League tables, green issues and others


League tables stop pupils learning how to think for themselves

League tables stop pupils learning how to think for themselves

Sir: Thank you for your article "More pupils than ever cheat at school exams" (16 April). It is high time the more insidious effects of league tables were made public.

I teach English in a sixth-form college, a position I have held since before league tables existed in their present form. Since the tables have assumed such importance, there has been an alarming increase in the number of students who enter the college incapable of putting together any piece of work without teacher assistance.

It is clear from talking to the students that the reason for this is that in some secondary schools, students have only been expected to pull together a few ideas and their teachers - mindful of the league tables and their own performance-related pay - have told them what to rewrite over and over again until it was "good enough". Many teachers, of course, realise that if they don't do this and other teachers do, their students will be disadvantaged in the marks they finally achieve.

Some of the students entering the college are really upset when they realise the extent to which we expect their course work to be their own. A few do resort to plagiarism from the internet, much of it grotesquely inappropriate (an "essay" complete from Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare which was submitted to me as course work three years ago sticks particularly in my mind), because they are overwhelmed by the prospect of structuring an essay themselves.

The advent of Communication Key Skills, where the portfolio of written work can be revised again and again, until it is error free, has confused the issue even more. No wonder some people consider it a worthless qualification; students taking a job in an office will have only hours to complete a task they can spend months on in college!

If your article goes some way towards making students and professionals realise the dangers of blind allegiance to league tables, it will have done education in the widest sense more service than almost any educational initiative for some time.



Our selfish choices deepen global crisis

Sir: Your concentration on "the green issue" and the related "global crisis" (18 April ) is admirable. In the end, however, it is we ourselves who must change if solutions are to be found.

As a non-driver I have, over the years, watched with despair as car ownership and use have increased. The rural environment in which I grew up more than 60 years ago has disappeared. The urban environment in which I now live is packed, street after street, with parked cars.

I have never met a car owner who switched to public transport on principle, and I know many who find travel by public transport frustrating and intolerable. I know others who have chosen to live in remote villages to suit their preference for the romantic "good life" and have, in the process, made themselves dependent on their motor cars.

The fact is, in spite of the pieties we middle-class liberals and The Independent are so fond of, we do not want to change. How many of us have forced ourselves to switch to public transport? How many have refused the pressure from our teenage children to pay for their driving lessons and buy them cars? How many have shopped at local shops on principle, instead of driving to the nearest supermarket? How many of us have chosen to look for a house where there is good public transport rather than ample parking?

Yes, the pressure being put on our environment is intolerable but we are unprepared to make the sacrifices which would ensure its healthy survival. Until we are, there seems little point in pious platitudes.



Sir: Your Green Issue is welcome, but on 7 April, in your Business section, Hamish McRae wrote a whole page about oil prices and never once mentioned CO 2 or climate change. The Lib Dems are right: the environment has to run like a "green thread" through all our thinking, most especially in economics, for which it has profound implications. For if high fossil-fuel prices damage economic growth, they are also the only economic factor that can realistically lead to a reduction of CO 2 output, by discouraging waste and by making alternatives viable.

Climate change will bring economic as well as ecological catastrophe, and the belief that cheap oil can bring us long-term wealth is pathologically irrational.



Sir: I thank The Independent for drawing attention to what the Liberal Democrats agree is the greatest threat faced by our planet today. Unfortunately for Labour and the Tories it is the issue that dare not speak its name. No wonder when climate emissions are rising under Labour, and Britain was known as the "dirty man of Europe" when the Tories were in government.

Sadly The Independent appears almost alone in the national media in its willingness to raise the profile of the issue. We are also trying to raise the issue in the election campaign and only last Friday Charles Kennedy and I made the "green thread" of policies which run through our manifesto the key issue of our day. We do, unlike the other parties, take it seriously. In the last Parliament three of the four main debates on the environment and climate change in the House of Commons were in the very limited Liberal Democrat opposition day time. It is astonishing that such a serious issue still barely registers on the radar. This is not from a lack of trying on our part.




Sir: Congratulations to The Independent for raising environmental issues up the election agenda. I am, however, surprised at the bias to the Liberal Democrats. An objective reading of the party manifestos would suggest that the Liberal Democrats' claim to have the best policies on climate change is a triumph of spin over substance.

The two specific commitments they make are to meet the UK's Kyoto obligations well ahead of schedule and to set a target to generate 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. The first has already been met by the Government and the second is government policy as set out in the energy White Paper. Hardly radical stuff.

The Labour manifesto commits to go beyond the UK's Kyoto commitment, reaffirming the Government's commitment to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the 1990 level by 20 per cent by 2010 and put the UK on a course to a 60 per cent reduction by about 2050. The Green Party manifesto wants to go even farther, with a 50 per cent cut in carbon dioxide by 2020 and by 85 per cent by 2030. The Conservative manifesto does not even reaffirm the Kyoto commitment. On this basis, the Liberal Democrats rank third out of four.



Immigration control is not racist

Sir: While I have every sympathy for Mr Mazandarani and the abuse he has received from mindless xenophobes ("The day Michael Howard met his match", 16 April), as a generally liberal individual, I resent the widespread implication that anybody supporting controls on immigration is racist.

