Jingoism, education and others

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Flying the flag for our boys shows support, not jingoism

Flying the flag for our boys shows support, not jingoism

Sir: I too "am happy to be a citizen of a rather nice country which is generally pleasant to live in and is (on the whole) kind to its residents" (Sam Boote's letter, 2 July). But that's where any similarity between us ends.

What is wrong with this wonderful, beautiful country of ours that people with views like Mr Boote's are allowed to intimidate the genuine support that people show for the England football team?

I am a clear-thinking professional woman whose job encompasses the European dimension. When I travel abroad I see, for example, the Danish and German flags flying proudly on flag poles in gardens, and when in the US I see the American flag flying in peaceful gardens, on the edge of lakes and down to the sea.

Supporters from the other countries in the Euro 2004 championship painted their faces to show their flag. They wear their flag with pride, without being accused of having a "we are the greatest" attitude. The large number of people in this country who fly the flag simply shows how great the support is for the England team.

In multi-cultural Luton where my husband works, the multi-ethnic blend people reflected their country, with their England car flags. People smiled and felt passionate about supporting our boys. What is wrong with that? Nothing, except in the mind of someone who sees it as jingoistic. Wake up, enjoy the sport and support our boys.

Mrs JAN READ
Bengeo, Hertfordshire

Freedoms, reforms and education choice

Sir: One obvious aspect of the debate on "choice" in education seems largely to be have been missed ("Tories offer school choice by expanding state system", 30 June). It is much easier to provide parents with a plausible choice of schools in a large city than in a small town or rural area. Admissions systems that make sense in London will often make no sense at all in rural Cambridgeshire.

Moreover, the Tories' £5,500 voucher would have a very different effect in places that already have many private schools compared with places that have few. In the former, there will be an enormous deadweight loss, as public money is handed over to people who would have spent their own money in the same way, but not necessarily in the latter.

Why, then, is the debate carried on as if the Secretary of State for Education, of whatever party, should impose a uniform structure on education throughout the country? If ever there was a clear point in favour of local authority control of school education policy, this is it.

DAVID HOWARTH
Cambridge

Sir: The Conservatives' proposals to use state funds to create more independent schools to expand parental choice raise a number of issues. As your leader (28 June) suggests, the proposals will allow independent schools to operate their own admission rules, create more selective schools and thus less choice for children who fail to meet the criteria for admission. Presumably these schools will have the freedom to expel pupils who fail to maintain the schools' social, cultural and educational standards, and no doubt the state-maintained schools will be expected to accommodate them. This will create more sink schools.

There is also the issue of maintaining standards. The proposals do not make clear whether state-funded "independent" schools would be expected to deliver the National Curriculum and conform to the Ofsted model of inspection and schooling. These provide the current framework, set the tone in which state-maintained schools operate, and provide the means for holding schools publicly to account. Would "independent" schools be allowed to choose their own curricula, ethos, standards, targets and educational values? Such freedoms would allow these schools to develop their own distinctive characters and create a more diverse social, cultural and religious school system in the inner cities.

However, the real issue is whether expanding school choice and diversity can solve the problems of low expectations, poor health and economic and social deprivation that undermine the work of many inner-city schools? It may get votes at the expense of social cohesion.

Dr GEOFF LOWE
Sheffield

Sir: Your article "Exam board halts online marking test" (25 June) is incorrect. Edexcel is continuing to use its onscreen marking. We have so far successfully marked over 1.2 million scripts onscreen in this pilot.

We are very pleased with the success of the project. It has shown that we can deploy the onscreen marking system for high volumes and bring significant benefits in terms of speed, security and quality. This is the largest pilot of its type ongoing in education. We have marked over 40 separate exam papers onscreen, collecting upwards of one million marks a day over the period. From time to time, we have adjusted online and traditional data collection to balance the work being done in the different marking centres.

The use of the onscreen marking is ongoing and will continue for another few weeks. We have taken the decision to mark some of the last papers in the traditional way to even out the workload on the processing team at Edexcel and make best use of our resources.

JOHN KERR
Chief Executive, Edexcel

North-South divide

Sir: Anthony Sampson sees transport congestion and third-world capital city squalor as consequences of the growing North-South political divide (Opinion, 3 July). Countries such as France, which in our lifetimes have successfully decentralised government to the regions, have shown that these effects can be avoided by creating properly planned regional centres of government.

Both in the French departmental centres of government, and even within the Paris region itself, brand new high speed rail networks, urban housing and the linked infrastructure for commerce and services have been put in place. Government and regional offices have not been grafted onto the most congested or prosperous provincial centres. The political and economic divides between established cities and regions have not been perpetuated.

The equivalent strategy in England - where distances are less but congestion is more widespread - might be to create new super-regions, eg, South, Midlands and North.

Cities such as Newcastle, Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham would not need to become the regional seats of government. Instead, they could be linked into a massively improved transport network that serves new government centres while giving a sustained boost to their inter-regional and international status as well as to locally-led cultural and commercial regeneration.

The Welsh and Scots could in their turn be provided with the resources and transport links from English super-regions to decide to carry out similar programmes to relieve Cardiff and Edinburgh.

