Education Letters: Happy in Nottingham

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Far from being dangerous, Nottingham is a thriving, welcoming city that remains among the most popular choices in the country for students ("How secure is your university city?" EDUCATION & CAREERS, 22 May).

Almost half the students at Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham don't live in the city of Nottingham that the statistics relate to, but in some of the leafy suburbs of the surrounding conurbation. If statistics for the conurbation are used, then Nottingham falls from the top position in the Good University Guide's table to around fifth or sixth.

Crime against students is falling (burglary of students is down 22 per cent) and overall crime has fallen in the city of Nottingham by 10 per cent in the past year, thanks to strenuous multi-agency efforts.

Furthermore, around a third of students in Nottingham remain here for work and to settle down – a sign that, far from being dangerous, the city gives the vast majority of students a safe and happy time.

Cllr Jon Collins, Leader, Nottingham City Council
Jane Todd, Chief executive, Nottingham City Council
Shaun Beebe, City divisional commander, Nottinghamshire Police
Alan Given, Chief executive, Nottingham Crime and Drugs Partnership
Prof Sir Colin Campbell, Vice-chancellor, the University of Nottingham
Prof Neil Gorman, Vice-chancellor, Nottingham Trent University

ADULT CLASSES AT RISK

The skills minister, David Lammy (Letters, E&C, 22 May), says adult learning is not under attack. He's wrong. It is: not only from the switch of funding into vocational courses for young people – but also from cuts implied by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills consultation paper he mentions, Informal Adult Learning: Shaping the Way Ahead.

Lammy says 750,000 adults were enrolled in non-vocational courses in 2006-07. But day and evening classes provided by FE colleges have been virtually wiped out in recent years, so his figure, however he derives it, is almost certainly out of date. The National Institute of Continuing Adult Education believes 1.4 million places have already been lost on such courses.

Worse, a 72 per cent budget cut will hit FE and specialist colleges such as Ruskin, Northern, City Lit and Morley, and the Workers' Educational Association between now and 2010-11.

And what the minister describes as £210m "guaranteed" funding until 2011 for classes provided by local authorities is, in fact, a budget freeze. The sector must make cuts to adjust for cost-of-living rises.

Beyond this, government requires that students will move towards paying 50 per cent of the cost of courses, rather than a just over a third, as now. Pensioners and those on low incomes are being priced out of learning. And, as rolls fall, classes and centres close.

The worst part of the consultation document is the idea that all non-examined education is informal; that "studying" by using Google or watching the Discovery Channel is as good as going to a class (and cuts CO2 emissions). Cheaper, maybe, but only someone with no experience of education could say learning alone using Google is equal to joining a professionally taught, formal class – certificated or not.

Lammy, a Harvard-educated barrister, is far from having no experience of education. It's time he admitted the whole enterprise of robbing adult education to help young people into work has been misguided – given the colossal social benefits thousands gain from formal lifelong learning. Extra monies were and are needed for this project.

Professionally taught day and evening classes are a jewel in Britain's educational crown. Save Adult Education is a new national campaign of past and present adult learners set up to defend adult education. Anyone who wishes to sign our letter in response to the consultation can do so (before 12 June) at www.saveadulteducation.co.uk.

Nigel Pollitt, London, E17

DUTCH LESSONS

I'm sure Nikki Schreiber is right in general about the Dutch school system, but I have one or two niggles ("Why can't the English be more like the Dutch?" E&C, 22 May). Dutch "private schools" are part of the state system, governed by many of the same rules as state schools. Their status is much the same as that of former voluntary-aided schools in Britain. They are not independent – almost all their funding is from the taxpayer. What they are is autonomous.

There are no such things as catchment areas in Britain. Until the Education Reform Act 1988, local education authorities could designate catchment areas around schools or groups of schools, thereby restricting school choice. Such catchments were abolished in 1988. Nevertheless, LEAs continued to administer the system, giving effect where possible to parental preferences, but were no longer allowed to band pupils by ability to ensure "fair" intakes. At some point this seems to have been replaced by a system in which parents apply directly to schools – which seems to me a frighteningly bad idea.

But the Dutch system has a dynamic bias in favour of non-state schools. If pupil numbers are rising, the state must accommodate parental wishes for establishing non-state schools before it can set up new state schools; if pupil numbers are falling, it is much easier to close a state school than a non-state school. In the long term, this may mean the virtual disappearance of the municipal school, depriving some parents of their favoured option.

Another problem is the narrowing of the pupil population. Is it really desirable that pupils should spend their formative years with others from the same social or religious group? How can a cohesive society be built on such a basis?

The element of the Dutch education that we could and should adopt is differentiated per-capita funding, to stop penalising schools with a "difficult" intake and rewarding those with a more able and amenable pupil population. But the problems need addressing before the Dutch school system can be recommended wholeheartedly.

Jonathan Phillips, Norwich

POWER OF SMALL SCHOOLS

Family centres can help parents understand their opportunities and responsibilities ("Lessons to learn from a £3bn failure," E&C, 8 May). But small schools can engage parents and help pupils feel their efforts are worthwhile without billions of pounds of investment. It becomes so much more difficult for even our best large schools to match this level of proximity to individual families. Until we return education to its roots in families and large communities we shall fail those who are inhibited by formal school structures.

Mervyn Benford, National Association for Small Schools, Banbury, Oxon

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