DID you see the story about the latest training aid for paramedics in and around Swindon?

It’s a 100 percent accurate mock-up of the inside of an ambulance, writes BARRIE HUDSON, complete with a £60,000 full-sized animatronic patient which blinks, breathes, has pupils which react to light and can be treated.

Anything that helps paramedics is a great thing. They are among a select few workers whose job consists of confronting the Reaper on our behalf and trying to ward him off like Van Helsing jabbing at Count Dracula with a stake and a cross.

I only hope technological advances make the robot patient even more realistic.

There could be different programmes for different types of patients, such as a stoic senior citizen with a leg hanging off or some even worse injury. “No need for all this fuss,” it would say, “just give me a bandage and a paracetamol.”

There could be a programme for a self-righteous patient who keeps saying: “I pay your wages.”

Or a special Friday and Saturday night one involving projectile vomiting and alternating between taking swings at the paramedics and saying: “You’re me best mate.”

Or a patient in a most unusual predicament whose story begins: “I fell from a ladder and landed on a bag of vegetables I’d forgotten to put away after getting home from the supermarket…”

It’s time to review truancy guidelines

WE’RE all familiar with the ongoing sorry saga of decent parents being dragged into legal proceedings for taking their children on holiday in term time.

The latest development came a few days ago, when proceedings against a Swindon couple were dropped ahead of a court hearing.

Aside from the holiday in question, their children had a 94 percent attendance record last year and 100 percent the year before.

In light of this, the official line from the council made for interesting reading.

“It is important to reiterate,” it said, “that the council issues penalty notices for unauthorised absences on behalf of schools and only does so after giving careful consideration to the facts of each individual case.”

If that is so, perhaps somebody could explain why so much of the “careful consideration” in these instances doesn’t seem to involve officials asking themselves some basic questions.

Whether the absence is confined to a few days’ holiday, for example.

Or whether, aside from the few days’ unauthorised absence, the kid or kids are never or hardly ever absent from the register.

The council’s statement continues: “The Department for Education is very clear in its guidance to schools and local authorities in that it expects them to promote good attendance and reduce absence.”

Unfortunately, this guidance is clearly open to misinterpretation.

Perhaps the department should be more specific, so there is no scope for ambiguity.

Perhaps it should issue some fresh guidance.

I suggest something along the lines of: “You know those pupils, the ones who are never or hardly ever at school?

“The ones who are absent so often that the teachers have little idea what they look like?

The ones who, on the odd occasions when they do turn up, are tired, distracted and disruptive?

“The ones who have so little schooling that any shred of potential they lay claim to is being extinguished as thoroughly as a the frail flame of a damp match in a hurricane?

“The ones whose adulthood will likely consist of unemployability, burdening of the state, physical and spiritual poverty, despair, soul-crushing boredom, alienation and quite possibly crime, substance abuse and early death?

“Well, the truancy laws are there to save those children, to save them from themselves and the awful home circumstances which are beyond their control. The laws are there to ensure those children are reached and helped.

“The laws are not there to extract cash from Joe and Josephine Decent Parent while claiming to be acting in the best interests of their children. If Joe and Josephine Decent Parent’s children have school attendance records of 90 percent or better, it’s a fair bet that that Joe and Josephine Decent Parent take a strong interest in their education. It’s a fair bet that they turn up religiously at parents’ evenings, insist their children get enough sleep, set aside time for homework and have plenty of extra books and other study aids.

“It’s also a fair bet that if they take their children on holiday for a few days, the children’s education won’t suffer in any way, shape or form. They’ll probably just borrow the notes when they get back, hit the textbooks for a few extra hours and carry on as normal.

“Just like every other child of a Joe or Josephine Decent Parent since the advent of state education, in fact. “Joe and Josephine Decent Parent are not the enemy – but if you make enemies of enough Joe and Josephine Decent Parents by hauling them into court, you may end up making every Joe and Josephine Decent Parent think truancy laws are a big scam. Some might even demand that the laws be torn up. And that would be a tragedy for the real truants, who would be left with even less hope of rescue than they have now.”

Coffee could be latest weapon against crime

PLANS are afoot to increase the police precept on our council tax by 1.9 percent in order to raise an extra £792,000.

Ahead of a public consultation, Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson rightly pointed out that the proposed extra £3.17 a year per household was barely the cost of a coffee.

The thing about buying a coffee, though, is that after you’ve bought it you can see it, feel the weight of it, taste it, warm your hands with it. If you happen to be walking down the street with your hot coffee and are menaced by a criminal, you can fling it in their face or threaten to do so.

Which is a roundabout way of saying nobody will object to an increased precept if the extra cash is used to provide more front line officers. Least of all the current front line officers, who are run ragged.