Your Views: Top flight take the rewards

Reaction to our articles on funding levels for `new' and `old' universities, the teaching of moral, social and citizenship values, and the growth in the market for private tutors even for the very young
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I AM writing to correct certain misconceptions in the article by Professor Barton ("Play fantasy league academia now!", Education, 21 January). The teaching component in the grants made by the Funding Councils to universities are still based on the principle originally formulated by the University Grants Committee in 1985: that the unit of resource for teaching any particular subject should be independent of the university in which it is taught.

This principle is further modified by the existence of "special factors", of which by far the largest is the one which recognises that everything done in London is unavoidably more expensive than if it were being done elsewhere. But these special factors are publicly stated, and would be publicly justified by the Funding Councils if they were seriously criticised by anyone.

Almost everyone who is in a position to judge believes that the new universities are as good at teaching as the older ones, and that there is a real national need for the subjects they teach. Current league tables, based on the figures provided by the teaching quality assessment process, ought not to be taken seriously. Few people have confidence in the detailed ratings produced by that process in its present form, apart from those who are paid to do so. I myself doubt whether any teaching assessment process is capable of saying more than that a course is "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory", and in the latter case saying why.

Funding research has to be based on quite different principles. The national need for research varies considerably from one subject to another; and the difference in research between one department and another is incomparably greater than the difference in teaching. So the principle here must be to give most of the research money to those Departments which are most likely to produce internationally competitive research - and this judgement is largely based on their track record.

Moreover, research in laboratory-based subjects is much more expensive than in other subjects. So the main debate is about the distribution of the grant to support scientific research. There are some very distinguished scientific departments in universities outside the top flight, but not very many.

Thus, so long as we have a Government concerned to obtain value for money, most of the research money will go to the top flight universities. This has nothing to do with their having more clout; it is because they provide better quality research.

(Sir) PETER SWINNERTON-DYER

(chief executive of the Universities Funding Council, 1989-91)

Royston

Hertfordshire

Citizenship is the way ahead

YOUR ARTICLE on moral, social and political education ("What should we teach children?" by Judith Judd, Education, 21 January) makes the very valuable point that the implementation of citizenship initiatives in the curriculum will ultimately bring about a transformation in the attitudes of pupils towards the rest of their timetabled lessons. In fact, both the literacy and numeracy levels of pupils improves as their self-awareness increases.

At CSV Education for Citizenship, we ran a project in a south London school that had been "named and shamed" in November 1997 as one of London's worst schools. Sixty per cent of its pupils were in care, truancy rates were very high, and discipline was a serious problem for the school.

Francine Britton from CSV spent 15 weeks on citizenship education with a group of pupils considered unworkable by most of the school's teachers. At the end of that period of time the group had bonded into small productive working groups with respect for each others ideas, their attendance and attentiveness in lessons had dramatically improved, and they had become all-round role models for the rest of the school.

Citizenship education covers issues such as bullying, sexual health, and peer-education. More and more teachers are getting the message: moral, social and political education can lighten the load for teachers, improve standards nationwide, and make it possible for more young people to fulfil their potential.

JOHN POTTER

Director, CSV Education for Citizenship

London

SCHOOLS ARE not just about the three Rs and never have been. Citizenship lessons should effectively formalise our wider educational tradition that has always been about encouraging the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of children and young people. We should all, educationalists and the general public alike, welcome the recommendations of the Government's advisory group on citizenship - and applaud the fact that even the youngest children will be encouraged to grasp issues and ideas in ways that are appropriate to both their age and their experience.

STEVE BRACE

Head of Development Education

ActionAid

London

JUDITH JUDD'S article should cause us all to reflect on the last 50 years of the education system, and ask when are we going to get it right?

Children need to be taught and instructed in values that people have previously thought, rather mystically, were a given, the difference between right and wrong for example. In a world external to the school, of television, magazines, parents, friends and peers, values are provided, and increasingly they are stressing the importance of possessions, individualism, etc.

If schooling is for anything then it should be a place where an awareness of these processes and interactions influence how one thinks. We need to teach children the importance of civic responsibility in tandem with personal ambitions. In a world where increasingly everything is evolving along private, individual patterns, there is a need to address this obvious cultural drift.

Self-employment, private education, private pension provision are all increasing, with an underlying effect on peoples perceptions of themselves and those around them. The teaching of citizenship should only be debated as to why it hasn't been implemented sooner.

This isn't some "namby-pamby" point - if we want our children, and their children, to truly appreciate the concepts of community, citizenship, perceived equality and understanding, in a world that increasingly projects a different message, then crossing our fingers and hoping for the best won't help.

MARK COWAN

Sheffield

Schools can do it best

ALL PARENTS want "the best" for their children. Aspirations of parents are different: in an area where unemployment is high, a job is the all- important goal. Parents of other children (we are now told that officially half our families are "middle-class") want more, ("When average isn't enough", Education, 21 January) and if they can afford to pay for private tuition, many do. The implication of the parents interviewed is very much that to "do the best" for your children, you have to use private tutors. What most really mean is that they want their children "to do better" than other children: a very different concept. Why do many parents in my area, where the state schools, both primary and secondary, are "good", still use private tutors?

My belief is that I am "doing the best" for my children by relying on the professionalism and expertise of their teachers.

My loyalties, however, to their school are not exhaustive, and do not extend, despite coercion from the head teacher, to cutting up greasy crisp packets or purchasing The Sun, the News of the World, The Times or the Sunday Times simply in order to get book tokens.

HELEN DALTON

Datchet

Berkshire

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, Education, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Please include a daytime telephone number.

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