Letters: Dilemma over term-time holidays

These letters were published on Friday 1 November

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Having been a head at a school where over 80 per cent of the young pupils had families living abroad, I am familiar with the problem of term-time holidays (“The easyJet generation revolts over holiday ban”, 31 October).

Then, as now, the guidance was that these were to be taken in exceptional circumstances only, and, then as now, families took the cheaper option. It was common for pupils to be absent for six weeks or more and, although the contact with their families was enriching, there was no doubt that their academic education, particularly their language skills, suffered. This is more serious than the short holiday with cultural trimmings, and has to be addressed by the travel companies with government regulation, as will certainly be necessary.

In the case of short holidays, there is room for negotiation, with attendance and attainment taken into account. But school is not something to do until a better offer turns up. Parents should ask whether a simpler holiday, in the UK during the school holidays, would give their child a better signal as to value.

Schools are not blameless. Of course, they want to minimise the disruption to children, but they are also target-driven. Successive governments have imposed arbitrary attendance and attainment targets on schools. These are turned into published data which is interpreted negatively by the same parents who contribute to the problem. If leave is refused, the family invariably take it anyway and the school is caught on the other horn of high unauthorised absence.

As an Ofsted inspector once memorably put it to me: “I know there isn’t anything you can do, but you’ve got to find something.” Instead of petitions, parents and schools would be better occupied in fighting this cockeyed attitude.

Jean Gallafent

London NW1

Council acted too late in Shoesmith case

The news that Sharon Shoesmith is to receive a large settlement following her dismissal by Haringey Council in the wake of the Baby P tragedy comes as no surprise, but this outcome could have been averted. 

Rumours of the death of another child were circulating in Haringey months before the court case that precipitated Shoesmith’s demise. The Labour administration employed specialist public relations advisers to assist in dealing with the anticipated negative fall-out when the verdict was announced.

This attempted spin failed because Shoesmith and the politicians in charge were not deemed to be sufficiently contrite, so Ed Balls said they had to go.

A more sensible approach for Haringey would have been to instigate a confidential in-house review into the circumstances that led to the death in advance of the trial, so that the council could have demonstrated that lessons had already been learned and acted on, rather than simply issue another lame apology.

There was no good reason to delay this process for a year until after the trial, and every reason to get on with it. Positive action could have saved Shoesmith’s career and the taxpayer a lot of money.   

Nigel Scott

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Alexandra Ward, Haringey

London N22

Peace poppies? Very suspicious

Early last night I ordered 10 white poppies from the Stop the War Coalition website, using my credit card online.

Within five minutes, I received a text from Tesco Bank asking me to ring them urgently. In case this was a phishing exercise, rather than replying directly, I looked up their number and rang from my landline.

They said they were making a security check because of recent suspicious activity on my account. They asked me to verify some recent transactions, including this last one, which I did. They said everything was fine and I hung up, but as soon as I put the receiver down, I felt a shudder.

Am I being paranoid or had the covert eyes of the State just turned in my direction? Have any other readers had a similar experience?

Dr John Buckingham

Hounslow, Middlesex

Nigel Cubbage is brave to not wear the remembrance poppy this November (letter, 31 October). It is perhaps worn too widely with too little thought – it seems odd a pop star would have to wear it on Saturday night television.

Neither world war was fought for Britain to become unthinkingly conformist in public. I might make a donation to the British Legion, but I should not have to feel I must broadcast the fact by wearing a poppy.

Ian McKenzie

Lincoln

Paying the bill for a waste of gas

The concern about the increase in gas prices exposes the ill-founded thinking underlying the “dash for gas” for electricity generation.

Modern combined-cycle gas-fuelled electricity generation plant results in a net energy conversion  efficiency of some 50 per cent,  allowing for production and transmission losses. When gas is piped and used as a prime  energy source its overall energy conversion efficiency is about 90 per cent, allowing for the storage and transmission losses.

When there are energy uses which can be satisfied from either of these routes, such as space and process heating, it would suggest that we require almost twice as much gas for the “electricity route”. Surely this extra, and perhaps unnecessary, demand for a finite resource tends to increase its price.

