This proposal to cut welfare payments for the parents of chronic truants seems like a symptom of one of the greatest dilemmas a Government can face – a problem that society universally agrees should be addressed but that is almost impossible to attack in a practical sense.
Richard Glover was talking about it on the TV this morning. He started by saying that “the kids have got to go to school”, pointing out the negative effects of chronic truancy for both the children and society. He then acknowledged that the proposal sounds harsh but the kids have to go to school and this is a way to give them a chance, which is what we pay the family money for. But as the discussion progressed, he acknowledged that some parents may be trying to do the right thing but can’t control their children’s school attendance, and so their welfare shouldn’t be cut. And then he said that you would hope it wouldn’t be used too often and that, instead, it’s a big stick that encourages people to do the right thing.
And this is exactly where we seem to end up with this type of punitive proposal – waving a big stick around in the air and hoping it scares the right people into doing the right thing. Because to actually bring the stick down on top of someone would not solve the problem. There are those who we can’t hit with the stick – the kids themselves. There are those who we don’t want to hit with the stick – the parents trying to do their best in a difficult situation, with kids who are resisting their best efforts to see to their education. And then there are those parents for whom being hit with the stick will have no impact – the neglectful, the abusive, and those who are too lost in their own crises to see to their children’s needs. But the Government agrees with society that something must be done, and so it stands there waving its stick around.
So what is the solution? I don’t imagine there is an easy one, but wasting time and resources on constructing a new stick seems like it will detract from finding a strategy that works. It certainly doesn’t strike me as the underpinnings of an education revolution.