Letters: Barbaric teenagers

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Parents who refuse to grow up breed barbaric teenagers

Sir: While Chief Constable Peter Fahy's comments on the link between alcohol and teenage anti-social behaviour has made the headlines (15 August), it appears that the main thrust of his comments has been strangely overlooked. Mr Fahy is clearly pointing the finger at the widespread lack of parental responsibility.

We have now reached a stage where the level of inept and apathetic parenting has reached critical proportions. Failure to know where a child is, who they are with or what they are up to seems to be all too pervasive. Yet this is only one aspect of parents' failure. Children also copy their elders, and with beer-guzzling, aggression and violence being characteristics of many men and women who are old enough to know better, is it any wonder that young people act the way they do?

There is increasing immaturity among our adults; many simply don't seem to want to grow up at all. Notions of community, respecting those around you and common courtesy are seen as old-fashioned, quaint, and even idealistic amid this ongoing descent into barbarism.



Sir: I really would like to think that Gosport's initiative ("Cool for cops: high five a hoodie", 16 August) will work, and that the local crime rate will fall as a result. The trouble is that it all sounds so patronising.

Do young people seriously see skateboarding police officers as "cool"? Will this initiative do anything to halt the epidemic of violence among young people? Indeed, will the violent young people want to be seen dead skateboarding with a cop?

Getting out there and pretending to be one of the lads is an interesting concept for those whose job is to enforce the law. Whether it will generate more respect for the officers or the law is debatable.

Why do we have to pay people to take an active interest in young people's interests? We used to call such people parents, and it was part of the job description.



Sir: I take it your article on Christian Slater ( 16 August) was meant to illustrate the glamourisation of binge drinking, after reading your leader of the same date about "malign social pressures surrounding alcohol in Britain".

The Extra cover titles says "Wild thing - Christian Slater on booze, brawls..." Inside he is described as a "the Hollywood heartthrob turned hell-raiser", who "chuckles at being reminded of his misdeeds".

Is this the sort of article that contributes to Britain's booze culture?



Yet again, better A-level results

Sir: We have another improvement in A-level results, the umpteenth in succession. And so we witness the annual round of assertions that A-levels are getting easier; and the disingenuous response of the Government that to suggest such a thing is to denigrate the achievements of hard-working students and their dedicated teachers.

Large populations do not change quickly; the population average of any measure will be fairly constant from year to year. There is no reason to believe that A-level students are more or less intelligent or hard-working, than 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

In my own subject, mathematics, the proportion of A grades has increased from about 10 per cent to 45 in the 17 years that I have been teaching. In 1994 the modular syllabus was introduced. This allowed a student to sit examinations on each part of the syllabus when ready, and to resit if he or she was not happy with the result. In 2000 many of the more difficult topics were removed. A further change in 2004 diluted the syllabus again. Mathematics A- level today has about 30 per cent less content than before 1994, and the missing 30 per cent is some of the most difficult work.

I do not doubt the efforts of students, nor do I question the commitment of their teachers: teachers can only teach the syllabus they are given and students can only do their best in the examinations put in front of them.

Students' efforts are being devalued because the Government is continually tinkering with the examination system to give the illusion of progress. All students are cheated by an examination that results in a near-100 per cent pass rate and a near-50 per cent top grade. In such a system the A grade is merely an indicator of competence, rather like the driving test, and not the indicator of exceptional ability that it should be; and the other grades are effective failures.



Sir: It's not that A-level exams have got easier but that the grade boundaries have been lowered little by little each year by the examining boards, thus allowing more passes at all levels. The same has happened with GCSE and there will be the same justified furore next week.

The present A-level in modern languages is as rigorous a test as one could find and as tough in its way as when I passed French and Spanish back in 1963. But the boards have become less and less demanding of high levels of linguistic skill in their desire to please: "Everybody has won, so everybody must have prizes".

I speak as an assistant examiner of over 30 years.



Sir: Reporting of this year's A-level results in the media focuses on the relative increase in students gaining A grades in the private and state sectors. These reports conclude that because the percentage of all pupils in private schools gaining grade A has increased by 6.5 per cent and the percentage of all pupils in comprehensive schools has increased by 2.9 per cent, the results of private schools have improved by more than state schools.

This is, however, a misinterpretation of the statistics because improvement should be compared to the starting point (ie comparing the increase to last year's percentage of A grades). Thus private schools have improved by 6.5 from a starting point of 47.8 thus showing a 13.6 per cent improvement compared with 2006, selective schools by 5.7 from a starting point of 31.3 thus showing a 18.2 per cent improvement and comprehensives by 2.9 from a starting point of 16.5 thus showing 17.6 per cent improvement.

Therefore state selective and comprehensive schools have both improved their standards between 2006 and 2007 (as measured by numbers of A grades) by a significantly higher percentage than private schools. Well done state schools!



Sir: The UK needs a pool of well-qualified graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for the future well-being of the economy.

For several years, Science Learning Centres and everyone involved in the STEM community have been concerned by the steady decline in the popularity of physics A-level, and it is heartening to see this decline halted by a modest increase in entries of 0.4 per cent, mirrored by chemistry, up 0.6 per cent. We are also delighted to see strong growth of nearly 8 per cent in entries for mathematics.

