As the children returned to school in the last couple of weeks the talk amongst parents in the playground was around how many of them had been fined for absence in the last school year. And in our school it was a quite significant number.
Most parents felt this was short sighted and stupid and whilst Michael Gove may well have had children's' best interests at heart with this policy, frankly it is a disaster.
Let's start with the stupid part.
It is stupid because it employs what I like to refer to as the 'Speedbumps Principle'.
Speedbumps on a main road are an anathema. After hundreds of years of evolution John McAdam finally came up with a way of producing a viable road surface that provided a smooth hard wearing surface which revolutionised this country. And having spent so many centuries wishing we had smoother road surfaces the first thing we do is to deliberately place obstacles on it. The stupidity comes in the fact that even if one in a hundred motorists was actually speeding, all of us get penalised.
Similarly with this schools fine system, we are all fined for transgressions irrespective of circumstance. It doesn't matter if you go down this road once or a dozen times you will get fined every time. It is stupid because it takes a uniform punitive approach to the problem when it didn't actually need it.
The damaging part is the damage done to parents relationships with their schools. Schools are obliged to report these holiday absences to the Local Authority who in turn issue the fines and court proceedings. More importantly they will use any and all information at their disposal to prosecute parents.
So those parents who advised the school that their child would be absent for a couple of days or even who asked for, and were declined, an extended absence are finding that information being used to prosecute them.
In some cases information that was only available in private correspondence with the school is finding its way into the penalty letters and that irrevocably breaks the trust bond between school and parent.
Let's be clear about this, the school staff I have spoken to about this are actually embarrassed by this but they are obliged by their employer to disclose this information.
The upshot is simple; we now have a breakdown in trust and communications between schools and parents. A straw poll amongst parents at our school would suggest that there are likely to be far more sickness absences around the start and finish of school holidays in the future. Parents are willing to lie and the schools should expect this.
Schools work hard to earn the trust of parents but this policy is destroying the transparency that is the very cornerstone of that trust.
And finally, here's why this policy is pointless.
Has it changed parents' behaviour? No. Has it improved children's grades? No. In fact most parents will be horrified to find that as well as failing in these two basic areas it is actually costing the Local Councils money to enforce the policy.
Our local council will issue around 2,500 fine letters this year at £60 each giving a theoretical fine yield of £1.5m. The problem is that after administration and chasing parents who refuse to pay through the courts they are actually ending up with a deficit, much of which is driven by legal costs.
And the irony of all this is the very people that this new law was supposed to tackle are the ones now refusing to pay the fines and ending up in court. As such they are actively draining the system even further. With ever shrinking Local Authority budgets the cost of implementing this law has to come from somewhere and no matter how you cut it, some of that money will have to come from the schools budget.
So a law designed to improve children's education prospects is now actually eroding them and for that reason alone we should call time on this stupid, damaging and pointless exercise.