Letters: Truancy and schooling

When 'truancy' is the rational reaction to schooling
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The Independent Online

Truancy used to refer to children leaving home in the morning as if to go to school then defying their parents by not turning up (report, 26 March). Now it could mean a parent making a wholly reasonable decision to take their child to the Natural History Museum rather than exposing them to yet more tedious SATs revision, the entire benefit of which accrues to the school rather than the learner.

What is the incentive for a child of below-average ability to attend school, only to be constantly told that despite their best efforts they are not achieving "the expected level" in revision tests? Encouragement and support are all-important but "expectation" can be devastatingly counter-effective if applied to children failing to meet school and government targets despite trying their hardest.

A similar depressing outcome faces secondary pupils bribed on to sterile pseudo-vocational courses that produce quantities of GCSE equivalents for school league tables but which provide qualifications that lack both credibility in the workplace and intrinsic educational merit.

The strategy of fear and harassment that the Government and Ofsted applies to schools and teachers is inevitably transmitted to pupils who, unsurprisingly, are voting with their feet in ever-increasing numbers. The solution is not more punitive threats to parents but a return to inspiring and creative lessons. These can by given only by motivated teachers, allowed the freedom to communicate a love of learning, informed by educational research and the guidance of experienced colleagues, rather than threats from cowed "managers" forced to "deliver" the latest corporate-speak-wrapped government initiative.

Roger Titcombe

Ulverston, Cumbria

Enforcing the law on the railways

Following Mary Dejevsky's article (30 March), I would like to offer my deepest condolences to Sofyen Belamouadden's family in the aftermath of the tragic incident last week, the effects of which have been felt right across London.

However, labelling the rail network as "lawless" is wide of the mark, and I would urge us all to keep a sense of perspective at this difficult time.

Victoria station has a permanent police presence and it was this presence that saw officers on the scene arresting 20 people just minutes after the attack. This swift response led to 12 people being charged with Sofyen's murder.

British Transport Police has over 2,850 officers policing Britain's railway network and over the last four years there has been a 21 per cent drop in crime, including a 25 per cent reduction in violent crime on the London Underground and Docklands Light Railway.

The incident last Thursday was appalling, but it was the first incident of its kind on the Tube in eight years.

Alan Pacey

Assistant Chief Constable (Territorial Policing),

British Transport Police, London NW1

Spare us darkness in the morning

Your report (29 March) that Labour is considering replacing GMT in winter with British Summer Time makes grim reading for those living north of a line from the Mersey to the Humber.

There was an experiment along these lines in the 1970s. I well remember as a teacher in Edinburgh seeing young children struggling to school along darkened winter streets, dazzled by car headlights whose half-awake drivers were surely a worse hazard than they would have been in the late afternoon.

I recall trying to teach classes during the last hours of the night, for day didn't break until after 10am. It was a dismal, depressing experience.

Right across the board, in industry and commerce productivity suffered too. There was real anger in Scotland at the prospect that this arrangement might become permanent. Fortunately, a free vote of MPs finished it off.

If this or any other government promotes the idea it will be yet another gift to the SNP in their campaign for Scottish independence.

Arthur Sanderson


The debates about clock change always strike astro-nomers as absurd. Days start at midnight, when the sun is lowest, and 12 noon is when the sun is highest. You can't change that by re-naming 8am as "9" or (as now proposed) "10".

Only dawn and dusk shift. In Britain the sun rises around 4am in midsummer, around 8am in midwinter. People used to roll with this, getting up around dawn and starting work an hour (say) later. Far better than ordering everyone to twist their clocks away from natural time would be to let them change announced work-times. In summer, businesses could start at 7am. From the September equinox to the March one, they could switch to starting at 9am.

Nobody would sleep less, all the energy and safety savings would be made, there would be the same amount of daylight in the evenings (short in winter, long in summer), and we would be back to living the natural day – when the sun is in the middle of the sky in the middle of the day.

Guy Ottewell

(Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society)

Lyme Regis, Dorset

The current debate about whether to move the clocks forward another hour is taking place at the wrong time of year. The question needs to be asked in mid-winter and again in mid-summer, when the consequences will be all too apparent.

I am not sure which outcome I view with more horror – the extra hour of darkness on a winter's morning, or the extra hour of daylight late on a summer's evening. The experiment conducted from 1968 to 1971, when we remained on GMT+1, throughout the year, showed the unpopularity of the dark winter's mornings.

Howard Lyne

Honiton, Devon

I much prefer the status quo. Having sunrise at about 9am in winter here in the south of England would be awful. I seldom have any pity for the Scots, but if this daft idea is put into practice they will live in the land of winter gloom. This is a silly idea. It was tried before and was a failure.

J W Wright

Calne, Wiltshire

Election: clash of the phoneys

Surely those in charge of the Labour Party election campaign cannot possibly think of Tony Blair's involvement as an enhancement of their chances. Hardly one of my acquaintances can bear to look at a picture of the loathsome ex-leader without a great deal of teeth-grinding.

