What is reasonable? Taking children out of school for holidays.

The latest news on this has caused much debate, and we expect more at our Ward Focus meeting on the 31st.

Here are Professor John Howson’s thoughts on this. John is a Lib Dem County Councillor in North Oxford, as well as an expert on education.

Until we see the full judgement in the recent case we won’t know what the judges in the High Court were thinking when they seemed to deemed it ‘reasonable’ for a parent to be able to take a child on holiday for a week during school term-time.

It is worth recalling that the overarching responsibility of parents is to see that their children receive an education when they are of compulsory school-age (there is a grey area for young people between the ages of 16-18 that will need clarification at some point.)

For young people between 5-16 the law says:

Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age.

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—

(a)to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b)to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise

The issue turns on the definition of ‘regular attendance.’ If the parent, as most do, hands over the responsibility to the State, what is the nature of the contract between the parent and the State?  The State agrees to provide the child with 190 days of schooling per year. It is accepted that children may be off sick and there may be other reasons for a child not to be present, but these will require ‘leave’ to be absent.

In the 1990s two things happened, Ofsted started reporting regularly on attendance levels at schools and the State wanted to drive up standards of education that were thought to be falling. As a result, the law was tightened to ensure regular attendance, with two defences; ‘sickness or unavoidable cause’ or ’with leave’. Historically, schools could grant up to 10 days leave, but that right was removed over time.

The government explained the basis for this change in relation to family holidays in the background to the secondary legislation making the change.

 The 2006 Regulations refer to parents applying for family holiday in “special circumstances” and to schools having discretion to grant up to ten school days of holiday per year. Many parents and some schools have interpreted this law as an automatic entitlement to an annual two-week term time holiday. The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 amend the 2006 Regulations to clarify that leave of absence during term time shall not be granted unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.

They further explained that;

For pupils to benefit from education and achieve their full potential they must attend school regularly. School attendance data from 2010/11 showed that 90 per cent of pupils with an absence rate of less than 4 per cent achieved 5 or more A*- C grades at GCSE or equivalent. In primary schools, 4 out of 5 pupils with an absence rate of less than 4 per cent achieved level 4 or above in both English and mathematics.

As Oxfordshire County Council’s document on the subject for parents notes;

90% attendance means that your child is absent from lessons for the equivalent of one half day per week.

So how draconian should the State be? Personally, I think in the first year of schooling  when routines are being set and key topics may be being learnt for the first time every effort should be made to attend and taking time out may not be helpful either for the child or their classmates if it disrupts the teaching. As a rule of thumb after that I think where pupils are rarely or never off sick, the guidelines in the old 10-day rule probably provided a sensible rule of thumb for head teachers. After all, some parents cannot take holidays during school holiday period because of the nature of their jobs. However, if a child has missed a lot of time through sickness, taking time off turning term-time that year for a holiday isn’t a good idea and I would expect a head teacher to refuse ‘leave’.

Essentially, the legislation should encourage parents to make the most of the education on offer for their children without seriously affecting either their education or that of their classmates.

My parents only ever took me out of school for one week at the start of my third year in junior school and I never really understood the work on fractions that was introduced during that week. Had it been the last week of the summer term it might have been a different matter.

However, what is clear is that major changes to legislation really ought to be part of primary legislation and not created by secondary legislation and Ministerial fiat. Had that been the case here, Parliament could have discussed in committee what it meant by the phrase ‘attend school regularly’ and the acceptable reasons not to do so.

Perhaps, as a result of this parent’s action it will now have a chance to do so. They might also ask whether if the State isn’t able to fulfil its part of the contract it should make up the missing days? Lord Denning did discuss this in Meade v Haringey in 1979 at the end of the Winter of Discontent, but it never came to trial and a decision.

County Council chooses Osler Road for new bus routes

Last week, a Headington resident trawled the internet and found timetables for bus routes about to be operated by Stagecoach to and from the hospitals. The routes include Osler Road which is unsuitable for bus traffic.  There was apparently no consultation with Osler Road or The Croft  residents, nor was any consultation held with councillors who knew the area well.

