Adoption proposals, Pupil misbehaviour and others

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Government's adoption proposals will cause heartache

Government's adoption proposals will cause heartache

Sir: Whoever is responsible for the Government's new adoption proposals published last week lacks insight into adoption and what it entails (report, 9 April). By allowing birth mothers (or fathers) the right to trace the children they gave up for adoption, childless British parents will be forced to go abroad in their search for a family and children to love.

If this bill goes through, the Government will be asking British parents to give unconditional love and financial support to a child who will never really belong to them and who, from the age of 18, can expect a letter to drop through the letter box at any time advising that his or her birth mother wants to meet.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 was also a betrayal of both adoptive parents and birth mothers, because it was made retroactive. A mother who gave up her baby before 2002, in trust and confidence that it was a final act, now must wait, either in expectation or in fear, for a letter bringing back a heartbreaking event that she has spent many years trying to put behind her.

The whole issue is a mess, but in the end the real victims are future British babies who will have little hope of anyone taking the risk of adopting them.

London N6

Pupil misbehaviour predates Thatcherism

Sir: Pat Lerew, president of the NAS/UWT blames Thatcherism for selfishness and bullying among schoolchildren (report, 13 April). She maintains, and few would disagree, that "pupil behaviour is... the hardest nut to crack".

Unruly behaviour in schools, in other words lack of discipline and our resulting yob culture, is a problem the legacy of which can be traced back not to the Thatcher era but to 30 years earlier. The die was cast when, during the 1950s, psychologists at the then Ministry of Education pronounced that "free expression" was to become the watchword in schools. Discipline, and the associated regime of punishment for misdemeanours, were deemed harmful. They were said to inhibit the development of well-rounded personalities.

In consequence children did largely what they liked in school, knowing that they could not be seriously rebuked. Those youngsters are today's parents and even grandparents. They have never experienced the kind of ordered restraint and self-control which used to be an inherent part of British schooling and which still pertains in nearly every other European country. They accordingly accept that "free expression" is acceptable from their own offspring, at home as well as at school.

It is no coincidence that the falling behind in Britain's competitiveness, most obviously evident in the quality of workmanship in manufactured goods, has occurred since discipline in our schools - leading to an interest and pride in one's work - was effectively abandoned.

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Sir: Doug McAvoy, the outgoing general secretary of the NUT, said recently: "We're more excluded now than we were under Margaret Thatcher." He was then asked by a radio reporter if that meant teachers should still vote Labour, or switch to the Conservatives.

Is that the same Conservatives who neglected education for 18 years until schools were literally falling apart and the morale in the teaching profession was at an all-time low? Is that the same Conservatives who propose to remove tuition fees by restricting university education to a very select few?

Mr McAvoy's response was fine: "I think teachers will make the decision for themselves." But the radio reporter needs to go back to school - thousands of teachers have supported the Liberal Democrats for years now. If many teachers decide to change their vote, they will be looking for something better than Labour, not yesterday's party.

Wigston, Leicestershire

Sir: Like Marion Bevan (report, 8 April) I thoroughly enjoy my work as a teaching assistant, but I feel that the Government is onto a good thing employing experienced, often qualified (many of us are graduates) and dedicated classroom assistants so cheaply. Local education authorities and schools know that, like many, I was attracted to the work because of the family-friendly hours and term time only basis. I enjoy the contact with the children, but do not want the responsibility of a teacher's workload. However, with no disrespect to checkout staff, surely our contribution to the education of children and young people should be more accurately reflected in our salaries.

There are more and more children coming into school with learning, and behavioural problems. In some cases a classroom could not function effectively without the support of a classroom assistant, who assumes responsibility for the disruptive or needy children in order that the teacher can concentrate on teaching the rest of the class.

Most of us are not "teachers-in- waiting". We should be deployed to relieve teachers of onerous admin procedures as well as providing mentoring support and pastoral care, not take charge of whole class teaching. This is a teacher's role and should remain so.

Cranfield, Bedfordshire

Sir: Your report about teaching assistants being paid less than check-out staff also stated that "many are not paid for the school holidays". This should be qualified - teaching assistants, and indeed many school administrators and other support staff, are paid for just 38 weeks of the year (39 if INSET days are included). This salary is spread over 12 months - reducing the hourly rate further.

The professionalism and dedication of support staff rewarded with such paltry sums is something which is long overdue for redress.

Colchester, Essex

Working parents

Sir: I am in complete agreement with Mary Dejevsky's misgivings about the impact on colleagues of working parents who find it difficult to cope with normal working hours (Opinion, 10 April).

I am in the teaching profession so flexibility is limited, but I am aware of the many working hours and days lost by my teacher colleagues through their children's illnesses, medical appointments and urgent calls to playground or nursery school accidents. Quite often both parents teach in the same school so they care for sick children on a rota basis, doubling the impact on colleagues who have to cover. (Office tasks may pile up on desks but classes have to be taught.)

Their attitude towards those of us who are childless is twofold. When these colleagues are under domestic pressure it is "all right for you" and "you can't imagine what it's like trying to fit in a family and a job". However, on good days I apparently don't know what I am missing. Strangely, I seem to be pitied and envied simultaneously.

