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Wednesday 22 February 2012
Letters: Holiday times are up to parents
The Education Secretary's intention to remove from head teachers the power to sanction term-time holidays ignores the needs of one section of society. Parents wholly involved in the tourist industry, running restaurants, B&Bs or hotels, cannot take their holidays in holiday time.
As a comprehensive school head teacher in Cornwall for nearly 20 years, I was frequently asked to sanction children being taken out of school for a family holiday in winter for this very reason. We provided work for the children to take with them if required, but many parents sacrificed their own holiday break when children were in exam years.
I never found that missing a week's school made a significant difference to the pupils' attainment and many such went on to university places.
To remove this power from head teachers is another example of bureaucrats in London and politicians with scant grasp of the realities of many people's working lives removing responsibility and decision making from parents and schools. Parents, not the state, are responsible for bringing up their children and these decisions are best left to them.
Anthony D Wood
It is not going on holiday in term-time that creates an underclass. It is low pay, long-term unemployment, impossibly expensive housing, and the lack of any prospects of their own homes, or even cars, that make children think education is a waste of time. Gove is a bright chap. He should be able to work this out. I remember him at Oxford – he had no shortage of aspiration, and I don't think it was to do with family holidays.
The Rev Richard Haggis
With regard to Michael Gove's proposal to tighten up the rules by which parents may take children out of school during term time, you quote Dr Lynn Minnaert as asking: "Will this really support children and their education, or merely achieve better-sounding statistics?"
I struggle to think of any educational legislation, passed during the last 20 years, at which this criticism could not be directed. It's the nature of the game.
I used to take my children out of school occasionally for an interesting holiday. I'm so sorry if that has caused riots.
Scenes of misery at the border
Hamburg to Heathrow last Saturday evening: 1 hour 40 minutes. Heathrow arrival gate to passport check: 1 hour 40 minutes. Most of this time I spent standing with a thousand or more other people in the long passage between the arrival gate and the immigration area proper, queuing up to be allowed to join another queue to have our passports examined by one of the four immigration officers on duty.
Unable to decode any of the inaudible announcements, I asked an airport worker what the problem was. "It's all the people," he told me. "A lot of planes landed at once."
Well, you do have to see things from the point of view of the Terminal 5 airport and immigration staff. There they are, getting on peacefully with their work on a Saturday evening, when suddenly a whole lot of planes land and passengers get off, taking them completely by surprise. As in many other service industries, everything would be fine if it wasn't for the customers.
With the Home Secretary announcing the separation of the Border Force from the Border Agency, we fear that there will be another expensive branding exercise.
Neither part of the agency should retain the title UKBA, as the decision-makers will no longer have responsibility for the border, and UKBA doesn't sound suitably official for the border police.
As a lowly immigration law firm, we thought hard, and have some suggestions, which could save a million-pound rebranding bill. We suggest the people at the border be given the title HM Immigration Service, to recognise their policing role (similar to HM Prison Service and the like).
For the caseworkers, who make decisions on immigration and nationality matters we would like to suggest that they are referred to as the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, which would explain them being responsible for these areas of decision making (Directorate sounds better than Agency).
London Visa, Richmond, Surrey
Of course the UKBA is not "fit for purpose". But the purpose it is not fit for is ensuring protection for those in need, in line with our international humanitarian obligations. Instead, the UKBA is guilty of practical barriers to claiming asylum, oppressive and ignorant interviewing, inaccurate and unfeeling decisions, unlawful detention – in short, a culture of disbelief. This is what criticism should be aimed at.
Salford, Greater Manchester
Heavy lorries in towns
Working in the transport industry, I read Terence Hollingworth's letter (14 February) with some frustration. Does he really believe hauliers send their vehicles through towns and cities for the sake of it? HGVs are expensive to operate, and driving through built-up areas increases journey times and fuel consumption: not good if you are trying to run a business.
I do agree with Mr Hollingworth's basic premise that towns and cities are for people, but people, rather inconveniently, consume things, not least food, clothes and medicine. They also change, build and repair buildings and other infrastructure. Stuff needs to be delivered to where the people are.