These same people, ex-loyal lifetime Labour supporters like myself, were delighted to have an electable Labour government in 1997, but now feel deeply guilty for having helped to inflict this person on the country. I have only just forgiven Brown for being Blair's "bag man" during the hostilities in Iraq. The greatest plus factor for him is that he possibly detests Blair as much as we do.

Surely the only thing which would drag Blair back from his money-making bonanzas and most important role as "peace ambassador to the Middle East" (I find it hard to write that without cringeing), would be a last chance to stick the knife into Brown and make sure that Labour, such as it is, will be in the wilderness forever.

Elaine Jones

Sandbach, Cheshire

Two items on 30 March – Steve Richards' article and Jeff Williams' letter – hit the nail on the head. Cameron is firmly in the true- blue line of Tories – he, like his predecessors, has only one real policy and that is to do and say whatever it takes to gain power and wield it in the interests of the narrow group he represents, not the suckers who will be conned to vote for him, never mind the population as a whole.

He has more shifts and changes of policy in a week than the despised Blair had in a year. Blair made some eventually catastrophic mistakes but he did get a lot right, and he had more political nous than Cameron will ever have.

As for comparing him with Gordon Brown, who, whatever his detractors may say is a man of intellect and principle (most of the time), do we really want to hand over our fates at this critical time to this bunch of unprincipled "amateurs" and complete phoneys – how many jeans and open-necked shirts do you think we will see when Cameron gets into power?

Tom Simpson


Hopes for peace in the Middle East

As a British citizen with roots in the Middle East, I share the honest prognosis in Adrian Hamilton's excellent piece "Israel's interests are not the same as ours on Palestine" (25 March).

I console myself by reflecting that demographic change in Palestine and Israel will ultimately force the latter to accommodate Palestinian aspirations for a two-state solution.

As for the endemic corruption in modern Arab states it may, one hopes, come to an end one day, by the coming to power of some ruthless reformer who will drag Arab society into the 21st century, just as the great Kemal Ataturk did for Turkey less than a century ago.

Dr Tal Younis

Bishopbriggs, Glasgow

Dr Jacob Amir, writing from Jerusalem (letter, 29 March), correctly quotes the first words of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, but omits the rest. The whole text reads: "His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

The civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine have indeed been sorely "prejudiced".

Elizabeth Young

London W2

The Balfour Declaration was issued by a British Government looking to rally support to its cause in the First World War.

We offered Italy the Tyrol and large parts of Dalmatia, and we offered Greece the Turkish Mediterranean coast. The declaration was a similar act to influence those of the Jewish religion. None of those "bribes" by the British turned out well. All, though understandable, should not have been made. To rely on the declaration as a trump to remove other people's rights is mistaken.

Michael Dommett

Alton, Hampshire

While it may well be that morally some Palestinians and their heirs have a prima facie right to return to land of which they were forcibly dispossessed in 1948 (letter, 30 March) it is no longer feasible for such a right to be exercised.

But the situation needs to be recognised in other ways – by acknowledgment that a wrong was done, and where possible, by compensation.

Ken Cohen

London NW6

Are you ready?

Electrical suppliers are advertising televisions as "3D-ready". I wonder at what age the new owners of these technological marvels are going to plonk their children in their playpens in front of these things. Obviously, the children will have to wear the spectacles. Perhaps all newborns should arrive 3D-ready.

Robert Buckingham

Milton Keynes

War on plant food

As a keen gardener, I am most annoyed that the Government intends to ban the plant food mephedrone because a handful of people are claimed to have suffered ill-health or death after misusing it as a drug of intoxication. Will I become a criminal if I stock up on it before the ban? Or will my azaleas have to suffer because of a nanny-state attitude toward the lack of self-control of a few selfish drug-taking individuals?

John Eoin Douglas


Out of the frying pan

Xavier Gallagher's method of cooking his egg (letter, 26 March) sounds like fun, but "sun-fried" is the wrong name for it. Because "pan-fried" takes its name from the culinary equipment rather than the heat source, I suggest he calls it "rock-fried".

Siân Heard

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

In a dither

The question of HRT – to take or not to take – is such a hard question for the ladies (Life, 30 March). Or as your writer puts it: "The average woman hit all of a dither by a hot flush doesn't know where to start." Ah, the ditzy little thing, so many decisions and so few brain cells. She needs to read the exemplary rationality of Jeremy Laurance on the same page, treating us – male and female alike – as if we have brains and might be interested in using them.

Sally Eva

London SE15


Your report on the royal finances (31 March) says that a piece of masonry fell from the roof of Buckingham Palace last year, "missing a police officer". Why single him out? It missed everyone else, too.

Matt Butler

Fence, Lancashire