Apprenticeships, Olympic blueprint and others

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Apprenticeships are not just for GCSE under-achievers

Apprenticeships are not just for GCSE under-achievers

Sir: During the analysis of this year's GCSE results it was depressing to see that once again, in many quarters, apprenticeships were highlighted as the option for those who had not achieved the necessary grades to go on to A-levels and university.

With the high proportion of passes in "soft subjects" that have little academic or practical merit, apprenticeships are fast becoming the choice of young people who are career-focused, ambitious, hard-working and academically able. It is therefore unfortunate that many teachers, careers advisers and the media continue to link apprenticeships with manual trades and modest career aspirations.

There has been some change in attitude, as people realise that the earnings within skilled trades such as plumbing have long since outstripped those in teaching and branches of science and medicine. However, the bigger shift, which has largely gone unmarked, is that apprenticeships are now a route to such high-flying, intellectually demanding roles as senior management with multinational hotel companies, retailers and a vast range of other industries. The Government's drive for GCSE targets is questionable, seeming to be more about laudable statistics than a genuine drive towards worthwhile education that will serve individuals and the economy. Following the announcement of this year's results it was the employers who came out to champion apprenticeships as their preferred option as, increasingly, exam results are not indicative of what a pupil can offer in the workplace.

With the spectre of student debt looming large over school leavers, together with uncertain employability following "soft subject" achievement, to deny the most able 16-year-olds the knowledge that apprenticeships can be a first-choice option is irresponsible and counter-productive. In order for the needs of business to be met, and for individuals to grow up equipped to deal with life both in and out of the workplace, a broader understanding and appreciation of education is required. If the Government, teachers, careers advisers and the media do not take the lead in this, then the loss could be huge; not just to young people but to British industry.


Olympics offer a blueprint for society

Sir: James Lawton (30 August) highlights some disturbing moral, ethical, economic and political repercussions of the Olympic Games. However, he seems to have missed the bigger picture of the importance of the Olympics and their positive implications towards unifying the complexities of human society.

Lawton asks us to reflect on the "tarnished ideal" of the Olympics. But let us not concede to intolerance, dysfunctional communities and cultural tensions before we begin to dialogue and share our hopes and dreams. The Games, which saw some 200 nations come together under the auspices of competitive sports, combined with the exuberance and artistry of the opening and finale, gave us a micro-picture of the way in which varying cultures might be brought together in unity.

Integration of the varying ethnic groups may be realised via education, work and respect for each other's cultures. There is a need for continuous dialogue and debate in order to achieve goals of alliance between integration and personal roots. The Olympic Games' multicultural microcosm of art and sport is a reality, and should provide for all who seek peace and safety in our world to think long and hard as to how we may implement further the blueprint ethos for the continuation of life, rather than to sit and argue, kill and maim each other, and watch "the clash of cultures" become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Sir: Following what seems to have been a very successful Olympic Games, might it not be an idea to hold the Olympics in Athens every four years? Athens is clearly the spiritual home of the Games and provided a superb venue. With global travel now being so easy the idea of holding the Games on different continents, which I assume was originally to give access to more people, does not seem so important. So, instead of cities giving themselves massive debts in their bids to hold the Games, money could be spent on providing better training facilities for young athletes and the money generated by the Games spent to maintain the facilities in Athens.

Benfleet, Essex

Museum funding

Sir: Hamish McRae (26 August) is quite right to point out the importance of the UK's museums and galleries to the tourist industry. But he is wrong to say that funds are being skewed away from "the big London museums" to smaller "provincial" ones.

True, museums in the North-east, West Midlands and South-west have received a significant boost thanks to Renaissance, the groundbreaking scheme to transform England's regional museums. As a result their services are improving dramatically - a third more schoolchildren are using them, and over £7m has been spent upgrading collections - and we are hoping to be able to expand the scheme in other regions soon. But improving regional museum services has not been at the expense of London museums. Far from it: this has been completely new funding, and a core aim of Renaissance is to enable regional institutions to work more effectively with their national partners.

Nor is it only the "big London museums" which act as tourist attractions. Regional museums which have benefited from Renaissance so far include Newcastle's Discovery Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, Brighton Royal Pavilion and the London Transport Museum. All of these institutions play a hugely important role in promoting tourism. They also underpin education, promote community cohesion, foster creativity and, in many cases, contribute to regeneration and neighbourhood renewal.

Chair, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
London SW1

Sir: Although I would largely agree with Hamish McRae's argument that the future for British tourism should aim to develop its cultural and educational attractions, I was surprised at his assertion that the Government's policy of supporting "smaller [museums] ... must be nuts". I assume he is referring to the Government's continuing support for the Renaissance in the Regions report (2000). Until the last government spending review (2001), the vast majority of museums, of which there are nearly 2,000 registered institutions, received no central government revenue support. The Department for Culture Media and Sport only provides revenue funding to 18 organisations, of which the vast majority are London-based. In comparison, the rest of the museum community receives far less funding per visitor from a variety of sources - local government, sponsorship, income generation etc. As a result the potential of many of these museums is not being met.

