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Primary Education News
News You can't be 'family friendly' if you're anti-child, Michael Gove | Suzanne Moore
How can a longer school day be 'friendly' to families? It simply means families will see even less of each other
In his whirl of "permanent revolution" – a term associated with Chairman Mao – Michael Gove, our frantic education secretary, has come up with yet another wheeze: the school day should be longer and children should have shorter holidays. We have to compete with China, after all. Gove (Mastermind specialist subject: Looking busy) never lets up, even when half his projects are junked by that Trotskyite front of teachers, parents, exam boards and Ofsted inspectors.
But like any working parent, I can see where he is coming from. Half-term always takes me by surprise, and I patch things together last minute. My life would have been far easier had my children been penned in for most of the time. Indeed, some people pay for this: it is called boarding school. Bizarrely, though, I like seeing my children sometimes – and what I see is that at the end of the day, and certainly by the end of term, they are tired.
Although we were told we are all Thatcherites now, I don't know if this has got through to my youngest and her mates. They are in the first year of a comprehensive that starts at 8.30am and has after-school clubs every day. And a very short lunch break. Like most schools now. So they need some down time at the end of the day. And not being a Thatcherite myself means I don't see tiredness as a moral failing.
What irks, though, is the way Gove is trying to sell this policy of schools as wraparound childcare as "family friendly". This is an appropriation of a term that has long been a kind of code. When we did not want to appear as pushy feminist or uppity women, many started to try to address the work-life balance problem by using the term family friendly. It appears a neutral and ungendered term because it acknowledges both men and women as parents; it seeks to reconcile work that is paid and unpaid and can thus be extended to include all unpaid caring: looking after ageing parents as well as children.
Family friendly started out as a term used to argue for better conditions and flexible employment practices. Gove is now using it to argue that the less time children spend with their families, the better it will be. Really?
Anxious, overworked parents already burble on about quality time, which everyone knows is rubbish. Children need quantity time. They want you around even as they wind down, watching TV, hanging out with their friends. I fully acknowledge that for some families, long school holidays are a nightmare, but schools have for a long time offered breakfast clubs and holiday schemes.
But why pretend this is about education or even pastoral care? It is about the demands of the workplace. The idea that we tailor work around actual family values is anathema to these champions of the free market. The long-hours culture of the workplace (already crazy at a time of high unemployment) must, instead, be handed down to our poor children.
Yet again there is a lack of joined-up thinking in this policy: the US has longer summer holidays, successful European economies such as Germany have similar holidays to us, but we are told we must compete against south-east Asia. Perhaps Gove needs a rest.
There is a huge disparity in models of learning when we expect children to go from being in an institution from 8am till 5pm and then, if they qualify for university, to be self–motivated enough to cope with three hours' a week contact time. How is this leap to be made?
This desk-centred vision of children's education is utterly retrogressive. We already sleep-train babies as if they had jobs to do – getting them into a routine, as if instilling a work ethic even when there is no paid work, is still the priority. We make these choices, but this policy is the opposite of family friendly; it is anti-children.