Andrew Martin: You're being mean-spirited over term time holidays, Mr Gove

It was mesmerising when a boy in my class was given time off 'to help with the harvest'

The Government will shortly announce proposals to stop parents taking their children out of school during term time. One aim is to stop parents saving money by booking holidays outside term time, and I bristle at this intention, having often marvelled at the sheer evil that causes the rental of country cottages to leap from £250 in the week before the school holidays to £800 in the week they begin. (I can easily picture the malevolent, goblin-features of the landlord as he looks up the relevant dates.)

This amounts to a tax on having children, and I am all in favour of having children. That said, I like to give my own a wide berth, which is why I am often unaware the school holidays have begun – my first indication being that my wife will say, at about midday on a Monday, "Don't slam the doors, the boys are still in bed". At that point I know I am in for a week of unreturned phone calls, heavy traffic on the roads, and general national paralysis... so I am in favour of any staggering of the school holidays.

I also find Michael Gove's measure depressingly unromantic. When I was at school, the pupils who took unauthorised absence fell into two categories. In the first was a boy who was often away because he was "helping his mother". This was plausible only in the sense that the kid – a vicious 16-year-old chainsmoker – did have a mother, and the fuller picture was revealed when he was convicted of robbing a series of chemists in aid of what turned out to be an amphetamine-dealing empire.

In the second category were those whose reasons for being off were useful to them and vicariously inspiring to others. I attended a northern secondary modern, so no one's parents were taking them off to verify the Upper Burmese source of the Irrawaddy river, but one boy did keep going to France. He had had a good excuse: he was half French.

With his beautiful mother (the French half), his exemption from French lessons (he was better at it than the teacher), and his occasional assemblies explaining things like what the French have for breakfast, he certainly stretched my imagination, and no doubt his own. Another boy, who lived on a farm, was a throwback to a more bucolic, possibly medieval, age, and it was mesmerising to learn that he would be given time off "to help with the harvest".

Pour encourager les autres, seems to be the Education Secretary's thinking. If you stop one child's civilised trips to Paris, you might increase the chances of the recidivist pitching up for classes more regularly. It's like the classic punishment dished out by the teacher who can't identify the true culprit: "Very well then, you will all stay behind."

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