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The Independent Online
Gagging students is a step too far

Having been at a grant-maintained school where image was everything, I know quite a bit about Sarah Briggs' problem. Her case has highlighted the lengths to which many schools will go to protect their image. For Sarah's school, they have gone too far. Local parents are less likely to send their children to The Queen Elizabeth School now, than if Sarah had not been expelled.

However, other schools, including my own (a Grant-Maintained comprehensive in Birmingham) see their image as one of the most important things to uphold. Because they are no longer part of the LEA, GM schools have to advertise heavily to persuade parents their school is right for the child. To have one of their pupils criticising the school in the local paper would certainly not help. A lot of time and money is spent on improving the school's image through the press. Every presentation evening, sports meeting or arts production is shoved under the noses of the press, who in turn shove it under the noses of parents. At my school, they were so keen on this happening more often, that they hired a Business Manager to raise sponsorship for the school and attempt to get as much good publicity as possible.

If I had written this article two months ago, while I was still at school (I've just finished my GCSEs), and printed the school's name, I'm fairly sure I would have received a similar fate to that of Sarah. It could be said, that the school is worried that it might not have enough pupils coming in next year if there was any unfavourable press coverage. But by simply gagging the students, schools would be inhibiting their learning. While I believe that it would be wrong for a school to prevent a pupil from expressing their opinion, I understand why they would want to.

There are two ways to solve this problem. One is to stop any students criticising the school by threatening them with expulsion. This way, pupils start adult life believing that to express an opinion is wrong, and that they may lose their job if they do. The second, more favourable, way is to bring all Grant-Maintained schools back into the LEA. By doing this, schools become less reliant on favourable press coverage, and a lot less likely to fall so far if tripped up by pupils. Because from where I'm sitting, it looks as if The Queen Elizabeth's School has taken quite a nasty fall and, to make matters worse, run off with the ball, refusing to let Sarah play.

Stevi Bloomfield, 16

The right relationships

John Izbicki shouldn't believe all that is being peddled about the Association of University and College Lecturers-Association of University Teachers merger and its effect on the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Word of Mouth, Education+, 24 July). Natfhe's branch at Brunel University is alive and well and has just negotiated a very successful deal with the university on harmonisation of pay and conditions.

As far as "sensible" mergers are concerned, Natfhe has made it clear to the AUT that we want to see a single higher education organisation and we are talking to them about how to achieve this as fast as possible. But what we also want is to sustain the right relationships with further education. Now that the Dearing report has reinforced the imperative for strong relationships between higher and further education institutions it would be bizarre indeed for union organisation to sever these links.

Liz Allen, Head of Higher Education, Natfhe

All firsts are not equal

Would Jack Archer ("A first among equals? Hardly" , Education+, 31 July) have been as keen on the Grade Point Average system if his daughter had got a couple more marks and obtained a very low first?

Catherine Stringer (just got a 2.2 from Oxford, and I'm pleased with it), London