The county hurriedly sent out a press release yesterday which is now on their website (click here). This press release was tracked down by city councillors who had not been informed by the County Council.

An email was sent to us by one of the County officers yesterday evening  in response to Friday’s phone call and it states:

 I can confirm that alternatives were looked at (access via Headley Way) but the longer journey time would require more buses to maintain the frequency we are looking for and we were of the opinion that a longer than necessary route would not achieve the modal shift from using the JR car parks to that of using the extended Thornhill Park & Ride site.

Here are just some of the questions we have sent to the officers by email:

1. What consultation took place with county and city councillors and indeed residents before the choice of route was agreed?

2. Was the outcome of the public meeting Ruth organised with Osler Road residents, bus companies, county councillors and officers from City and County) taken into account when the route was decided? After that meeting, Oxford Bus Co. to their credit re-routed its service away from Osler Rd and via Headley Way

3. Were the number of near misses and incidents in Osler Road taken into account when the route was decided? (rails had to be put up on the pavement outside the Nursery because of the dangers from vehicles mounting the pavement to pass each other)

4. Were those making the decision aware that Osler Road is for the most part single lane past parked cars (some residents have no off road parking) and that the exit from the Manor Hospital also feeds into it?

5. Were those making the decision aware that buses frequently run empty along [the] stretch of road between [Headington Centre and the JR entrance in Osler Road]?

6. Were those making the decision fully aware of the damage that has been caused to Osler Road by buses and other heavy vehicles for which the road was not designed? Highways no longer replace kerbs trashed by buses and other vehicles clipping the London Road/Osler Road junction as it can’t keep up with the damage – [the] team is simply re-tarmacking it. I’m constantly reporting potholes and the road surface is crumbling, it is currently being reassessed for resurfacing. I was told by one transport planner that she felt the whole road needed rebuilding because of the constant damage.

7. Funding: will the County and Stagecoach jointly pay for the road to be re-surfaced?

In a further phone call this morning, we were informed that the contract had been competitively tendered. We were also told that repairs and maintenance of Osler Road cannot be borne by a commercial bus operator. This will clearly be a further and continuing bill for County Council taxpayers in coming years – if taxpayers’ money is diverted towards this, then other important and high priority re-surfacing projects won’t get done.

We shall update this site as more information is supplied by the County Council.  County Councillor Roz Smith is pressing the Cabinet Member Cllr Nimmo-Smith for answers. (and that’s an understatement)

It appears that the County Council now puts resident consultation very low on its priority list. We agree that bus services to hospitals are very important, and we want to keep as many vehicles out of Headington as possible because there is so much congestion. But all it needed was some consultation and a little bit of common sense to recognise that Osler Road is unsuitable for heavy traffic, and Headley Way is a viable and safer alternative.

The future of retail in district shopping centres

Ruth writes..

I attended a really interesting open meeting last night on the future of retail in Summertown, the event was organised by the Summertown St Margaret’s Neighbourhood Forum and was well attended. The two speakers were from the Said Business School and a town centres specialist from Wantage.

Lots of food for thought in the presentations. Interesting points included:

  • People are saving 8% in times of austerity vs 1% in mid 2000s, so less likely to make larger purchases
  • Out of town grocery firms are moving into town centres
  • Rise in  multichannel retailing, e.g. Halford’s – close some stores, put more business online
  • Increase in home delivery, click and collect online orders is GOOD for retail centres, brings people in
  • There is a need for an online sales tax – playing field not level at present
  • Big chains are looking to have fewer outlets
  • White goods, record shops, bookshops, multiple women’s clothes retailers, photographic goods shops are all seeing declining sales
  • There are increasing sales figures from hairdressers, estate agents, coffee shops, confectioners, charity shops and hearing aid suppliers (sound familiar?)
  • If there is only one specialist outlet in a town e.g. a women’s clothing shop, then it won’t attract customers – people like to know there are goods at  two or three different shops before they are tempted to make the journey to a retail centre so that they can browse and compare.

