Alice is feeling sheepish.
“Tom has been absent from school” she began dolefully, when I saw her yesterday. “Oh yes, I heard he was away – is he better?” I asked, “He wasn’t ill. We told Matron he had a tummy bug, but we actually took him to London for a couple of days. We thought he deserved a treat after his exams. Steve got time off work and we all went together.” “It sounds lovely” “Yes it was. But Tom told his teacher when he got back. We told him to pretend he’d been ill, but he forgot and now we’ve had a nasty letter from the Head.” Alice looked embarrassed. She is not a natural rule breaker. “He implied that by lying to Matron and telling her that Tom was sick, we’ve undermined the school – but the only reason I didn’t ask permission was because he would’ve said no and then Steve would have insisted on going anyway.”
It is embarrassing for Alice. She knows that it was unfair to expect Tom to keep such clandestine activities to himself – but it is the lying aspect that really troubles her . “How can we tell Tom to be truthful with us, when he sees that we have lied? And we even told him to lie too! ”
Of course she is right and it is foolish to hope our children will obey the rules if they see us breaking them. In my book “Prepare your Daughter for Boarding” I discuss how important it is that parents try to work within school regulations, so as to not to give mixed messages to their children. However, it is also worth remembering that if your child is at an independent school, you are the paying customer and your views should be taken into account.
On this occasion, for instance, I think Alice might have informed the school courteously that she was taking Tom to London, as the trip was educational (Tom visited the Globe theatre and several museums while he was away). It is also worth noting that Tom had finished all his exams and had already been awarded a scholarship to his next school. If he had gone into class he would merely have attended lessons as usual with all the Common Entrance candidates, as the scholarship exams are held earlier. In these circumstances, it is hard to understand why any teacher would demand his presence.
While researching my first book I visited approximately twenty five independent schools and found that policies on absence varied. Most teachers would agree that arriving late at the start of term is disruptive for the individual child and unfair on the rest of the class. However, the period post examination is a different matter and some Heads positively encourage children to explore other activities at this time. Others are more inflexible.
Whatever the style of your school, it is never a good idea to lie – not least because you will almost certainly be found out. However, there maybe be the odd occasion when you INFORM the school of your plans, without asking for permission and giving them the chance to say no.