Please sir, may I take my children on holiday to the Seychelles?

It is daft to suggest that the young Blairs missing school today will jeopardise their education

TONY BLAIR'S children, as the whole world knows, return tonight from the Seychelles. Not from holiday, but from the Seychelles. These islands ("palm-fringed" to quote Nick Clarke of the BBC) are, one senses, thought to be too good for a Labour Prime Minister's family; they should be reserved for those professionals, whose status and hard work qualifies them for a sojourn on powdery beaches, where they will drink mango juice in their hammocks, served by equally palm-fringed Bounty girls.

Now, either Charlie Whelan was up to his tricks again, or someone had been doing their sums, for it was very publicly discovered that the three Blairlings were skipping four whole days of school between them so as to complete their Seychelles vacation. Not only that, but Mr John McIntosh, the head of the Oratory School which the Blair boys attend, seemed to cast doubt on whether Tony and Cherie had notified the school of the impending absence. He seemed quite put out, and was quoted, reminding the world: "I say to parents they must observe the three Hs - `haircuts, holidays and homework'."

Does he really say such silly things? As the old gag goes, most kids could observe homework all day - but what is it with the haircut fetish? Perhaps Mr McIntosh stuffs cushions for the deprived with the locks of the fortunate, who are selected to attend his school. But I doubt it. Not for the first time, I suspect, Mr Blair will be wishing that he'd sent his sons to one those nice discreet public schools where the head doesn't talk like Captain Mainwaring. Anyway, No 10 has since made it clear that Cherie, elle-meme, wrote a note to the Oratory yonks ago, giving notice of the upcoming Seychelles adventure.

What messed it up for the Blairs is that - as they disported themselves on the Seychelles (sorry, did I say, "Seychelles" again?) - the Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, let it be known that he was actively considering legislation to prevent parents from taking their children out of school for trips abroad and suchlike. Mr Blunkett was responding to worries expressed by David Hart, the head of the Heads Union, and therefore, educationally, the capo di tutti capi.

Alas, as soon as the Blair/Seychelles/term-time holiday scandal broke, this alliance between government and educationalists fell apart. Mr Hart accused the Prime Minister of not setting "a good example" (yes, he really did. Unbelievable, isn't it?). Our old friend, Nigel "Giggles" de Gruchy, General secretary of the NAS/UWT, thought it was a good example - but only of "why politicians should keep their mouths shut and not lecture other parents". He went on, "They try to tell teachers how to run schools and end up being embarrassed themselves." We all know, don't we, whose job Mr de Gruchy thinks it is to lecture parents and to run schools. It's his.

What is interesting for me in this case (besides the unintentional comedy) is that the issue behind it lies slap on the fault line between my warring communitarian and libertarian inclinations. In other words, what should I be rendering Caesar and what may I decide for myself, according to my own inclinations? For parents, school provides one of the greatest tests of discerning the border between private and social behaviour.

We resolved one key issue years ago, and it was in Caesar's favour: parents are not permitted not to educate their children. That's why there are no brochures and magazine articles advertising the best ways to bring your kids up ferally. In addition to this one core restriction on parental freedom, we add many others smaller ones. And I am happy to go along with them. My children are almost never late, homework is done on time, I would support the teacher where he or she was taking action against bullying - even if this involved my own child; and (most terrible of all) I will spend hours, if requested to, making a huge, messy model of a bloody Egyptian shaduf, while simultaneously attempting to explain to my daughter the principles of balance and leverage.

I do all this partly because I can see what the social consequences would be if I didn't. But in one respect I too am a sinner. Like Tony Blair, I will take the kids out of school for the odd day or two in order to go on holiday. Our household is also one where both parents work full time, in jobs whose rhythms are not determined by the changing of the seasons. Finding a clear period when neither of us is working is increasingly difficult. But the times and durations of school holidays in Britain were set when there was still a harvest to be brought in, mother was still at home, the patterns of people's lives were roughly similar, and money - not time - was at a premium.

Attitudes were different then, too. I seem to feel a greater need to spend whatever time I do have with the children than my own father did (catch him struggling with a shaduf). So I have not, until now, felt guilty about taking the kids out of school, if necessary. Quite the opposite. My children won't miss out because we will ensure that they read, write, divide and - all else failing - catch up, before going back to school.

Besides, families like mine are not the problem. In London's Tower Hamlets, a generation of young Bengalis are having their education jeopardised by, among other things, returning to Bangladesh for long, term-time holidays. These kids are disadvantaged enough to begin with, without skipping important sections of the curriculum. It is daft to suggest that the young Blairs missing school today is somehow on a par with this form of absenteeism. That was presumably one reason why No 10, when dealing with the story, pointed out that Mr Blunkett had been talking only about longer absences from school.

But No 10 was wrong. Increasing numbers of parents are doing what we do, because they face the same pressures (and are aware of the same savings to be made by booking out of season). And when everyone starts doing what previously only a few did, you begin to get problems. Teachers find themselves standing in front of half-empty classrooms, or repeating lessons; school plays, concerts, sports, and other events that require constant term-time commitment suffer. That's what Mr B was talking about.

Now of course we (Tony and I) can be confident in our own judgment about the few days our children are away, and can set that against the immense gain to our family lives. My libertarian self says that this is really the only judgment that counts. Yet if the social consequences of an aggregation of such behaviour (bear with me) are malign, then my communitarian self argues for restrictions on my own freedom of action. If there needs to be a rule, then I need to obey it.

If there needs to be. The corollary of this - the communitarian codicil, if you like - is that when there doesn't need to be a rule, then for God's sake don't make one - especially not about haircuts. The three Hs indeed!

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot