Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Bernard Trafford Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Bernard Trafford Columnist

Article excerpt


SOMETIMES it's refreshing to be told off. Like in yesterday's Journal where readers were lambasted by my fellow columnist Keith Hann, rightly outraged that 66% of people couldn't be bothered to vote last week. Lots of us are disillusioned with politics and politicians: I am, for one. But that's no excuse for not voting.

There's an imperative here.

When people apparently think too little of our democratic freedoms (so very obviously absent from other parts of the world) to be bothered, frankly, to get off their backsides and maintain their stake in our democracy, I find myself becoming authoritarian. Perhaps the Australians have it right: maybe we should require everyone to vote by law, with penalties if they don't.

But then I sound like the kind of nutters who I warn could end up running our country if we don't exercise our democratic duty.

Just as I was coming to terms with the bizarre fact that the multi-cultural, ethnically diverse West Midlands, my former home, has voted UKIP into government, I received a blow from my other bete noire, Education Secretary Michael Gove.

No, it's not about him telling us what English literature syllabuses should contain (surely material for another column!). My current concern is with his plan to take to court - that is, effectively to criminalise - parents who take their children on holiday in term time.

Previously, schools were permitted to grant up to 10 days' leave a year for family holidays where there were "special circumstances". Now circumstances have to be "exceptional". Headteachers, un-der pressure from government to improve attendance figures (and simultaneously hit myriad other benchmarks), are increasingly reluctant to give such permissions.

Their reluctance is laudable. But I regard legal penalties as draconian.

If parents don't gain the school's permission they face a maximum fine of PS60 per child per parent, a figure doubled if they don't pay within a week: those who refuse to pay face court action, a fine of up to PS2,500 and possible jail term of up to three months.

Now, I know poor attendance in schools still represents a serious brake on improvement in standards for some schools in challenging settings. …

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