Dear Mr Gove,
I see that you are marketing your ‘longer school days, shorter holidays’ idea as ‘family-friendly’, but I’m not sure you’ve really thought that through…
As a working mother, I structure my working hours around my daughter’s schooling and holiday times – and I’m glad to do it. My daughter is not an inconvenience whose care gets in the way of those longer working hours I’d like to be doing – I love her and I love spending time with her.
Speaking of my daughter, let me tell you about her. She’s six. She’s funny, creative, imaginative, soaking up the world and the experiences it offers her like a sponge. She’s also the most stubborn person I know, fiercely independent and surprisingly vulnerable.
She loves school but, being six, she gets tired before the end of the school day. Over the term, her tiredness accumulates and by the time the holidays come, it has begun to make life hard for her. Holidays are a welcome break from the work/school routine – for me as well as for her.
Sometimes in the holidays, we stay in our pyjamas till lunchtime and tell each other stories, or build chocolate factories for princesses out of cardboard boxes. We visit museums and stately homes, go swimming, meet all kinds of interesting people, and have the time to consider more fully why we can sometimes see the moon during the day or why the children on the adverts on TV don’t have enough food to eat. (I should have mentioned earlier that she loves swimming. She has a weekly swimming lesson at 3.30pm – I wonder where we would fit that in if she has to stay at school till 4.30pm?)
I am able to structure my working life around my daughter’s schooling and give her these experiences because I work for an incredibly family-friendly, understanding and supportive organisation with wonderful people. I work on flexi-time – my hours are my own to plan so I can fit them round the school day. Sometimes I have to work in the evening or at weekends, but I can take the time back during school holidays. I can work from home whenever I need to. I work for an organisation which values people as people, not as commodities.
Might it not be more ‘family-friendly’ to look at measures encouraging other businesses and employers to be more understanding of the needs of working parents? And, for those times when parents can’t be off work while their children are off school, might it not be more ‘family-friendly’ to invest in the charitable and third sector who can give children experiences beyond the school gates? Or to bring the cost of childcare down?
I may be wrong, but I have an inkling that this ‘longer school days, shorter holidays’ idea might be more ‘business-friendly’ than ‘family-friendly’…
I have never looked at my daughter and thought, “I wish she would work harder. Why can’t she be more like those children in Hong Kong and Singapore and East Asia? Why doesn’t she have to work more, learn more, why can’t we put more pressure on her to achieve and succeed?”
Instead, I admire her curiosity, her exploring questioning mind, her interest in everything, her recent development of the ability to count in tens, and her imaginative ability to see elephants, mushrooms, and people dancing in the clouds.
Please don’t spoil her. Please don’t take any more of her childhood away from her. Because we love her, just as she is.
A Working Mother