There is one great issue in education. It is both sensitive and, were it to be addressed, very costly. Thus, politicians of all parties skirt around it and throw up all manner of gimmicky ideas to avoid it. The issue is, how do we protect those who are able and willing to learn in the traditional classroom environment from those who are not and what do we do with those who are not?
Parents who battle to get their children into "good" schools are, in fact, trying to get them into classes in which the maths teacher is teaching maths and not jousting with disruptive pupils. Would parents really want to avoid the local "bog standard" comprehensive to which their children could walk in a few minutes with their friends if they could be sure that the education on offer was challenging, board-based, geared to their child's ability and disruption-free?
Sir: David Cameron's article on education policy made some thoughtful points. As the head of a small primary school, I would add the following:
The Government has failed to communicate to parents the support which children need. Common-sense parenting is on the decline, and many children come to school with too little sleep, an inadequate diet and a near-addiction to video games.
The government agenda for "educare" is flawed and puts the real needs of children way below those of working parents in advocating a 10-hour day spent on school premises. Most parents would far rather have family-friendly employment practices and generous tax breaks for those who choose to look after their own children.
The Government has made a laudable attempt to prevent the haemorrhage of young teachers who leave the profession within a few years of qualifying by giving class teachers planning and preparation time within the school day. Sadly, this move will founder in primary schools because it is severely underfunded. Heads privately admit that they have had to implement solutions which are educationally unsound in order to meet the September deadline for PPA time. In the case of teaching heads, their own meagre admin allocation has been further cut to meet statutory PPA provision for their teachers.
Stand up to animal rights terrorism
Sir: I read with disgust of the closure of the Hall family guinea pig breeding centre following a six-year campaign of terrorism. This closure comes two months after Phytopharm, a biotechnology company, lost its broker after protesters firebombed an employee's car.
Progressive political commentators have widely and gleefully mocked the way Christian fundamentalists in the US have undermined their country's lead in stem-cell research and threatened to drive their biomedical researchers abroad. Yet an extended quasi-terrorist movement quite as fundamentalist and implacable threatens our country's biomedical researchers - and in these self-same commentators arouses a studied ambivalence.
The arguments against animal testing that I have encountered I have found to be ridiculous. An example is the widely canvassed position that either animals are like humans - and hence experimentation on them is immoral - or they are unlike humans, and hence experimentation on them is worthless. Animals are like humans in some physiologically relevant respects, and unlike humans in some morally relevant (e.g. psychological) respects - just as are stem cells.
It is time self-declared "progressives" in British society showed a consistent rejection of quasi-terrorist thinking and a consistent defence of the value of scientific freedom.
DR ROBERT LOCKIE
PSYCHOLOGY DEPARTMENT THAMES VALLEY UNIVERSITY LONDON W5
Sir: As a believer in animal rights and in a more compassionate world in general, I have always found it very depressing that some animal activists use violence and intimidation.
In a democratic society, we should use persuasion and the ballot box to achieve our objectives, as has happened with hunting. Indeed, the majority of animal campaigners do use peaceful, democratic campaigning methods. However, a small minority of thugs make it very easy for the defenders of animal experimentation to label all their opponents as terrorists.
Society should not give in to intimidation, but it is also important that we do not go the other way, and ignore the moral and scientific arguments against animal experiments. It is simply not true that animal experiments are vital, or even reliable, when used to develop or test medical treatments for people. We need to use research methods that apply directly to people, such as epidemiology, computer simulation and tissue cultures.
Sir: Judging from your appalling front page story today ("Animals, activists and eight years of violence", 24 August) it is clear that some animal rights extremists are adopting tactics that border on terrorism. Yet people are slow to condemn this kind of atrocity. There was not a syllable of comment on the subject anywhere else in the paper. It is hard to imagine this in any other context.
We in Britain have one of the best-regulated systems for humane animal research in the world. It has delivered incalculable benefits to every one of us, including of course the campaigners themselves. It is hard to conceive how different my experience of life as a GP would have been without these benefits.
All responsible and law-abiding citizens should support the brave men and women who continue to work in this essential field and show the revulsion and contempt with which all kinds of terrorising tactics are regarded in our society.
DR JAMES A R WILLIS
What stops us learning languages
Sir: Britons are as adept at learning foreign languages as any other monolinguals (Mary Dejevsky, 16 August); unfortunately their learning in a formal, classroom situation has been hindered by the fact that grammar was not taught in this country for a tragically long period. The result is that when attempting to understand how another language works, learners have severe problems understanding elementary concepts such as subject and object.
Britain does need speakers of foreign languages at all levels, as business keeps reminding us. Managers may use interpreters for complex negotiations, but a knowledge of their client's language and culture might clinch a deal, and will certainly make the negotiation process smoother. This is why King's College London, like many forward-looking HE institutions, gives added value to many of its degrees by providing students with the opportunity to learn a foreign language.
MARISOL DE LAFUENTE DUFF
CO-ORDINATOR FOR SPANISH, ITALIAN CATALAN AND PORTUGUESE, MODERN LANGUAGE CENTRE, KING'S COLLEGE LONDON
Sir: Colin Pollard criticises the use of voice-overs rather than subtitles to translate the words of foreign language speakers on British television (letter, 18 August). He asks: "Do TV editors believe that there are no people in the UK capable of understanding other languages, or even of being able to read?"