PETER MONK
Swindon

Children's freedoms

Sir: Deborah Orr ("The perils of giving children too much freedom", 3 July) has confused A S Neill's philosophy at Summerhill School.

Neill distinguished clearly between freedom and licence: licence means doing what you like whatever the impact on others; freedom means acting with consideration for others but not being forced to do things you do not want to do.

Neill summed up the difference thus: In the authoritarian household the parents have all the rights; in the licentious household the children have all the rights; in the free household parents and children have equal rights.

Summerhill children, during Neill's time at any rate, were constantly commended by visiting adults for their good manners.

JOHN DAVISON
London SW9

Gay dean

Sir: The fundamentalists seek to narrow and exclude in support of a pure church.

What would our Lord have said about it all? I suggest: "You may save your church, but you will lose the people. Which is the more important?"

Instead, the cry comes that we must be true to the scriptures. Goody, let's go and stone an adulterer.

When will the Church grow up?

I, for one, remain sorry that Canon Jeffrey John was forced to withdraw from his appointment as Bishop of Reading.

DEREK S TITFORD
Waltham St Lawrence, Reading

Abortion questions

Sir: I reject Johann Hari's implication ("Pictures, foetuses and a misconceived debate", 30 June) that any true, rational liberal also has to be an unquestioning member of the pro-choice movement.

"Science-based arguments" can be as dangerous in the moral sphere as religious fanaticism. His argument that human rights should be based on the sentience of the foetus has disturbing corollaries: does it mean that we can clear our hospitals and institutions of those in a coma, or suffering from Parkinson's disease, senile dementia or severe mental disabilities? Why should something as trivial as the ability to feel pain at the point of death underpin the right to life?

A foetus is, at least, a potential human life, with a distinct life-path already set in part by an established genetic inheritance. A purely mechanical approach to abortion, even at 18 weeks, is surely too callous. Our society, our children, and women who have abortions, would be better off if we were more honest with ourselves and recognised abortion for the serious and morally difficult act that it is.

TOM GOSLING
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Sir: I saw with great interest the article on new scanning technology (29 June) and the fascinating picture you published of a 10-week old foetus in the womb.

In the light of this, I found Johann Hari's column deeply puzzling. Rather than welcoming the information that this new technique makes available, he seemed to be making a rather desperate attempt to stick to an entrenched position. Surely the point of continuing research into all kinds of scanning methods is to bring to light as much evidence as possible on a given topic so that we can arrive at ever better-informed conclusions.

KAREN RODGERS
Cambridge

Sir: I am the mother of three children, one of whom has Down's syndrome. I am very glad that Peter Singer (interview, 1 July) has not had his way. When our daughter was born in 2001 after an uneventful pregnancy we were shocked to discover that she had Down's syndrome as well as a serious heart defect.

In those first few bewildering weeks, which were a blur of hospital appointments, more and more bad news, and learning how to administer heart medications to a newborn, I would have probably been quite grateful if someone had suggested that they could solve our "problem" with a nice clean lethal injection.

Thankfully our society is too civilised to take advantage of parents in a crisis such as this. We regained our composure, our daughter had her heart defect repaired, and as Singer's ideology is unacceptable here we very much enjoy life with our beautiful and gregarious three-year-old.

Even if she is not perfect to Singer and others, she is to us. It chills me to think that some believe it would have been right to kill her as a newborn.

EVA MIDDLETON
Harrogate

Arthritis diet

Sir: Anna Cootes's theory that arthritis is avoidable is probably right (Dennis Taylor's letter, 3 July). In 1985 Doris Grant and Jean Joice published their version of the Hay Diet, Food Combining for Health. Doris adopted this method of eating and cured herself of rheumatoid arthritis.

IRENEE PETERMAN
Manchester

No swallows

Sir: Sad to relate, for the first time there are no swallows over Mottingham, SE9.

W BLASZCZYK
London SE9

Identifying with France

Sir: So John Lichfield has decided he dislikes England for being too "nationalistic", and prefers to identify himself with the French ("Never felt more like singing Les Bleus", 29 June).

Is this the same France in which, at every election over the last couple of decades, almost 20 per cent of the population regularly voted National Front?

Dr ALAN KIRBY
Oxford

A-level deficit

Sir: Is it any wonder why people are so Eurosceptic? Having just taken my A-Level in government and politics I was astonished to find questions such as: "What are the problems with CAP?" and "Explain why there is a democratic deficit within the EU".

What hope for a more pro-European generation arising?

Miss R S KARNAS
London N18

Cheese and gender

Sir: Never mind rivers (letters, 1 and 3 July). The cheese that originates in the rural La Gruyère region of Switzerland is officially named Le Gruyère. Moreover, the region is centred on the historic, gender-neutral but apparently plural village of Gruyères.

MATTHEW TELLER
Banbury, Oxfordshire

Take no notice

Sir: Visitors to my native city would do well to travel by public transport. A prominently displayed sign spotted in the Cotham district declares: "Police take your property out of your car before a thief does." I am left wondering whether there is rivalry between the two groups, or is it simply a case of force majeure?

GRAHAM VENABLES
Bristol

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