Home-education, UK diversity and others

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The Independent Online

Home-educating parents are right to take children out of school

Home-educating parents are right to take children out of school

Sir: In your editorial (Education Section; "Home tutors need guidance", 5 August) you agreed with the views expressed at the Professional Association of Teachers' conference, that all home-educating families should be subject to checks.

Are there any statistics to show that parents who are taking personal responsibility for their children's education are any more likely to be abusing them, or neglecting them, educationally, than those who send their children to school? Or, indeed that such abuse could be any more easily detected if the child were known to the authorities as they are in school? Is there any evidence to back up the implied assertion that parents who remove their truanting children from school are any less concerned about their education than those who have to resort to physically dragging their reluctant/distraught offspring through the school gates?

It might be worth reading some of the growing body of research that shows how well home-educated youngsters do, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds or the educational attainments of their parents. It might be worth talking to some of those families that are exercising their legal right to home-educate without reference to the education authorities to see how they are getting on, and asking the parents who have removed truanting children from school why they did. The "Quote of the Week" beneath the editorial, about needing to detect offensive weapons in schools, might give a clue.

We have statistics aplenty to show the harm that schools are doing to many of our youngsters (severe exam stress, bullying, crushing boredom leading to self-harming, drug use, suicide and murder). How can we wonder that parents are choosing home education and that they want to do so without reference to the education authorities who seem to be unable to get their own house in order?

Parent of four home-educated children

The UK should welcome diversity

Sir: I found Ismail Patel's article ("British Muslims are bewildered and scared", 5 August) distressing for what it says about this country that I call mine. Britain is a mongrel country. It has been formed by wave after wave of invaders, refugees and immigrants for at least the last three or four thousand years. Each new wave has, in time, added to the cultural wealth, and indeed the material wealth, of what we call Britain.

I am English. My Englishness depends on my racial ancestry. My Britishness does not. Unlike David Blunkett, I do not expect people from Middle Eastern or Asian ancestry to demonstrate "Englishness". They cannot. But they can be, and are, British, and we in Britain should be proud of that, and proud that so many people of differing races, religions and background think Britain is worth living in.

While I quite agree with Mr Patel's comparison of the prejudice that the Jews suffered here 100 years ago with what the Muslims are now undergoing, I sincerely hope that I do not have to wait that long to see Muslim MPs helping to govern this country.

David Blunkett, in his targeting of Islamic "fundamentalists", is not only diminishing the human rights of Muslims, he is curtailing the rights of all British people. The media, in constantly reporting the arrests of "Muslims", is compounding the problem. As an anti-war protester, I am proud to walk beside any fellow human, regardless of colour, race or religion, for the sake of peace and tolerance.

Buckland Newton, Dorset

Sir: Jonathan Dickson's double standards (letters, 6 August) are indicative of the discrimination that Muslims presently face: he wants British Muslim community to strongly condemn the behaviour of a few of "their" number; if they do not, his suggestion is that Islamophobia in Britain may be justified.

Firstly, the British Muslim community is formed of a large number of very different individuals, is inseparable from the British community, and can not and does not exert control over its "members". Secondly, racism and discrimination are never justifiable under any circumstances; and thirdly, many acts of aggression against ordinary people (terrorism) are state-sanctioned by powerful countries including Christian ones.

Additionally, Mr Dickson complains that Muslim-led condemnations of terrorism have "left open the question as to who is an 'innocent' ". This is because no definition is needed: it is quite clear to reasonable people that an innocent is exactly that, regardless of whether they live in Iraq or New York.


Sir: While I can sympathise with Mr Patel's feeling that genuine attempts at integration by the Muslim population of the UK seem doomed to failure, I can't help noticing that his primary definition of integration is based on the concept of Muslims seeking political engagement. Surely this is missing the point. Integration, to me, means that you try to live like the rest of the population in your daily life.

Muslims need to ask themselves whether their insistence on trying to live as though they were still in Pakistan or Bangladesh is the wisest path. It doesn't show much faith in the UK if you choose to marry your children off to virtual strangers from abroad and, in the case of the girls, while they are barely old enough to leave school. Neither does it help when you insist on wearing the national dress of a foreign country as your everyday garb.

So, Mr Patel, I'm sorry but your attempts to show how integrated you are by becoming politically engaged in the UK are unlikely to succeed. Integration begins at home.


Big Brother violence

Sir: Johann Hari's claim that "If you hate Big Brother, you hate Britain and everything we have become" (6 August) was an incredibly blinkered and dismissive one. The contestants on Big Brother don't reflect the majority of the British people - they reflect only the needy, desperate, attention-grabbing element. Where is one single person who cares for anything outside of getting their face on television? Maybe I'm living in a bubble, but no one I know shows that utter disregard for their dignity.

