Friday, 21 March 2014

Holidays: The staggering question

I was speaking with some teachers this week and one mentioned that her holidays did not coincide with other members of the family. This reminded me of the recent debate on this subject by MPs and their suggestion that school holidays should be staggered. At first glance staggering holidays is a good thing. Think of the wakes weeks (if you are old enough). Towns did not take the same weeks as their neighbours for many reasons. Think of the implications on the transport system as well as the holidays that are available.

However the staggering of holidays would not help couples who work in different schools. It may be alright in the summer holidays but I don't think they will be happy if they have two weeks off and don't see each other. I don't think that any teacher would be happy if their holiday did not coincide with those of their children.

The major concern for MPs was the cost of taking a holiday during school vacations. You can't blame the travel companies for increasing the prices. It is their job to maximise profits and if there is a greater demand then prices go up - that's capitalism. I am glad that MPs dismissed the idea of suspending airport passenger duty. If this happened then we would be saying "please take your holidays abroad and fly there". This is not a good use of the earth's resources especially if holidaymakers spend their time lying in the sun. Firstly the sun is (generally) not good for you, and secondly we may have to wait but the sun does shine in England.

The conversation turned to whether parents may take children out of school in order to buy a cheaper holiday and I was surprised to hear the argument put forward by teachers that children are able to learn more by going on holiday and learning from the experience. This may be true of some parents but not of others, and equality of opportunity is an important principle for all children. My immediate response related to the effort that teachers had gone to in preparing their lessons as well as taking the lesson. The children would miss this lesson and any subsequent lesson that built on this learning experience.

There is an underlying suggestion that holidays (that are slightly more expensive that the family can afford) are more important than school attendance. We have to question the importance of foreign holidays, the widespread use of air travel and most importantly the value we place on our schools. It may be that the teachers that I spoke with are humble people who have high regard for the pedagogical abilities of  parents. There is no doubt that education has an important role within the family but there is a more important factor in how we value education and taking children out of school lowers that value. Fundamentally we have to see what is important about holidays and it is not the ability to take children out of school, to travel across the world or to have a better holiday than our neighbour. If we hold higher values on such things as relationships, shared experience and learning then there would be no thought of taking children out of school.

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Beer and bingo for the patronised

One definition of the word 'patronising' from the Collins dictionary is 'having a superior manner, condescending'. You may prefer a definition that tells you about an apparent kindness which betrays a feeling of superiority but however you define the word you need to know something about the feelings of others if you are going to call them patronising.

Consider the wording of the latest Conservative advert: "Bingo! Cutting the bingo tax & beer duty to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy."

Not only do we save a whole penny on a pint of beer, we get a pat on the head for being hardworking too! I think they imagined that we'd feel good about that. I suppose their thinking was that the sort of people who drink beer and play bingo wouldn't notice if they were being patronised.

I find this puzzling because there must be some Tories who do such things. Let's presume it is just those Tories who make decisions - about policy, about adverts - who don't drink beer and play bingo. Then it becomes easier to understand. There's still one other puzzle though - the wording of the ad does not appear to include themselves among the hard working. Can that be right? I doubt it - even the ones who've never done a day's work in their lives because they have servants to do everything for them will still claim to be hardworking, I'm sure.

I would think that Tories don't usually drink beer - why have beer when you can have champagne? - but they still need to have the occasional pint as a prop for photo opportunities in bistro pubs on the campaign trail. Even if you only take a sip of the disgusting brew it still has to be paid for.  And if you save a penny on each pint, those pennies soon mount up.

If you feel that the general opinion of Tory policy makers is that drinking wine is superior to drinking beer, or playing croquet (or whatever pastime they prefer) is superior to playing bingo then they are being condescending. It is a badly written advert simply because it confirms what we all know. It is patronising.

I suspect that the Tories took what was presumably initially a good idea and messed it up, getting it completely the wrong way round. After all, while the advert was pure Tory, the actual policy behind it had Lib Dem input.

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