Where do the children play?
A week or two ago in the afternoon I was walking down a residential road in Dublin in rather unpleasant wintry conditions when I was hit by a snowball which came flying over a front garden hedge. This was followed almost immediately by another snowball that went out on to the road, hitting a passing car; the driver was startled and the car swerved dangerously before driving on. I decided to investigate, and inside the garden I found four young boys who were having what they thought was great fun throwing snowballs at passing pedestrians and motorists. They were all probably in the 12 to 14 age range.
After we had got over the barrage of four-letter insults that they decided to hurl at me instead of snowballs, and when I didn’t move away, they got a bit nervous and started to apologise. I engaged them in conversation, pointing out the dangers of what they were doing, and suggested they go inside. It turned out this wasn’t the house of any of them. They had been sent home from school because of the weather, but their various parents were at work and none of the boys could get inside their houses. So they decided to pass the time with their little snowball fun.
Of course our schools are for education and learning, but in an age when we must anticipate that in most families both parents work, they also play a vital role in childminding. However our school timetables, and their holiday schedules, assume something quite different in terms of social structures: they assume that the mother is at home. So we have children sent home because of staff meetings or other events, and holidays are totally inconsistent with the reality of modern working life.
It is not possible, and it is not desirable, to turn the social clock back and have a labour force in which only men and unmarried women can expect to work. That being so, it is time to re-think how we organise the school system, and how we frame its academic year. It is time to change the school day, and to adjust (and significantly shorten) the holidays. We should have done that more than a generation ago.