We need to turn the improved popularity of maths, physics and chemistry into sustained growth - there is still a long way to go from this year's 27,466 physics entrants to meet the Government's target of 35,000 by 2014. Also, with bioscience becoming so important for the UK's research and industrial strength, we are concerned at the 0.6 per cent drop in biology entries this year. But we can be heartened that the growth in numbers at AS-level is stronger still this year in maths and all the sciences, and this augurs well for next year's A-level numbers.

Science Learning Centres and the other organisations that make up the STEM community will be working to build on what has already been done to improve the recruitment and professional development of specialist teachers of science and maths, who are absolutely crucial to inspiring more young people to stick with these subjects. But I have a feeling that with the latest results we have begun to turn the corner.



Sir: In the 1960s I was chairman of the Mid-Oxfordshire Association for the Improvement of State Education, whose declared aim was "to make state schools so good that nobody would want to send their children to any other".

We were not alone; we were part of a vigorous nationwide movement. Whatever happened to it? Time for resurrection, I should think.



Sir: Examination pass rates up; standards must be falling. Examination pass rates down; standards must be falling. Say no more!



Sir: Following an extensive study of the media coverage of the recent A-level results I can confirm that 97.6 per cent of all A-level passes were achieved by pretty girls. I demand a government inquiry into why our schools and colleges seem unable to teach ugly people and boys.



US justice makes lethal mistakes

Sir: One of the main points of the 15 August report on restricting the appeals Americans can make against a death sentence was that a number of the 123 innocent people released from death row over the last 30 years would have been executed were it not for the lengthy appeals process. Yet Michael O'Sullivan in his letter (17 August) described such attitudes as "bleeding heart".

Either Mr O'Sullivan failed to read the article correctly or he is completely unconcerned about the possibility of executing an innocent person. If it's the latter perhaps he'd be prepared to offer himself to US authorities in order to be given a lethal injection for a crime he did not commit.



'Terror' claim opens Iran to attack

Sir: The Bush administration's plan to brand Iran's Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organisation is a clear attempt to give a fig-leaf of legal legitimacy to future military intervention against Iran.

If the Revolutionary Guard is added to the US list of terrorist organisations, a state agency of Iran would take the legal status of "enemy combatant" and Iran would officially be termed a terrorist state. By explicitly linking the Iranian elite guard to the post-9/11 "global war on terror", Bush's lawyers would be able to argue that any military strike on Iran is now covered by the October 2002 authorisation to use military force in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This attempt to create a legal framework for military action is the clearest indication so far of America's intent: unjustified, preemptive military intervention against Tehran.



Olympic nightmare for Beijing residents

Sir: Sun Ruoyo is not the only Beijing restaurateur who has acted as a "nail", refusing to accept without protest moves to force her out of her home and business to make way for the Olympics (report, 13 August).

Ye Guozhu has been in prison for three years for trying to organise a protest against the demolition of his family home and two restaurants. Even now he's being persecuted, reportedly tortured by prison guards armed with electro-shock batons and made to serve a 10-month period of "discipline" in Qingyuan prison.

As part of its bid for the 2008 Olympics, China promised improvements in human rights, not further abuses. The Olympics "dream" has turned into a nightmare for people like Ye Guozhu and Sun Ruoyo.



Briefly... British Balkanisation

Sir: In the very year we are bemoaning the tragic outcome of the ill-conceived political division of the Indian sub-continent, we are faced with the proposed subdivision of another territory, under successful (and very largely benign) British rule for exactly three centuries, now threatened by Alex Salmond and the rest of his Slovak Tendency in Edinburgh. They might at least have the honesty to call it by its proper name: partition.



Hate crimes

Sir: I am appalled by the attack on the imam at the Regent's Park Mosque. The Director General of the mosque, Mr Al-Dubayan, puts some of the blame on the media for creating an "atmosphere of Islamophobia". However, would Mr Al-Dubayan also accept that by allowing the selling of hate-filled videos aimed at non-Muslims at the mosque (Joan Smith, 14 August), his organisation must also take some responsibility for this "atmosphere". All communities need to lead by example if we are to avoid encouraging such senseless crimes.



Mechanical racket

Sir: Rory Pitt-Farquahar, the spokesman for charm (Combine Harvesters Are a Rural Menace) featured in Terence Blacker column (9 August), may come across as a rural blimp but he's got a point. I've just closed all the windows to cut out the Formula One racket of a nearby sit-on mower, which in season laps noisily whenever the owner's grass peeps above ground level. If I were an inventive engineer/entrepreneur, my money would be in noise suppression, with the emphasis on farm and garden machinery.



Of WAGs and men

Sir: Ellie Levenson's proposal (16 August) that Wayne Rooney would be wise to follow Coleen McLoughlin's career around the world (at the expense of his own in football) is nonsensical. She is enjoying her 15 minutes of fame solely because she is attached to a high-profile sportsman. Similarly strange is Ellie's assertion that men don't like Mrs Beckham because she is "sexy". The fact that she appears gormless, has the appearance of a startled stick insect and was part of an awfully irritating pop concoction may have more to do with it.



Origins of 'Doh!'

Sir: It was Dan Castellanata - the voice of Homer Simpson himself - who credited the expression "Doh!" to Laurel and Hardy's legendary foil, James Finlayson (letter, 14 August). Finlayson used it as far back as the 1930s in exasperation at the antics of cinema's immortal chaos merchants.