IoS letters, emails & online postings (30 May 2010)

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For a school to achieve "outstanding" status, there presumably has to be something outstanding about the way it is run. The coalition proposes to "fix" what is so categorically not broken (everything else is, apparently) by converting such schools to academies. In doing so, it will place them under the control of "sponsor"-heavy governing bodies, thus ensuring that any other voices can always be outvoted, and removing democratic accountability through local authorities.

At the same time, it proposes to take money from the education mainstream and invest it in ideologically driven "free" schools run by whom, exactly? The number of hard-pressed parents with the time, expertise or inclination to set up and run their own school is likely to be small. Jostling for position at the head of the queue are likely to be religious organisations, maverick individuals with a religious axe to grind or a bloated ego to nourish, and for-profit organisations keen to, well, make a profit, even if that means economising on facilities for pupils and insinuating advertising into the classroom.

The coalition's schools policy threatens the fabric of our education system far more even than Labour's regrettable infatuation with academising schools at the other end of the league tables.

Mike Lim

Bolton, Greater Manchester

Peter Melchett is right to push for money from the Common Agricultural Policy to help farmers reduce carbon emissions (Letters, 23 May). However, a more effective way to reduce farm carbon emissions would be through processors and retailers paying a fair price for produce at the farm gate, thereby generating farm profits that can be invested in technology and techniques to permit this to happen.

On my extensive and low-carbon red poll cattle-rearing system, it takes four years from conception of a calf to that animal weighing 520kg and going to slaughter for beef. It costs me an average of 50p a day to keep the cow during pregnancy and then to look after and raise her calf. This gives a cost of £730. Were I to have sold this animal commercially, l would have been paid (at last week's average price of £1.43 per kg liveweight) a grand total of £743.60, giving me a profit after four years of £13.60.

Sadly, other than at a niche level, producing healthy and low-carbon food just doesn't pay at present.

Huw Rowlands

Mickle Trafford, Chester

Paul Vallely makes a faulty assumption that you can equate age with wisdom: wisdom is acquired through first-hand experience, not longevity ("The Lords is not perfect, but it works", 23 May).

He asserts that an elected senate would lose its independence of judgement and ability to resist the "executive" from over-hasty and ill-advised legislation, but in the United States, the Senate regularly challenges Presidential legislation and forces the "executive" to think again. The Lords has been past its sell-by for years. Piecemeal change won't do. The case for real change is overwhelming.

Richard Denton-White

Portland, Dorset

If a recreational drug, having been taken by 14,000 people on but one occasion, resulted in one death and 15 hospitalisations with over 150 requiring the attention of paramedics, the press and public would quite rightly be seeking for it to be made illegal.

Yet I hear no such clamour about the Edinburgh Marathon which achieved the same dismal record of pain and injury while making our city virtually impassable to the non-sportive majority.

John Eoin Douglas


In your piece on me last week "Coalition asks Hooper to look again at Royal Mail sale" (23 May), there were two errors. First of all, I am not a knight. Second, last year's strike at the Royal Mail was not caused by my recommendation to part privatise the Royal Mail.

The strikes were caused by a dispute over the 2007 pay and modernisation agreement. You also said that the Royal Mail is "hugely successful" having just reported "a pre-tax profit of £404m, up 25 per cent on the previous year". Huge strides in modernisation and significant improvements in the finances have been made by the management and workforce. But in fact the Royal Mail made a pre-tax loss of £262m in the year, the £404m figure being for operating profit before exceptional items – a big difference. Net trading cash outflow was £517m. With the prospect of a £10bn pension deficit, the finances of the company could not today be described as hugely successful.

Richard Hooper

London N2

According to the US Census Bureau, baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. I hope that Dawn Airey, Neil Morrissey, Toby Young and Jean-Christophe Novelli won't be upset to discover they are not Generation X slackers but privileged overachievers.

David Stansfield

London E14

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