Why do landlords leave shops empty?

  • some are waiting for a particular tenant
  • some are waiting for next door shop to expand into their property
  • some make enough money from flats above,  fitting the place out and paying legal fees is cost prohibitive

I was interested in two more points.

Charity shops – are much more likely to be able to afford to move into premises with high rents as they pay heavily subsidised rates, pay very little for goods to sell, and are largely staffed by unpaid volunteers. Seven retail businesses in Wantage wanted to move into a high rent location but it went to a charity because they could afford it

There is a lot of interest in pop up shops – a significant proportion of those expressing interest already run small start-up online businesses and want display space in a retail unit

 

Lots of issues here to reflect on in relation to the shopping centre in Headington! I’m sure these will be picked up by the Headington Neighbourhood Forum!

 

 

Website updates

As you may have noticed, David and I have not updated the web page quite as often as usual lately as we have been prioritising work in the ward to work on the web!

This last week, we have attended:

  • the Friends of Old Headington’s Winter Meeting which featured a presentation by Debbie Dance
  • a meeting with the City’s Chief Planning Officer re Barton West issues
  • Archway Foundation event for information on befriending services for the lonely in Headington
  • Oxford Lib Dem Group meeting debating rough sleepers and the homeless
  • New Headington Residents’ Association exec meeting re local issues including roads, planning, schools etc.

Coming up in our diaries over the next week are:

  • School governor training
  • Delivery of Headington Ward Focus leaflets to update residents with current information on local events
  • Meeting with Head of Customer Service, OCC,  re Headington and wider City issues
  • Ward Focus Meeting at the NOC on Tues 20 November from 6.00-8.00 pm
  • Old High Street Neighbourhood Watch meeting

We are hoping to get out and about this weekend in the ward. Blink and you’ll miss us, we’re moving so fast!!!

“All the news that’s fit to print”?

Today has seen mass media exposure of the mysterious yellow lines saga first reported on the Headington and Marston Forum, I have found this a strange experience

My personal view is that although the double yellow lines across the width of Latimer, Stapleton and Bickerton Roads are decidedly odd, they cause bemusement for local people, rather than overwhelming  concern. My only issue with them would be if drivers become so distracted by the yellow lines that they don’t pay attention to what else is going on around them, or start trying to turn round thinking they’re in a cul de sac.

It’s bizarre how comments attributed to me have got swapped around too.  Instead of quoting a resident’s view that ‘an accident is waiting to happen at the top of Latimer Road as cars cut the corner’, I find that the attribution has been made somewhat differently, but I’ll put that down to experience.

The different slants of the interviewers have been curious too. The radio interviewer wanted a light, lively interview, the Oxford Mail covered the story as a ‘what will the planners do next?’ , and we have yet to see what the TV clip will be like.

And the mad thing about it all  is that it distracts attention away from the really important issues. Issues like the need for a transport strategy for the whole of Headington. Issues like the continuing expansion of the universities and the hospitals, and the impact this has on the local infrastructure.

Latimer Grange Len and I stood at the corner today and watched cars and bicycles! cutting the corner from London Road into Latimer Road. The percentage cutting the corner while we watched (including Royal Mail vans, interestingly) was around 50%. It’s clear the cyclists don’t know quite what to do when their cycle lane runs out, assume they pedal across the “yellow brick road” and set off diagonally across the road from the London Road pavement to the left hand side of Latimer Road. There are a lot of elderly people living close by, and there is a clear concern about their safety on that corner, as they may be too frail to move quickly enough to evade cyclists and other vehicles.

We saw some dreadful driving, and that was at an off-peak time.

What can we do about it? That’s the real story here. Lit bollards in the centre of Latimer Road to make motorists drive properly?

Would that story make the media sit up and pay attention?

I wonder?

