Tag Archives: BBC


Crunching Data: The School Holiday Fines

A couple of weeks ago my piece of work on school holiday and truancy penalties was broadcast across telly, the wireless and t’internet.

The online story got a humbling 1.2million views and it went out across various national and network stations as well as being followed up by various national newspapers.

I thought I’d share a couple of observations about doing these large scale data pieces. The first involves getting the data in the first place. Although the Government collates and publishes data on parental sanctions for non-attendance, it does not (until this year) break it down into how many penalties are for truancy and how many are for unauthorised term-time holidays.

Probably for that very reason, many local authorities were unable to supply that break down when asked under the Freedom of Information Act (from which my data was built). I am very grateful to those councils which did break it down, as it allowed us a decent glimpse into what absences parents were being fined for. What it revealed was that although the lion’s share of penalties were issued for term time holidays (c61,000 compared with c15,000 for truancy), it also emerged that the number of truancy fines had risen sharply in three years (from about 9,000 to about 15,000).

In terms of the data, we focused on the comparative fining rates (rates per 1,000 pupils) because a simple number of fines by county figure was unlikely to offer much illumination (bigger county populations tend to equal bigger numbers of fines).

For the news website, an interactive map using the data was produced using DB Carto

For the news website, an interactive map using the data was produced using DB Carto

Anybody wanting the raw data to have a play is welcome to it. Visit the BBC England Data Unit page here.

One of the key issues I tend to find with data-led stories is their tendency towards dryness (I’m as guilty as anybody of this in the past).

Enter stage left, David Brain, the father from Bristol who spoke to me about why he was fined last year and how he would happily take another financial hit in the future, if it meant he could take his children away on a good holiday.

I also wondered whether the decision by the Isle of Wight Council, which issues penalties at a higher rate than any other authority, to change its holiday dates might in the future be followed by other councils – particularly those in areas heavily dependent on the tourism economy.


The asylum seekers, migrants and refugees in search of legitimacy

This is the scene. A BBC crew arrives at a Red Cross refugee drop-in centre with a large camera and a long furry microphone. Is anybody willing to go on camera to speak about their experience of being a refugee, asylum seeker or migrant? The room quickly empties. Not one is willing to bare their face to the camera.

This makes for an interesting proposition for a photographer.

So I put my cameras down in a corner and joined a table to talk, listen and learn.

For an hour or so, as it turned out.

Speaking out, I learned, rarely works out well for them. They fear repercussions either from officialdom or from those who may wish them harm. Not just fear actually, because sometimes talking out has turned out bad for people they know.

It makes me think about those examples of ‘good’ journalism where people have been coaxed into spilling all to the camera or mic, being named and so on. But when the journalist moves on to the next job, the contributor can be left to face the music.

“What about if we are not shown?” a man, sat next to me, asks.

“In pictures?” I ask.

“Yes, for sure.”

“That could work. Portraits without the faces.”

The idea creates a bit of a buzz around the table and everybody is willing to take part.

It’s more than a compromise, says a young woman opposite, who dreams of university. It is a statement of being. They exist, they say, in an incomplete and faceless way on Home Office documents. Then I did portraits of the Red Cross workers who help provide clothing, food tokens, advice or, in one case while I was there, a caring shoulder to cry on.

Here are the results of that day.






Red Cross worker

Red Cross worker

Red Cross worker


Long Exposures, Places

Industrial mono, Salford

My work with the BBC last week took me to Salford, not a million miles from my home town, Halifax.

Media City, home to the BBC, ITV and others involved in the media production industry, has risen from the decayed remains of the old docks.

There’s something of the Nairobi Jockey Club about Media City.

The jockey club is a little bit of colonial white turf, with its white picket fence, beyond which is black Kenya. The picket fence – captured by Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin – is more than a barrier between inside and out, its a barrier between two separate worlds, two different times.

Broadway is Salford’s white picket fence, dividing the granite, glass and concrete of media land and the red-brick realism of earthy old Salford.

I thought the old folk of Salford would hold Media City in disdain. But at least one – a guy called Derek who likes rugby league – says that’s not quite the case.

Salford didn’t like the snootiness some in the BBC showed at the move up north. But it does seem that for a good number of people, Media City – and the hotel industry that has sprung up around it – has brought decent wages and job opportunities which, in turn, has led to an increase in home ownership and a sense of security and stature to old Salford.

“Do you and your mates drink at Media City then?” I asked Derek.

He smiles. “F**k no, lad.”

Some way to go then, until Salford loses its white picket fence.

Here’s my take on Media City:

Lowry Museum, Salford Lowry Museum, Salford Media City Salford Quays Bridge Bridge