Perhaps it has not occurred to Mr Pollard that the audience for any TV programme includes many people whose eyesight is not as perfect as his, who have dyslexia and even, dare I suggest, those of us who occasionally like to enjoy broadcasts whilst simultaneously attending to other tasks such as ironing or cooking.
Pawns in the Middle East power game
Sir: Paul Kandalaft (letter, 23 August) cites the figure of 800,000 Palestinians who were "forced" from their homes following the creation of Israel and the subsequent wars, initiated by the Arabs in an attempt to destroy the nascent state. What does he think of the near identical number of Jews forced from Arab states at the same time? Should they have the right of return too?
Far from the Israeli settlers being "pawns" in a much bigger game, it is the Palestinians, deliberately condemned to a life of deprivation by their corrupt leaders and the rest of the Arab world, who have been used as pawns by Arab governments in their unending war against the only Jewish national home.
DR DANIEL PINE
Cost of riding on the pavement
Sir: Whether or not cycling on footways is unsafe, as correspondents have said, is surely of academic interest, as to do so is an offence. It is a simple offence to detect, and I am sure the police would gain lots of brownie points if they took some action.
I wonder how many cyclists are aware that they could face damages of millions of pounds if they injure pedestrians on footways. How many are insured for this risk?
I was recently walking on a dark footway and a cyclist skidded to a stop in front of me, apologised, and explained that she was on the pavement because she was keeping off the road as she didn't have lights.
Policing London after the bombs
Sir: Following the devastating suicide bomb attacks on London and subsequent attempted bombings, I think that the majority of decent people took immense heart from the superb, professional and reassuring response of the capital's emergency services.
In the face of a phenomenon never before seen in the UK the Metropolitan Police must have been subjected to the most testing mental stress. The attitude and approach of Sir Ian Blair were superbly measured.
What I find difficult to accept now is what appears to be a relentless media witch-hunt to oust Sir Ian from his post as a result of the shooting dead of Jean Charles de Menezes. The coverage of Mr Menezes' death has become a daily obsession for the media: the fifty and more victims of the bombings seem to have been forgotten.
Whilst the death of Mr Menezes was a tragedy, can we try to remember that the reason and catalyst for his death was the 7 July mass murders? Sir Ian Blair and his police force should be judged on the response to the bombings and not simply the tragic death of Mr Menezes.
DAVID JOHN MAYER
Sir: As a youth worker in an area of south London where gun crime is a continuing problem I have some questions for Sir Ian Blair.
First, does he expect Londoners now to feel confident in their supposedly "highly trained" armed response units when these are capable of such catastrophic incompetence that they gun down an entirely innocent man?
Second, have the police actions, the curious loss of CCTV footage and his own shoddy handling of the issue made his officers' jobs any easier? In the future will it be more or less likely that suspects who are in fact armed try to shoot their way out of a situation rather than risk being cornered and shot by armed police?
Third, what should I now tell some of the angry, disaffected young men with whom I work when they express distrust and antagonism towards his officers?
Finally, did he read the Scarman report?
NORMAN A WYNTER
CO-ORDINATOR, MOORLANDS TRIANGLE YOUTH PROJECT, BRIXTON, LONDON SW9
Sir: V J G Brown (Letters, 22 August) asks if we have now to accept "collateral damage in the policing of the streets of London". I think the answer is that we do. Police and armies everywhere frequently cause death and injury by the accidental discharge of weapons and other errors of judgement. Human error occurs in all walks of life, be it accountancy or bus driving; all that can be done is to tighten and examine protocols and procedures to eliminate it as far as possible.
Sir: The traditional hullabaloo over the relentless improvement in A-level pass rate conceals a worrying development for the greetings card industry. Soon "good luck in your exams" and "exam success" cards will disappear.
DR ALEX MAY
Sir: Another fundamentalist preacher is seen fomenting violence and acts of terror. Will Pat Robertson, ally of the White House, now be refused entry into Britain for calling for the murder of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez? It's doubtful. The Prime Minister and his cronies probably see Chavez as the "terrorist". After all, the President's redistribution of wealth constitutes "economic sabotage" in the minds of Blair and his fellow neo-liberal fundamentalists.
Sir: I have yet to see any evidence to back up the intelligent design theory, yet I can think of several instances where evolution has manifested itself in the last few decades: HIV, avian flu, ebola. Either these organisms evolved, or they were designed by a very intelligent being. A being that really doesn't like humans at all, and tries to kill what it has already created in new and nasty ways. I know which "theory" I prefer to believe. The idea of an intelligent, active, evil deity doesn't hold much appeal.
Sir: With reference to the Tebbit cricket test, I trust that every single British expat living in Australia is loudly proclaiming their allegiance to Ricky Ponting's team in the current Ashes series.
Anatomy of a killer
Sir: So Francis Tumblety, one of the suspects in the Jack the Ripper murders, "was known to collect female wombs" ("Jack and Patricia", 23 August). What a wimp! Male wombs are much more of a challenge.
DR E W BENBOW
SENIOR LECTURER IN PATHOLOGY MANCHESTER ROYAL INFIRMARYReuse content