I appreciate, as much as anybody, the contribution immigrants have made and continue to make to this country, both culturally and economically. But surely there is an argument for a more tightly controlled immigration policy.

Aside from genuine cases of humanitarian need, economic migration should be determined by the requirements of our essential public services and not dictated by commercial demand. Economic growth through an increasing supply of cheap labour is ultimately to the detriment of our environment.

With continuing housing shortages and growing transport congestion, multinational organisations importing low-paid overseas labour is of questionable benefit to present UK citizens of any ethnic origin. I do not want to see more of our countryside covered in concrete for the sake of increased profit margins for big business.



Mad arguments in ID card debate

Sir: Thank goodness you've spoken out (leading article, 18 April). My only disappointment is that you confined your criticisms to identity cards. Personally I've never seen the point to driving licences, because I hear that in Soho you can buy a convincing forgery. Similarly with passports. Why do we need something so easily faked?

Seriously, you (and the Lib Dems, whom I support because they opposed the war) are dead wrong about ID cards. I had one in Belgium and being required to carry it didn't infringe my civil liberties; it made life a lot easier. What was infuriating were the problems my wife faced when, as a Briton who doesn't drive, had never used credit cards and always worked abroad, she returned to the UK and was trying to establish her identity over here. You try buying a prepaid mobile phone or opening a new bank account when everyone wants to see two utility bills from an address you don't yet have.

Most other EU countries think we are insane not having ID cards, and so do I. Their absence is why we are targeted by illegals. Having them seems as obvious as it does to most major firms that company staff passes should include the holder's photograph and signature.

And what, pray, are the civil liberties you see being eroded by ID cards?



Where are the promised terrorists?

Sir: Now that the "ricin conspiracy" has been exposed as something of an exaggeration, maybe we should have another look at the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005.

The Act was forced through Parliament in double-quick time and with much controversy, on the basis that it was necessary to have "control orders" to deal with British and foreign terrorists who were beyond the criminal law.

I have looked at the papers carefully every day, and, as far as I can see, the only people who have been put on control orders are the foreign men who had been released on bail after being detained under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act. It was not necessary to bring in the Act to deal with these men, as, although the House of Lords had found their detention to be unlawful, it was not unlawful to restrict their liberty by bailing them, and there were no material differences between the terms on which they were bailed and the terms of the subsequent control orders.

If the Government didn't have anyone in mind when it assured us of the urgent necessity of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, why did it give the impression that it did? And if it did have particular people in mind, why hasn't it taken action?



Laos dam project respects wildlife

Sir: The article "Dammed to oblivion" (5 April) about the Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric project in Laos describes the plateau which would be flooded to form the reservoir as a verdant forest, home to some of the world's rarest animals. In fact, the area is degraded from years of uncontrolled hunting, logging, and collection of forest products.

Now, as a result of the project, people will get help to improve their livelihoods. The developers are legally bound to ensure these communities achieve higher incomes and wildlife will find a safe haven within an exceptional nature reserve, nearly six times the size of Singapore, which has been legally and financially secured for the next 30 years.

The article also makes vague accusations of bribery, which the World Bank takes very seriously. If there is any evidence of corruption, we ask that it be reported. The World Bank supported independent local consultations to ensure that communities understood the impacts; that ethnic and vulnerable groups were represented; and that the consultations were conducted in a language and format that was culturally appropriate.




China, Japan and Tibet

Sir: If the Chinese feel justified in damaging Japanese-related assets in China because of the way Chinese history is taught in Japanese schools (report, 18 April), then surely Tibetans would be equally justified in damaging Chinese-related assets in Tibet because of the way Tibetan history is taught in Chinese schools.



Changing names

Sir: Miles Kington (18 April) is a bit wide of the mark in claiming that it is only actors and popes who change their names, and that musicians stick to the name given them by their parents. What about pianists, for instance Moura Lympany (Mary Johnstone); composers, Peter Warlock (Philip Haseltine); dancers, Alicia Markova (Alice Marks); singers, Beverly Sills (Bubbles Silverman - though I guess that that first name is not her very first)?



Motorways need Jamie

Sir: Sarah Balme writes about awful hospital dinners (15 April) and suggests Jamie Oliver could help. Perhaps he could also look at what is on offer in our motorway service stations. We have just driven from Perpignan to Hull and there was always a choice of fresh vegetables at every French motorway station. Back in England we could have plastic sandwiches, burgers or KFC ...



Risk your neck, not mine

Sir: Ian Hayward (letter, 16 April) has every right to take risks - even stupid risks, if that's what he wants - with his own life. That's one of the hallmarks of a free society. He has no right whatsoever to take risks with other peoples' lives. Why do petrolheads find it so difficult to grasp the difference?



Difficult birth

Sir: Your article (15 April) on Nicole Kidman's difficulties at the UN said: "Her schedule yesterday began with confessing her desire to have children on national television during a tête à tête with Richard and Judy." Is that really appropriate for what I understand to be a breakfast show?



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