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Facing the axe at Aberystwyth In common with many departments in universities nationwide, the biology department at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth is facing proposals to make redundant half its teaching staff in an attempt to balance the cut in its funds. Not only did most Welsh universities as a whole lose out in the recent nationwide fund allocation, but the department itself lost out as a result of a poor rating for its research interests.

The resultant potential shedding of staff is not only detrimental to the quality of the degrees offered to students, it also means that the remaining staff have to spend more time teaching to compensate, and research and funding deteriorates further.

This is a vicious circle in which everyone loses out, students, lecturers, and researchers alike. Something has to be done to improve the system of fund allocation or many departments in some of the longest-established universities face closure, at a serious loss of research potential and graduate degree quality.

Elizabeth Wilberforce

Victoria Hawker University of Wales, Aberystwyth

Burghes plan: perpetuating inequality?

I read David Burghes' article ("Streaming into the future", Education+, 8 May) with interest. We share the same objectives, namely, appropriate courses for students, levelling up, parity of esteem for vocational and academic courses.

However, it is difficult to see how the approach advocated by Professor Burghes would deliver these objectives. The view that schools should stream young people into academic, technical and vocational routes from the age of 14 and instruct them solely down those lines seems certain to deliver just the opposite.

The vocational/academic divide must be broken down, not strengthened. At Edexcel, we believe that students should be able, if they desire, to undertake a breadth of studies, encompassing vocational, academic, key skills and personal and social development, not pigeon-holed from an early age. It is this approach that produces rounded individuals better able to operate and compete in the world of work and also delivers a high-quality education system for all.

Sir Michael Lickiss

Chairman of Edexcel Foundation, London

I was amazed to read Professor Burghes' proposal that strict catchment areas is the solution to our dismal education system. Few parents would be prepared to sacrifice their children to the hope that their participation in a failing school might provide higher standards for the next generation. Families will desperately seek an alternative, probably in the private sector, and our endemic divisions of inequality will be perpetuated.

The Third Sector Schools Alliance (3SSA) believes that exciting alternatives already exist to provide building blocks for a new approach. Alliance schools are small and community-integrated. Primarily they are founded, financed and maintained by parents. A major barrier to a burgeoning third sector of community schools is the lack of state funding. Many of our schools are "reluctantly private" and would welcome being able to opt in.

Breaking down large, failing schools into small, autonomous schools of varying character and purpose would be visionary enough to capture the imagination of weary parents.

Ruth Chenoweth

Co-ordinator, Third Sector Schools Alliance, Windsor, Berkshire

School nurses know all about asthma The article by John Lockley ("Empowering asthmatics", Education+, 8 May) is an excellent basis for the discussion of the management of asthma in school. However, the very brief reference to "practice nurses trained in asthma care, who can take seminars on Baker Days" shows a disquieting lack of knowledge of the current role of the school health nurse.

Maintained schools should have a named school nurse. Many independent schools have full-time school nurses on site. The majority of school nurses will have specific training and long experience in the management of asthma. In the school in which I work we have an asthma policy, run asthma clinics, organise parent information sessions and staff training. The pupils who use inhalers take part in regular review sessions and have access to books and videos explaining asthma. The aim is to enable the child to live a normal life and take control of his/her asthma.

The school nursing service is under threat from spending cuts, so may I remind all teachers to use it; if you don't, you may well lose it.

Judy Whitmarsh

Ludlow, Shropshire

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