I can see that there are difficulties juggling a teaching career and a young family. My own answer is, why try? Why not cut some financial corners (such as nursery fees) and nominate one parent to stay at home for a few years? We live in a "have it all" society but usually we can only have some of it, and choices have to be made for the good of everybody.

What about some special consideration for the childless (or should that be "child-free")?

Stapleford, Nottingham

Insult to doctors

Sir: Jeremy Laurence's Health Check column (12 April) makes reference to the recent British Medical Association study exploring people's reasons for leaving medicine, the recurring theme of which was doctors being under- valued by the NHS.

Whilst I agree with him that in many ways medicine offers a most rewarding and unique career, it cannot be right that, because of this, doctors should be expected to accept poor working conditions. To call someone a spoilt brat for complaining that his or her on-call room was cold and unheated, in a condition of disrepair and thoroughly unwelcoming as an aid to a night's sleep prior to staring a full day the next morning (after having worked the previous 24 hours), is completely insulting.

Enfield, Middlesex

Resurrection oddity

Sir: The Archbishop of Canterbury says that most who first heard of the resurrection would have found it "an alarming oddity" (Podium, 12 April). I doubt it. In most, if not all pagan religions, the king or chief of the tribe was regarded as a god, as indeed were the English kings until Charles I. "Kings are ordained by God; not only so, but they are themselves gods," said the Bishop of Chester in 1625, according to Sir Richard Coke, in Detection of the Court and State of England (1697).

In the hierarchy of gods, which reached up to the like of Jupiter and Zeus, these lesser gods were only acceptable while held in favour by those above them. When this condition was seen as no longer being fulfilled, or a specified term was reached, the god or a substitute, was sacrificed, at a religiously significant date.

Having sacrificed their god/king, a replacement is needed. A new man, but the same god, "is risen from the dead". The sacrificial victim would have offspring, and who better than a son of the god for the replacement?

Offham, Kent

Different faiths

Sir: Aminul Hoque's article on Muslims in our society (Features, 12 April) raises important questions. It is entirely laudable that all of us should seek to be accepting and understanding of difference in all walks of life. However, a fact which political correctness will not address is that religions and religious creeds by their very nature are mind control systems with absolutist claims. Whether the source of revelation is the Talmud, the Gospels or the Koran, each one claims final and unique truth, which automatically means the others at best are partial, at worst, false, and thus no possible agreement can be reached.

Fundamentalism is only one step further along this disastrous road. Creeds, religions and belief systems close the mind. Enslavement to holy books and their commands automatically closes the mind, and emnity for other creeds is thus never far away.

London NW3

Minimum wage plea

Sir: May I make a plea for a sector whose services are used daily, but whose members often work for below the minimum wage (letter, 12 April)?

Television and film viewers may not realise that the professional performers who entertain them are likely to have kept up their skills by working for as little as £25 a week. This was what I was only too glad to accept to play the part of Mark Antony in a prestigous London arts venue; elsewhere in London I have been "paid" a free travel card and nothing more.

Drama and acting are acknowledged to be Britain's gift to the world. Yet there has been no coherent strategy to ensure that all Britons have access to this genius, or that practitioners have a chance to keep up this fine and rewarding tradition at a decent living wage.

London SW6

Insurgency in Iraq

Sir: With the word Vietnam being used to describe the American presence in Iraq, will the US forces be liberating villages and towns by destroying them in order to save the inhabitants from the insurgents?

Sydney, Australia

Sir: In view of the de-facto collective punishment in Fallujah in return for the murder of four American citizens, it seems that the US truly is the new Roman Empire

Peterlee, Co Durham

Identity cards

Sir: I was heartened to see a number of letters from readers opposed to the introduction of a compulsory national identity card. Could I refer interested readers to Casnic, the Campaign to Stop the National Identity Card ( It was formed last year specifically to combat this wretched idea.

Caversham, Berkshire

Reputation tarnished

Sir: Dr Crippen was not a serial murderer (Pick of the Day, 7 April). He killed only one woman - his wife.

Reading, Berkshire

Spelling Bee

Sir: Philip Hensher claims that the spelling competition has never been a part of our national life in the way it long has been in America ("Correct spelling is nothing to sneer at", 9 April). He presumably does not recall the series called Spelling Bee on the Home Service (now Radio 4) in the 1930s or 1940s, which was very popular and where I learned to spell rhododendron without looking it up.

London N6

St Pancras's Day

Sir: Is it any more than a coincidence that in BR days, when the rail timetable was issued only once a year, the new timetable always came into effect on the Monday nearest to 12 May - the feast day of St Pancras (letter, 12 April)?



Sir: As one of the probably few living Englishmen to have got Brian Lara out (in a charity match at Bledlow during the West Indies tour of 1991), may I offer the England team a blueprint of how to do it?

You let him hit you for four consecutive sixes, get first slip to ask him if he is "going for a Sobers", and then he misses. He only got 98 off eight overs.

formerly ITN CC captain
Redhill, Surrey