Difficult pupils, abuse in Iraq and others

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The Independent Online

Nowhere to send pupils with 'challenging' behaviour

Nowhere to send pupils with 'challenging' behaviour

Sir: Gwen Reekie's letter from Richmond upon Thames (23 February) describes something that has happened across the country. Only this month, as a school governor I have participated in yet another exclusion hearing regarding a child with what is politely termed "challenging" behaviour.

Even the best managed well-ordered and supportive school reaches a point where the behaviour of some children becomes unacceptable. The level of disruption they cause, and the pressure and stress they put on committed staff reaches a point where the needs of the other children and staff in the school outweigh the right of the child to be given a "mainstream" education.

However as school governors we are caught between a rock and a hard place, because we know if we confirm permanent exclusion there is nowhere for such a child to go. They will be passed from school to school, then will ultimately drop out of the system, into the street culture of drugs, alcohol and petty criminality.

There are now no special schools where they will get the level of tailored "one-to-one" support and counselling they need. Like many others, Northumberland LEA has scrapped its special needs provision for all but a handful of pupils. The system is now simply incapable of dealing in a co-ordinated way with these children, and the price to society in the longer run will be far greater than the cost of running properly funded special needs provision.

In this, as in so many other things, the Government and the educational establishment have lost the plot.

Ashington, Northumberland

Abuse in Iraq: where the buck should stop

Sir: Recently, Pandora carried an item about General Sir Michael Jackson - "Mike", as he apparently likes to be styled - introducing himself at a party with the words "I run the Army." In the light of evidence given at the recent court-martial in Osnabrück, I wonder if he is quite so keen now to repeat that fatuous claim.

However, drawing on that evidence and, indeed, all that the Army has said about happenings at Camp Bread Basket, it seems clear that General Jackson has achieved something much more noteworthy: his army doesn't have any officers!

To be sure, there was a major who reportedly issued an illegal order, and his superior, a lieutenant-colonel whom he may or may not have informed. But it seems there were no captains, no lieutenants or second-lieutenants, not even any warrant officers - just corporals and lance-corporals. What has happened to the maxim that there are no bad men, only bad officers?

And how about the Chief of the General Staff himself - the party-going chappie who "runs the Army"? If he runs it, shouldn't he know what it is doing? He cannot pass the buck.

Basingstoke, Hampshire

Sir: As all of us who have served in HM forces know, discipline and morale derive from the highest level. Now that it is clear that a fair number of our soldiers in Iraq were involved in disgraceful and cruel practices, it is to the top that we must look to explain the breakdown of the chain of command that led to American conduct metastasising into the British Army.

Frustration at finding no WMD but a deadly insurrection instead of expected flowers encouraged all levels of the US chain of command to accept President Bush's declaration that those sequestered incommunicado at Guantanamo were the "worst of the worst", as a signal that cruel, immoral and un-Islamic humiliation of detainees would be condoned - as indeed it was until exposed.

In the case of British forces, Mr Blair - who almost alone determined that the UK joined in the President's war - signally failed to distance himself from the US and make it clear from the top down that, whatever American behaviour, the success of the British contribution to the stabilisation of Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would largely depend on Iraqi perceptions that UK forces, true to their hard-earned reputation, meticulously respected both the Geneva Conventions and Islamic sensibilities.

So, nothing less than the removal of Mr Blair will convince not only Muslims but the world as a whole that we British totally reject what has happened to so many of those in our custody.

Sarlat, France

Anti-terror powers

Sir: At least the powers that the Home Secretary is demanding in the Prevention of Terrorism Act are being reported and debated. Similar proposals, however, have already passed through the Commons in the Identity Cards Bill, seemingly without comment.

In that Bill an identity card may be cancelled or be required to be surrendered "if it appears to the Secretary of State that..." and so on. What form these apparitions might take isn't made clear, although from recent history we know that the mind of a Home Secretary is often a dark and fearful place, full of demons and echoing with the whispers of spooks.

Should I be more worried that he is trying to force the identity card upon me, or that he would employ this ouija-board justice to confiscate it?

Barnet, Hertfordshire

Community care

Sir: Your emotive headline (26 February) asks "is there still such a thing as care in the community?" and reiterates similarly histrionic headlines over the years. In so doing, it reinforces the stigma of mental illness and sustains the unhelpful fantasy that the risk posed by a tiny fraction of people with mental illness can be eliminated.

Your article completely fails to place these tragedies in their proper statistical and historical context. For example, homicides by mentally ill offenders have occurred at a stable rate of approximately 20 per year (and not 40 as your article suggests) since the 1950s, when asylum care was routine. Over this time, the asylums have largely closed, yet the rate has not increased, whilst the rate of homicide by "normal" people has increased almost sevenfold.

Furthermore, 10 people a day are killed on roads, but inquiries are rarely held, perhaps acknowledging the sensible citizen's view that inquiries are an ineffective means of reducing events that are an unavoidable feature of daily life in our busy world.The only risk-free way of looking after people with mental illness would be permanent incarceration, with all of the institutional deprivations and corruptions that this brings.

