The Prompt #4: Bonsai Children

Jess McGlynnFebruary 7, 2014


I missed joining in with The Prompt last week as things got a little bit crazy at home but when I saw the choice this week, I made an extra special effort to


The headline Sara has chosen this week is:

‘Lengthen school days and cut holidays, says former Tory adviser’ The Guardian (online) 29 Jan 2014

Where do I even begin?

Do you know that we are one of only five countries which have a compulsory age of five for starting school?  The others being Wales, Scotland, Malta and Cyprus…all of which have strong links with England.

The majority of European countries have a compulsory starting age of six and some even later at seven years of age.

Our children are already expected to begin school a whole two years ahead of their European counterparts.  But that’s okay, because they get enough time off throughout the year to counterbalance this…I mean, it must be okay because heck, it’s been this way for a good many years and what’s the saying?  ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it?’

I am flabbergasted, confounded and bamboozled about the recent propositions to alter the school day and reduce the holiday time.  I can quite understand why people have been in uproar about it, it quite makes me want to beat my chest in frustration too.

I read the article, and I could see that on some level it makes sense.  It is increasingly difficult for working parents to find childcare to cover the holidays, to be there on time for school pick up when the average working day doesn’t end until 5pm and these days it’s quite unusual to work in the place that you live so you have to add on commuting time as well.  I get that, I do.

What this proposal gets right, the only thing that it gets right, is highlighting the fact there is a desperate need for an affordable childcare system for working parents.

That’s it.

Creating a blanket policy which states that all children must stay in school until 6pm, to compensate for those whose parents work longer hours, is simply ridiculous.  Perhaps I would be more on board with the idea of an extra three hours in school if I thought that those hours would be spent playing more, or helping in the community, time spent away from desks showing our children that there is more to life than just lessons and exams and achieving academically.

What about those children who just don’t respond well to a school environment?  Whose learning styles just don’t benefit being cooped up for hours, sitting still?  How will being forced to stay in school for another three hours benefit them?

I understand, I do, that it can be hard for working parents to find a balance between working and childcare but surely what we should be looking at is either optional after school provisions or the onus on companies to offer a more flexible system for employees rather than the rigid 9am-5pm.

When I think back to my time at school, I loved the six week holidays.  It was an opportunity to switch off and have fun, to make adventures and memories, and to be passed from friend to friend as my mum worked and sought to find childcare for us.  Some days we even went to work with her as she didn’t have any other option.  But it was fun.  It was what the holidays were all about.  It gave us the opportunities to try different things which we wouldn’t otherwise have done.

I also have to wonder, when, as parents, are we actually expected to see our children?  If they aren’t leaving school until 6pm, by the time we have fed and washed them and let them complete their homework it will be bedtime.  Unless we are meant to keep them up later, thereby reducing the amount of sleep they get which will reduce their ability to absorb information and actually learn.  

So where is the quality time?  Oh, I know, in the school holidays…oh, wait.  Nope, not then either.

Here’s the rub.  I don’t believe for a second that it has anything to do with helping working parents.  Many schools offer breakfast clubs and after school clubs already.

I think that is just a cover for the fact that the Government want parents to work longer in order to line the pockets of the Government better the British economy.

It makes me literally livid to think that I might miss out on being the one to teach my child some important life lessons simply because some old stuffer in the Government thinks he’s found gold.  Contrary to what may be believed, I did not bring my children into this world solely for what they would contribute to the economy.  What’s next, the reintroduction of child labour?

The claim is that our current school system reflects times gone by, an agricultural era.  Which we, obviously, no longer live in.  They want to change the system so that it is a representation of a more modern society.  What exactly would that be then?

Longer working hours than ever?

More pressure in the workplace to achieve?

More competition in the workplace, fear that if we take time off to be with our families that we won’t be seen to be ‘playing the game’ and could lose our position?

What is being suggested is that from the age of five, our children should be taught that there is nothing more to live than the never-ending grind of needing to work hard to play your part in the economy.

That they need to fall in line and be part of the rat race.  Stand up and be counted and make a real contribution.


Don’t worry though folks, I’ve got an even better idea than shorter holidays and longer school days.  If what we are saying is that children need to pull their weight, contribute to society, prove what they can bring to the economy from the word go, yada yada yada, what about: ‘Bonsai Children’  

Think about it, we stick our children in glass bell jars from the minute they are born, pump them full of information and facts by playing them on repeat until they are completely brainwashed and then set them free and let them start earning a crust.  We could even let the Government choose their specialities depending on what the needs of the country are at that particular time.  It’s a good idea right?



Okay, back to reality.  

The thing that concerns me the most about the proposal, what drives my anger and, if I’m honest, my panic, is that it could really be a possibility in our futures.  There is an ever increasing gap between what is being earned by parents and the cost of childcare and I can see that this idea will appeal to some working parents.

But what fails to be seen is that we will be taking away one of the vital elements of what it means to be a child.  Exactly that.  The right to be a child.  To grow up away from the pressures of having to achieve academically, to be able to have weeks to make mistakes, have adventures, feel euphoric and giddy, feel care-free.

As adults we don’t get that opportunity all that often, if ever.  Why on earth would we seek to rob that from our children?

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