Until we have developed  sustainable energy resources and an effective national energy policy, we can at least educate domestic users to operate energy management strategies, such as the installation of efficient house insulation, which will serve to reduce both the demand for and the cost of fuel.

Dr David Bartlett

Ilkley, West Yorkshire

I do not understand why so many people are complaining about energy bills to heat their homes.

My 93-year-old grandmother wears two jumpers in the winter, sits in front of the gogglebox, a hot water bottle on her lap, and, armed with a flask of warm tea, regales her carers with stories of Winston Churchill, doodlebugs, the bygone days when there was no television or central heating, and, indeed, refuses to turn on the gas fire in her own front room.

At night, fortified with a cup of warm milk and another hot water bottle, it’s off to bed. No problem, fuss or complaint.

Her secret? Good home insulation to keep out the draughts.

Dominic Shelmerdine

London W8

Utility companies currently seem to regard it as their right to rip us off, especially the poor. Several of your correspondents recently have expressed understandable surprise and horror at this.

However, if we accept that the purpose of society is now to serve the economy, it all makes perfect sense.

Susan Alexander

Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

It’s those crazy Froggies again

Another day, another French-bashing piece in the British media (“The French malady”, 31 October), replete with the usual, tired, old – and inaccurate – stereotypes. Allow me to counter them with some facts of daily life in France.

You describe a “way of life, a culture, a language and cuisine that critics describe as xenophobic”.  My local cinema in a small town is showing 13 films this week, of which five are in their original language with subtitles: three American films plus one Belgian and one Palestinian. English words pepper French daily discourse. I’m going to see a French Top 14 rugby match on Saturday in which both teams will have a mix of national and international players.

You highlight “the resistance to supermarket bread and McDonald’s”.  Supermarkets have sold sliced bread for ages: ours even have a machine for slicing up more traditional bread (French compromise: they’re as adept at it as we are). France is McDo’s largest European market, we even have one here. As to the “sclerotic labour market”, another old favourite, French labour productivity is higher than Britain’s.

Hollande is vastly unpopular, but little more so than Sarkozy was latterly. But the predominantly right-wing media on both sides of the Channel are becoming hysterical in their criticism of him, while pandering to the agenda of the extreme right.

Rod Chapman

Sarlat, France

How many more drone strikes?

In 2006 a US drone killed 85 teenage boys in Bajaur close to the Pakistan/Afghan border. My students in Peshawar told me this at the time, and the strike has  been independently confirmed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. And yet this has still not been admitted by the USA. So how many more drone strikes have there been in these borderlands than the ones you list in your poignant article of 30 October?

Dr David L Gosling

(Former principal of Edwardes College, Peshawar)

Cambridge

North star

Rather than HS2 bringing London’s “prosperity” to Yorkshire (Jane Merrick, 30 October), we might debate what Yorkshire offers to London (apart from myself!). Yorkshire has a natural boom – dales, wolds, rivers, coast, hills – which feels completely different to the hectic economic well-being of the South-east. There is also still a mutuality which is beyond price.  Let’s appreciate the differences, and accept London might learn from Yorkshire. That’s not to classify either as bad or good.

Chris Payne

London NW1

Avoiding the issue

At last a letter about tax avoidance that hits the mark (John Seymour, 30 October). Tax avoidance is perfectly legal, whether it be by individuals, small companies or multinational concerns. If the politicians don’t like what is happening, then they should stop the posturing and change the laws. Put up or shut up.

David Edmondson

Bacup, Lancashire

Today’s eagles

I see that the magnificent Roman eagle unearthed in the City of London (report, 30 October) belonged to a prosperous and important early Londoner. I wonder what sculptures future archaeologists would find that represented the power of the present wealthy City elite? Perhaps a statue of a fat cat smoking a cigar?

Ivor Yeloff

Norwich

No error

Peter Whitehead (letter, 28 October) quotes a newspaper letters editor who does his best “to keep errors of fact off the letters page”. Please don’t say you will be adopting this policy. I would miss the Independent letters page.

Julian Gall

Godalming, Surrey

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