I have explained before that when my oldest daughter was at primary school, we used to withdraw her from school for one day a week in order to make sure that she at least received some sort of education in basic literacy and numeracy. This was in addition to the four or five occasions a year when we went off for anything from a long weekend to a fortnight to stay on a farm in the Brecon Beacons. Haringey, our local authority, were not happy about all this. If readers think that I am a bit of a stroppy bastard when dealing with home educators, then they should see me in action against a council which is failing to provide a decent standard of education to a child! I regularly invited Haringey to prosecute me if they wished me to air my grievances publicly in court. Strangely, they never took up this invitation.
Why should somebody like me, a man almost fanatically keen on education, be prepared to take regular holidays in term time in this way? The answer is simple. In the course of a fortnight in South Wales when one of my daughters was ten and the other six, we visited the Roman gold mine at Dolaucothi, went down the coal mine at Blaenavon, spent the day at Caerphilly Castle, went for another day out to the Roman amphitheatre and museum at Caerleon, visited the National Museum in Cardiff, climbed mountains, went pony trekking, actually witnessed the birth of a calf and fed lambs from bottles. This is not by any means an exhaustive list. On another holiday, the girls went gliding, being able to take the controls when they did so. Compare this with the nonsense that my older daughter would have been doing had she been cooped up in school during that time and there was no contest at all as to which was the more educational use of her time.
One might have supposed that there was not a home educating parent in the country who would fail to understand this and agree with the value of such real life experiences. One would be wrong. Amazingly, a number of high profile home educators and former home educators, including people like Ian Dowty and Mike Fortune-Wood, are opposed to this sort of thing. They believe that children who are registered pupils at schools should be discouraged from spending time out in the real world with their parents. So strongly do they feel about this that they have been lobbying parliament in the last few weeks, warning them of the dangers of any legislation which might make actions such as those I took, easier for parents!
Let us just pause for a moment and consider this extraordinary state of affairs. As far as I am able to understand it, those who have been campaigning about the change in the pupils registration regulations, the one which would require a twenty day 'cooling off' period before deregistration became final, are saying this. They are claiming to be concerned about the prospect of children spending more time in the real world, doing things with their parents. They believe that those children would be better off in school. I think that I have this right. The expression which is being popularised by home educators for the supposed danger of an increase in the practice of taking children on holiday during term time, is the 'Ibiza Loophole'. Readers who find it hard to believe that any home educator could really worry about kids spending more time in their parents company should google this expression and see what I mean.
Why the 'Ibiza Loophole', one wonders? Why not the 'Welsh Farm Holiday Loophole'? The answer is simple, if a little distasteful. This is snobbishness upon an epic and heroic scale. Ibiza symbolises all that the middle class people who are using this phrase feel about the working classes. Forty years ago, they would probably have called it the 'Torremolinos Loophole'. If they were running this campaign before World War II, they would have described it as the 'Skegness Loophole'. The people using this awful expression believe that working class people are different from them. People like us, respectable home educators, take our children on educational trips to the right sort of place. But the working classes my dear, you wouldn't believe where they go! I mean, Ibiza! it's nothing but sand, sea, sun and sangria. Why don't we use them as examples of the sort of people whose holidays should be restricted and made more expensive? Never mind that this would mean shamelessly blackguarding another group of parents for our own purposes. After all, the sort of people that go to Ibiza are clearly not our type.
There is something singularly unedifying at seeing home educators behaving in this contemptuous way towards parents with whom they feel they have nothing in common. Speaking for myself, I think that most maintained schools are pretty hopeless and that many children would learn more in the course of a holiday with their parents than they would being stuck in a classroom. Can it really be true that most home educators feel differently?