In fact, care in the community has improved out of all recognition since the Zito tragedy of 1992, in terms of staffing, resources and even government commitment. Those of us working to deliver this care regret that in the years between these tragic incidents, it is your newspaper, and not community care, that has failed keep abreast of change.


Consultant Psychiatrists
Homerton Hospital
London E9

Aids in South Africa

Sir: If premature deaths from Aids are an index of development, the statistics from South Africa (report, 23 February), where in the past five years the rate has risen by 57 per cent, highlights the failures of the world to help less developed countries slow down a pandemic that is over 20 years old. Although many dedicated people work hard, the problems are still extreme.

I worked in a township school in South Africa last year, and there is still limited knowledge of the disease and wild myths are believed, the most horrifying being "sex with a virgin cures HIV/Aids" (40 per cent of the 15-year-olds at the school thought this was true in a quiz). HIV/Aids is now embedded as the root problem in much of sub-saharan Africa and until the situation is controlled with a large, co- ordinated, global strategy for educating the populations and supplying drugs and research, there is little chance for improvement.

This particular "war" needs more soldiers and some much needed funds from money spent on that other "war".

Manchester Student Stop Aids Society

Local democracy

Sir: Steve Richards should be commended for his cogent understanding of the essence of local democracy (22 February). In particular, he demolishes the notion that those of us who campaign for more powers for local government are somehow "soft" on poorly run councils. The reality is quite the opposite. The debate about localism is more a question of who has what role. Local democracy means local electors being required to hold their councillors to account - not Whitehall.

To achieve this, as Richards says, requires ministers to let go. This could start with reforms to the local government finance system aimed at allowing councils to raise more than half of their revenue locally from a wider range of sources. This would help take the pressure off the domestic council tax and remove the need for capping further "one-off" increases in Whitehall subsidy to councils or special discounts for pensioners.

Chief Executive, Local Government Information Unit
London WC1

Gay Anglicans row

Sir: When I was confirmed over three decades ago, like many other Anglicans throughout the world I was under the impression that Jesus welcomed outcasts and taught his followers to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you"; indeed, "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

Now however Archbishop Peter Akinola ("No easy solution to Anglican split, says Williams", 26 February) has revealed that condemning those already marginalised by society is at the heart of the Gospel. Since the Archbishop is a traditionalist this must be part of our tradition; we just must have failed to notice it before.

London N16

Sir: The spectacle of the traditionally latitudinarian Church of England being lined up by the liberal Rowan Williams with conservative Third World churches against the American Episcopalians is frankly bizarre. What about the majority of low-profile woolly Anglican liberals in England; don't we have a say? Are we supposed to support bigoted evangelicals and self-righteous African prelates against liberal North American Christians with whom most of us agree?

Gunton, Norfolk

Olympic bid

Sir Bob Reeves's "Get real, it's France's turn" attitude to London's Olympic bid (letter, 24 February) is a little too gritty for reality. Not everyone thinks France is perfect and not everyone thinks London is out of step. The Stade de France may well be a superb venue, but it cannot hold every Olympic event and it is only one element of the French bid.

I have just spent a week on holiday in London and deliberately used public transport. I travelled as early as 7am and as late as 10.30pm. I was delayed but once, and it was cheap and quick. Many of the people I met were multilingual, knowledgeable and happy to help. London can match anyone else's bid on any practical criteria. Politics may ultimately serve London's bid badly, but no one should give up on the effort so early.

I can only assume that when Manchester held the Commonwealth Games three years ago, Bob Reeves didn't visit. We had a great time and now enjoy a wonderful sporting legacy. I sincerely wish London their equivalent benefits. Do us all a favour, Mr Reeves, and hold your tongue for as long as London's pot remains on the fire.

Stockport, Greater Manchester

Sir: Bob Reeves feels that we should have stepped aside as it was France's turn "and quietly elicit their support for our bid for the Olympics eight years later". That strategy is however not without its flaws, as I suppose Gordon Brown could testify.

Walsham le Willows, Suffolk

Turning point

Sir: In the context of the capture of yet another previously unknown key figure in Iraq, which will no doubt prove to be a historic turning point in a long line of historic turning points, is it not time for the liberal nit-pickers to admit etc etc etc ...

London N1

Room for immigrants

Sir: Trevor Phillips (23 February) cites the US, Canada and Australia as examples of successful immigration of people with needed qualities and skills. These are all, of course, large, "young" developing countries of low population density, having plenty of natural resources and with abundance of physical room in which diverse groups can co-exist. However, in small, overdeveloped, overcrowded, "old" countries of north west Europe, such as Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands, the considerations are altogether different and may warrant another approach.

Bletchley, Buckinghamshire

Off the track

Sir: So Guy Keleny believes "marathon parliamentary session" is an athletics track metaphor (Errors & Omissions, 26 February). Not quite. Take the London Marathon: 30,000 runners on a 400-metre, eight-lane track. Not going to fit, are they? The reason chaos is avoided is that marathons are run on the road.


Stuck in the snow

Sir: Malcolm Marsters (letter, 26 February) asks why schools were closed by snow when parents have 4x4s to "transport their little darlings". The answer is simply that the teachers cannot afford to be so well transported.

Hetton-le-Hill, Co Durham