Of course the challenge for museums, both larger and smaller, is to enhance the UK's tourism potential, but they also play a vital role in learning and education, economic regeneration of our towns and cities, space for community participation, and as a place to preserve our material and intellectual heritage.

The partial implementation of Renaissance (less than half the recommended funds was made available by the Government) will now mean that, in 2005-06, £30m will be allocated to museums in the English regions, although in the same year the DCMS intends to support the 18 nationally funded institutions to the tune of £300m. It maybe sensible to cut failures and reinforce success, but we also need to invest to prosper.

Chelmsford, Essex

Sir: Hamish McRae asserts that the general principle of business is to cut failure and reinforce success, and that the Government, by funding provincial instead of London museums, is doing the opposite. Instead of complaining, he might like to recognise that this is in line with the different functions of business and government. Business is about maximising profit; government is about maximising the wider public benefit.

Here in Liskeard, a combination of funds from local and central government and the National Lottery has converted an ugly, pest-infested ruin into a valuable local asset; a building which now beautifies its street and houses an information office and a museum which informs, educates and gives pleasure to its visitors, both local and tourists.

The considerable sums involved would not make sense in purely commercial terms, yet the whole is helping to revitalise the town.

Chairman, Liskeard and District Museum Committee
Liskeard, Cornwall

Austrian war dead

Sir: The treatment of three Austro-Hungarian soldiers of the First World War found in the Trentino last week still demonstrates the inability of the Austrian republic to come to terms with the past ("Ice man experts get Great War soldier", 26 August).

When will the dead of the former Austro-Hungarian army be treated with the respect and honour that they deserve? What nation other than the Austrian republic would allow the dead of the First World War to be brought down under the flag of Italy (its erstwhile enemy) and then allow one of the bodies to be taken away for experimentation?

Would this be allowed by the British authorities? I think not. The Austrian government will still not treat its First World War veterans with the dignity due their bravery and loyalty to the empire. It has no recognised war cemeteries and its dead are relegated to the outer parts of Italian war cemeteries. In effect, they are second-class soldiers relegated to the edges of memory.

The three men of the Imperial Jaeger fought for an empire now gone, but they all deserve to rest in peace under the flag of their nation and to be held in the respect due to them.

London SE7

Tough talking

Sir: In your leading article "Stop pandering to political enemies and start to deliver on all those promises" (25 August), you fail to mention one of New Labour's most famous promises, "to be tough on the causes of crime". In the seven years since that was made I cannot recollect any progress in this area - I'm not even aware that the Government has made any attempt to find out what these causes are. There is no similar shortage on the other side of the promise, "to be tough on crime", although it is questionable whether the right methods are being used.

One could extend this to questioning whether enough is being done to deal with the causes of terrorism, or even to find out what Bin Laden is trying to achieve, and perhaps arrive at a political solution.

Redcar & Cleveland

Battery disposal

Sir: The dead battery from my cordless phone asks me to dispose of it properly and not to incinerate or bin it. I made enquiries at a mobile phone shop: they could not help but believed that Oxfam recycled them for third world countries. My Oxfam shop denied that this was the case. I tried Argos, from whom I bought the phone, but they made no provision. The assistant said that she binned hers and thought that everyone did the same.

Are the consequences of getting rid of these things wrongly particularly dire, and if so should not the people who sell them be required to make some sort of provision for their safe disposal?

Chelmsford, Essex

A rock and a hard place

Sir: David Alexander (letter, 30 August) bemoans the loss of front gardens to hard surfaces for cars. I agree with him, and wish that I, like all my neighbours, didn't have to replace mine. But unfortunately, owing to the incompetence and miserliness of the local council and the builders of the houses here, although we have garages, the gaps between the houses are too small to get a car down, the driveways are shared and so can't be used for parking, and the road is too narrow to park on. What are we supposed to do?

Ickenham, Middlesex

Emergency measures

Sir: Presumably the Government wants us to take its "Preparing for Emergencies" booklet seriously. Why, then, did my copy land on the doormat in the company of no less than seven pieces of junk mail: two from Blueyonder, and one each from Pizza Hut, Holmes Place Health Clubs, Direct Line, Saga and - of all things - Start-Rite shoes? A good thing the Preparing for Emergencies people provided a Freepost address so I could send it all back to them.

London N22

Celtic liberation

Sir: Stephen Burrows (letter, 29 August) states that "without the Anglo-Saxons there would have been no liberation of Paris at all". He entirely leaves out the contribution of the Celts.

Port Talbot

Romanian response

Sir: I must protest at the cartoon depiction of the Tory leader as a vampire (27 August). The association of people of Romanian extraction with vampires is wholly derogatory and a racial slur.

Windlesham, Surrey

Scheduled delays

Sir: A notice on my local railway station announces that train doors will be closed 20 seconds before the timetabled departure time. Given that operator Thameslink boasts one of the worst punctuality records in the country, with barely three out of four trains arriving on time, chance would be a fine thing.

Ampthill, Bedfordshire