This is further aggravated by ever-increasing expectations by the public on how quickly items can be delivered, and increased seven-day and 24-hour opening of shops and other businesses, a key pressure behind HGV traffic at night, weekends and public holidays.
A ban on HGVs would result in three things: a disproportionate increase in small vans due to their poor payload capacity; some items, particularly bulky items or building materials could not be delivered; and a significant cost increase for deliveries, which would invariably be passed on to the consumer through higher prices.
Personally, I'd love to see lots of small individual shops, with locally sourced and manufactured products, but that world, if it ever existed, isn't one that I can foresee coming back.
Russia doomed to fail in Georgia
The Independent has reported (14 February) on the abject failure of Russia's efforts to buy international recognition for the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In the war of 2008, Russia tightened its grip on both, with a premeditated invasion which led to further ethnic cleansing of the majority of the two regions' populations. Instead of independence, both territories have in effect been incorporated into the Northern Caucasus, the most deprived part of Russia, where unemployment and corruption are rampant and basic human rights ignored.
Yet for the population who remain in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including those who supported separatism, Georgia is reaching out, providing access to essential public services such as health care and education. Perhaps most importantly, Georgia offers these two regions true, not imaginary, autonomy, within a Georgian nation that is fast becoming a modern European democracy.
Your article suggested that the decisive factor in determining how countries define their position on Georgia's occupied territories is money. The reality is that the international community has made its decision based on respect for both international law and human rights.
Russia's approach is doomed to fail – they should understand that the Cold War is over.
Alternatives to Microsoft
John Henderson (letter, 10 February) asks advocates of free software to be aware of the history of Microsoft; we are, but do not draw his conclusions. In the early Eighties, when the IBM PC first appeared with MS-Dos, I was quietly appreciating the Unix system that my employer had wisely acquired, and wondering why so many people were rushing to buy something so obviously inferior.
The dominance of IBM was broken by a rapid fall in the price of computer hardware power. The dominance of Microsoft will be broken not by programmers, but by ordinary users when they realise that the price they are paying is artificially inflated, and that they are mistaken in believing there is no reasonable alternative.
Selfless work of the church
I was pleased to read Mary Ann Sieghart's piece about the Church of England (13 February). I am no regular churchgoer, but although I have always admired Professor Dawkins' work as a brilliant evolutionary biologist, I have also been embarrassed at his relentless and strident attacks on religion and in particular Christianity.
I came across our local vicar staggering out of a launderette the other day, clutching some huge bags of bedclothes; he explained that on the coldest nights he offers the use of his vicarage to the local homeless (a group largely ignored by successive local councils, who are more interested in outsourcing services and lowering council taxes). He goes about this work unsung, uncomplaining and without a trace of self-righteousness.
Yes, there are areas where the Church has allowed itself to fall well short of its own self-proclaimed principles. At the same time, its unglamorous but hugely selfless contribution to the local community deserves recognition.
Perhaps Professor Dawkins might care to take a little time out from the international TV circuit and try offering his home to people who really need some help. Maybe he would then get a bit of a feel for what Christianity in action actually feels like.
While I am happy to accept Mary Ann Sieghart's portrayal of the Church of England as relatively benign, she is being disingenuous in linking atheism to the horrors perpetrated by such people as Stalin and Mao.
Their purges were brought about by ideology based on their warped expression of politics. Yes, they were atheists, but their atheism did not "tell" them to kill millions of people. There is no atheist equivalent of the religious zealot whose God has "told" him or her to commit terrible acts.
Greeks and gifts
I am tired of BBC and other "experts" stating the obvious and missing or hiding the real point. The giving of hundreds of billions to Greece is not about supporting that country – it is about enabling Greece to continue paying interest to French and German banks. Domination of Greece by creditors is nothing more than imposing rules favourable to you on what has become a mere satrap of the large European powers. This is capitalism at its worst.
King's Lynn, Norfolk
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