £60 fine is considerably less than the money a family will save going on holiday a week early in summer, before the proper summer holidays start.

Applying the perspectives…

This case demonstrates the tension between ‘strong state control’ and individual freedom in New Right thinking on education – it’s something of a contradiction allowing parental choice of schools and then disallowing them this choice.

Marxists might point to the fact that this is really a case of disallowing the poor a choice – the rich who go to private schools or home educate their kids, or who simply have the cultural capital balls to not pay the paltry £60 fine and not worry about it, they can still go on holiday on the 14th of July.

Actuarial risk management’ has probably also got something to do with the government’s support for this – no doubt the aggregate (average) statistics  tell us there is a correlation between attendance and achievement and so this here is just being applied to everyone, without discrimination.

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