Education Letters: Barrow's Academy

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Your headline, "Progress vs principle" in the article by Peter Stanford (EDUCATION & CAREERS, 29 May) poses more than the question of whether or not three Barrow-in-Furness secondary schools should be demolished and replaced by a new academy building at a cost of £30m. As Peter Stanford writes: "Education is surely about what goes on in buildings, not the bricks and mortar, in the case of academies, built so far of steel and glass."

Contrary to the views of the three currently employed head teachers, it is the retired head and educational researcher, Roger Titcombe, who has gained the overwhelming support of the concerned parents and population in the town. Mr Titcombe and the Our Schools Are Not for Sale group have consistently sought information pertinent to Cumbria's February decision to opt for the academy choice in spite of sustained opposition to the plan in the council's own expensive public consultation process. Are not councillors in power to represent their local constituents?

Now it is the head teachers and principals of local colleges who have only recently entered the argument, and in the process are reinforcing views that their own schools are inadequate. Protocol, according to the head of the sixth form college, prevented them from speaking out earlier. What other interests does this so-called protocol conceal? There is also a problem with the £30m. A local councillor has stated publicly that the £30m offered by the government was "blackmail" as it was conditional on an academy build. On 10 May, the North West Evening Mail quoted Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, as saying: "There is no question that money for the Building Schools for the Future programme depends on opting for academies." But Jim Buchanon, the county council representative, confused matters further, saying "the only way that Barrow will receive £30m to carry out that improvement is through an academy".

Having failed to convince parents of their own case for change, the head teachers are now quoted as saying that "we really want students to be fully engaged with the planning and development process". Is it any wonder that the Barrow public voted for independent candidates when both the main political parties are supporting this chaotic academy plan?

Geoffrey Thompson. Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria


Susan Bassnett ("It's time for the bold universities to go private", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 29 May) said nothing about how the privatised universities will buy and pay for the buildings, equipment and other resources that were provided with tax-payers' money during the state-owned "lifetime" of the establishments. Does she have a grand plan, or is finance not her forte?

S Lawton, West View, Kirtlington


The geography PGCE (teacher training course) at Reading closed down a couple of years ago. As of the end of this academic term, the outstanding course at Oxford Brookes is being shut down. Where does this leave the provision of geography teachers for the millions of families in the central south region of Britain, an area that is already struggling to provide quality geographical education. With news of food shortages, climate change, cyclones, earthquakes, war and epidemics, what is going on? Surely this course should be kept going. Only Oxford University remains. Otherwise potential teachers must travel to London, Southampton or Bristol, which is bound to put many off.

Daniel Raven-Ellison, head of Geography, Langtree School, Woodcote, Reading


I fear for the state of our education system when Clive Harber, a professor of education, offers what I believe is a confused argument about education not necessarily being a good thing ("There are schools that preach violence", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 15 May). It seems to me he provides no initial definition of education to ensure the consistency and accuracy of his subsequent examples of damaging education. In his concluding paragraph he supplies one (of raising consciousness), which I believe demonstrates that his chosen examples are not ones of education, but of indoctrination or criminal abuse.

I found it profoundly disheartening to see that Professor Harber attacks his own straw men of non-educational instances of violence and abuse in South Africa, India, the Middle East and Asia and signally fails to criticise the obvious example of genuinely damaging education in the UK; the new faith schools that indoctrinate children in the name of education, and are promoted by the UK Government.

Virtually all the professor's examples are serious matters for the respective country's courts; the latter is a serious matter for all UK citizens, our children and our society for which we have no legal recourse. In my opinion, this is what a professor of education should be publicly addressing.

Russell Smith, Headington, Oxford


In your Diary (EDUCATION & CAREERS, 22 May), you said that Nigel Pollitt's recent letter about adult education and David Lammy's response raised important issues about adult learning. The Workers' Educational Association (WEA) in Yorkshire and Humber has canvassed views from local people and organisations as part of the consultation. People have spoken passionately about the importance of structured adult education that stimulates interest and engagement in community activities and that encourages creativity and critical thinking rather than just the absorption of information. There are many personal stories describing the positive impact of adult education, as demonstrated by the annual Adult Learners' Week each May.

However, many people have expressed their concerns about rising fees, the reduction of choice for older people and the bureaucratic burden. There is support for the principle that adult education fees and funding should be, from each according to their ability to pay, to each according to their needs, and agreement that we need cost-effective systems that are easy to understand, low in bureaucracy and high in quality to get the best value for money.

Skills for employability and adult education are complementary and should not be mutually exclusive alternatives in educational policy. Like David Lammy, we urge people to respond to the government's consultation at

Ann Walker, Regional Director, WEA Yorkshire & Humber, Leeds

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