I hate Big Brother because of the effort and expense that Channel 4 go to in order to elevate mundaneness to the level of entertainment. I hate it because it is passed off as news by both the tabloids and the broadsheets. I hate it because it actively seeks emotionally volatile people and sets them against each other in order to bring in more advertising revenue. The sexuality of the contestants is irrelevant.

As the Government cracks down on binge-drinking and drunken violence, it might want to take a look at a show which revelled in a drunken fight and the celebration of it in the tabloids the following day.

London SE5

Napoleonic code

Sir: Alexander Linkenbach makes an interesting and important point about the Napoleonic wars (letters, 2 August), indeed about any historical event, that the way it is viewed depends on the perspective of the viewer. However, he makes the cardinal error of measuring an event from the past using modern values.

We might think that the installation of "democracy and basic social justice" was a good thing, but it is doubtful that any but the lunatic fringe of politics in contemporary Europe would have agreed, unless by "democracy" Mr Linkenbach means the restricted, essentially middle-class franchises of the 19th century.

He also has a tendency to view Napoleon through rose-tinted spectacles; I doubt that the people of Spain, Portugal, Poland and Russia would have viewed him as a liberator, no matter how lowly their social status.


Voting patterns

Sir: I take exception to Steve Richards' article (5 August). His assertion that by supporting smaller parties voters are being naive and not "astute political consumers" is patronising to the hundreds of thousands of us out there who do not believe that any of the three main parties hold the solution to Britain's problems.

It highlights the popular fallacy that by not voting for one of the big three you are somehow "throwing your vote away". Just because a party has no real chance of putting its ideas into practice does not mean its ideas are wrong and certainly shouldn't mean that people should stop supporting it.

Mr Richards suggests that the growth of these small parties signifies a "weakening of British democracy". However it seems logical to me that if more people voted for the party whose ideas they actually believed in rather the usual "least worst option", British democracy would in fact be far stronger.

Reading, Berkshire

Sir: I must take issue with Steve Richards' comment in his article that "nearly all elections in Britain are conducted on the basis of proportional voting systems". For the vast majority of the population who don't live in Scotland, Wales or London, this simply is not true. Our local elections, as well as our parliamentary elections, are still conducted under the first-past-the-post system.

Mr Richards will have to come up with another explanation for the growing support for smaller parties.

Thornbury, South Gloucestershire

Morning-after pill

Sir: In your report "Under-16s to get morning-after pill over the counter" (5 August) you wrongly claimed that thousands of high street chemists are to be told they may be allowed to sell Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC) without a prescription to woman under 16.

EHC is licensed as a pharmacy medicine only for women aged 16 or over. The advice of the Royal Pharmaceutical society of Great Britain is that, where pharmacists believe a woman to be under 16, they should deal with the request sympathetically and direct the client to appropriate help and support that will enable her to obtain EHC by an authorised route such as via a GP.

The Department of Health have recently revised their guidance for all health professionals on the provision of contraceptive services for under-16s, a move that has been welcomed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. However, this does not affect the availability of EHC over the counter through community pharmacies.

Director of Practice and Quality Improvement
Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain
London SE1

The pity of war  

Sir: With regard to the commemoration of the dead of the First World War ("The last survivors", 5 August), we must hope that "Their names liveth for evermore", lest we forget the consequences of war, and the duties and responsibilities taken up by men far too young to shoulder them, who all had so much to live for but were still prepared to sacrifice so much; a truth for all conflicts popular or not.

London SE1

Monstrous error

Sir: Strike me! Steve Connor (report, 6 August) should know better than to credit Mary Shelley with showing Frankenstein's monster receiving life from the electricity in lighting. This was a spectacular addition to Shelley's story, presumably

by Robert Florey, for James Whale's 1931 film starring Boris Karloff. Mary Shelley gives no clue as to Frankenstein's secret of creating life, apart, possibly, from the presence of moonlight, a common shorthand for the imagination in English Romantic writing.


Wheels on fire

Sir: May I respectfully take issue with your correspondent Madeleine Lim over the matter of "Take four... wheelbarrows" (property, 4 August). Ms Lim's selections are in no way proper wheelbarrows but mere impressionists. A wheelbarrow should be black, pressed from some form of low-grade steel and have a pneumatic tyre to provide the all-important suspension and "bounce". These are impostors. Poncy in fact.


Greedy gulls

Sir: Regarding the declining numbers of sea birds (report, 30 July), I can't help thinking that a 90 per cent reduction in herring gulls in St Ives would be welcomed by many people, who are fed up with their all night screeching, defecating over people and washing, and food snatching, literally from your mouth.

St Ives,

England's pride

Sir: Given the recent revelations about the sexual proclivities of those in the upper echelons of the Football Association, is it now time to start referring to the nation's football team as the "Three Loins"?

Harrogate, North Yorkshire