An Open letter to Nick Gibb
You spoke on Radio 4's Today programme, and said children are not permitted to take more than one day off school if a family member dies. I think we were not the only people who sat open mouthed as these words came from your mouth.
"The rules say you can't take leave from school during term time except in exceptional circumstances.
If it's something like a funeral or something, then the head teacher would be able to give permission to attend the funeral, but not to have an extended holiday on the back of that funeral or other compassionate circumstances."
I can only presume you have never seen a child in grief to make such remarks, and that makes you a very blessed person.
A spokesperson did go on to clarify that a school could have the discretion to offer further time if the head deemed it appropriate...But this too is appalling, as the ONLY people who can ascertain whether a child needs time off is the parents or carers of the child.
As CEO of the Mariposa Trust (Saying Goodbye), I feel well placed to make comments on this subject, as our charity supports over 50,000 people each month and our website has over 650,000 hits per month...each of these people are hurting people looking for support, why do they need help? Because often their world has just shattered in front of their eyes, and this isn't just happening to adults, it's also happening to children.
Each month hundreds and hundreds of children look to our organisation for answers and for support...because (this may surprise you) children are just like adults. They feel, they question, they feel lost and they need time to walk the grieving process.
A crucial part of the charities work is to run national services at cathedrals. The Saying Goodbye services offer a place for adults and children to come and say goodbye and remember and honour a baby that has died (in the womb, at birth or in early years). I will never forget one service we held. A family sat opposite me, a mother, father and their two boys. The one little boy sat quietly next to the dad, but the other little boy (who was probably 8 or 9) sat alongside his mum, and sobbed non-stop for an hour. By the end of the service you could see he had been helped and looked a lot more at peace. Witnessing what I did on that day made me promise myself, we would never neglect children in our work. We would use our voices to speak for all those who grieve, and it's for this reason we could not just hear your comments and do nothing.
As a nation we are notoriously bad at dealing with death and grief, and the comments you made yesterday reinforced that. You are treating grief as a choice, something that can just be bottled up and put on a shelf to be dealt with in 'non-term time', however it's simply not that easy. When death happens it can be earth shattering and everyone needs time...time to think, time to process and time to adjust.
As Schools Minister I truly believe you have a duty of care to the country's children, and your role goes far beyond the school gates. Education is indeed important, crucial in fact, but so is the mental health of a future generation. I beg of you to sit with experts on this subject such as us and other leaders, and change this policy.
All photos courtesy of Pixabay
Allow families to make the choice of how much time THEIR child needs off from school, if they have lost a loved one. Allow them to be the PARENT.
Zoe Clark-Coates is one of the founders and CEO's of the Mariposa Trust. The Saying Goodbye division offers support and national remembrance services for anyone who has lost a baby at any stage of pregnancy, at birth or in early years.