Lib Dem achievements in Government

  • Income Tax. Nearly 900,000 of the lowest earners were lifted out of paying tax altogether and a further 23m people received a £200 tax cut. This will happen again next April, and again the April after that, until no one pays any tax on the first £10,000 they earn.
  • Pupil Premium. This year also saw the Pupil Premium take effect, giving schools extra money for the most disadvantaged children. The Pupil Premium will double to £1.25bn next year and rise every year until by 2015 when it will be worth £2.5bn.
  • Apprenticeships. More than 440,000 new apprenticeships started in 2010/11, a 50% increase on the previous year.
  • Pensions. Thanks to the Lib Dem triple lock, the Basic State Pension was raised by £4.50 and will rise again by £5.30 next year.
  • Banks. The £2.5bn bank levy was introduced and the Coalition has accepted in full proposals championed by the Lib Dems to separate high street and casino banking.
  • Youth Contract. Nick Clegg announced a £1bn scheme to help get young people into work or training, including 410,000 new work places for 18-24 year-olds over three years.
  • Regional Growth Fund. £1.4bn has been invested in businesses across the country, to create or safeguard more than 300,000 jobs, largely in manufacturing in areas that have been heavily dependent on public sector jobs.
  • Child detention. Liberal Democrats ended the disgraceful practice of locking up children for extended periods for immigration purposes this year.
  • Green Deal. Chris Huhne announced the most ambitious home insulation programme the UK has ever seen. The Green Deal will help people save money on energy bills, reduce carbon emissions and create thousands of green jobs.
  • Early years. Liberal Democrats extended free early years education to the 140,000 poorest two-year-olds and announced the doubling of provision for nursery places.

These are the top ten achievements this year. For a more complete list showing manifesto commitments achieved please click Lib Dem Achievements in Govt JAN 2012

Gurkha pension parity petition

You may wish to support an e-petition supporting pension parity for Gurkhas

The petition reads:

Gurkha veterans who retired before 1 July 1997 must be paid pensions in parity to that of the British and the Commonwealth soldiers. Gurkhas must be financially compensated for the loss of pay allowances and the third grade food and accommodation provided during their service before 1 July 1997. This is also to compensate for the mental and physical trauma they went through for not having been allowed to live with their families for several years due to the third class policy that was deliberately made for the Brigade of Gurkhas. Gurkhas who have served for over four years must be eligible for preserved pensions at the age of sixty years just like their British/Commonwealth counterparts. The Gurkha widows must be treated equally like the British/Commonwealth widows in terms of pensions and other facilities.

Click here if you wish to support the petition

Confusion reigns over e-agendas

The administration has rushed through its new centralised meeting arrangements so hurriedly that officers seem to be having difficulty keeping up with it all

The agenda and papers for Monday’s scrutiny meeting were not put up on the website till 11.15 that morning, yet any member of the public wishing to speak or ask questions was expected to alert officers last week. One of the agenda items was on the new democratic arrangements, namely area forums!

Let’s hope we soon see an increased commitment from the ruling party to involve the public at future meetings!

Important meeting about car park charge increase

Ruth is attending a Scrutiny meeting on Monday 10 January to present a paper to councillors on car park tariffs at Headington car parks

Those of you who braved the snow and came to the last NE Area Committee meeting will know that many residents’ groups and businesses have huge concerns about the proposed increases which even the officer calls “significant”

The paper outlines some alternative ways to raise car parks income so that rises don’t have to be so severe. Here are just some of our concerns:

  • Families and friends of Old High Street residents unable to find the very few visitor spaces available in Old Headington  will have to pay £12.50 for a stay of four hours in Headington Car Park on Sundays
  • Resistance to the increase in charges (for 2-3 hours, the charge is set to double from £1.50 to £3.00)  will mean less trade for our businesses as shoppers will park for as short a time as possible because of the expense

We have worked with members and officers of local residents groups and businesses to come up with an alternative plan which will generate as much income but encourage shoppers to stay for up to two hours. We shall see how much support the Labour councillors will give to these ideas and will let you know the result. You can find the relevant papers here.

In the recent past, these tariff charges have been decided by local councillors at Area Committees but a decision has been made by the City Executive Board that they will be made centrally now and in the future. We’ll know tomorrow whether that change is for better or worse!