Letters: Childhood stolen by pressure to achieve

These letters appear in the October 4 edition of The Independent

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As parents and educators we find ourselves increasingly concerned at the pressure that is being placed on our children and young people. We worry about the long term impact that this pressure may have on our children’s emotional health, particularly on the most vulnerable in our society.

We are concerned to hear of children crying on their way to school, upset that they will not be able to keep up; of parents worried that their four-year-olds are “falling behind” or of six-year-olds scared that they “might not get a good job”. And we wonder what has happened to that short period in our lives known as “childhood”.

The pressure that is put on schools to achieve results, particularly in the tests that now form such a regular feature of a child’s life, has inevitably led to increased pressure on the children themselves.

This is not to blame teachers, or schools. Rather, it is to say that with test results becoming such a high-stakes feature of our education system, schools are put in a very difficult position.

When test results are the key measure of whether a child’s school is “good” or not, we believe that every child’s entitlement to a broad and balanced education is put at risk. We believe all children have the right to become fully rounded individuals, and that in order to help them achieve this, we must protect their emotional well-being, now and for the future.

We believe all children have the right to be treated as individuals, and to be allowed to develop at a pace that is right for them, not to meet a government target.

We call for all those who are equally concerned to speak out against the direction in which education in England, and in other countries around the world, is moving. We call for governments around the world to take into account children’s emotional wellbeing when they consider the “effectiveness” of schools and other educational settings.

Sue Cowley

Neil Leitch
Chief Executive, Pre-school Learning Alliance

Michael Rosen
Professor of Children’s Literature
Goldsmiths, University of London

John Wadsworth
Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education
Goldsmiths, University of London

Sue Palmer
Director, Save Childhood

Sue Atkins

Kevin Courtney

Deputy General Secretary
National Union of Teachers

Liz Bayram
Chief executive
Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years

Jill Berry

and 420 others

The full list of signatories may be viewed here


Genteel British anti-Semitism

Congratulations, or should I say Mazal Tov, to Grant Feller for, belatedly, waking up to the anti-Semitism that has followed him through his life (“Time to stop running”, 2 October).

Like many  British Jews he will have to consider his course of action. Will he become more “Jewish” and start to observe some of those rules that he has, until now, rejected; or will he become less so and even change his religion and try to hide his origins? Whatever he does he will still come across those hurtful comments from colleagues and so-called friends.

One thing that can be gleaned from his article is that traditional, genteel British anti-Semitism has little to do with Israel and a lot to do with anti-Semites. Perhaps Grant will consider taking his family, including his half-Jewish children, to live somewhere where they will be spared the comments that he has suffered from all those years and where his wife will not have to kick him under the table to stop him defending himself and his people.

Dr Tom Weinberger


Grant Feller’s article made me realise that anti-Semitism is more widespread in the UK than I imagined. It is totally unacceptable. But I found it difficult to sympathise with all he said.

He wrote that “the turmoil and catastrophic waste of human life in Israel, Gaza and the rest of the Middle East provides some oxygen” to anti-Semitism. “Some oxygen” belittles the disaster experienced by Palestinians at the hands of Israel.

Mr Feller was in a room with executives who rejected an individual because they were Jewish. Such a dismissal could apply any day of the week to women, blacks, Muslims, gays, disabled people. Anti-Semitism, like all discriminatory behaviour, is unacceptable, but discrimination should be challenged wholesale.

So yes, Mr Feller, fight against bigotry, but on all fronts. And I will continue to criticise Israel for its invasion of another country, bombing of citizens and breach of UN resolutions.

Beryl Wall
London W4


Sleepwalking into a Farage nightmare

Nigel Farage’s simplistic, isolationist, right-wing view of the world has taken root in the Conservative Party.

Do we really want to live under a government that shamelessly tries to bribe the electorate with a tax cut paid for by the poorest people in the land?

Do we really want to turn our backs on the European Convention on Human Rights, which we helped to found and which has served as a beacon of liberty across the world?  Do we really want to detach ourselves from the single most important political and economic union in the world, which has brought peace, prosperity and the embedding of liberal democratic values to our continent?

If there really is a progressive majority in this country, it had better start making its voice heard, before we find ourselves sleepwalking into an inward-looking, reactionary dystopia.

Ian Richards


How we thwarted Hong Kong democracy

After almost a decade living in China and Hong Kong, I find the democracy protests painful to watch. Given all Beijing has at stake, they can accomplish nothing.

Hong Kong was arguably ready for full democracy as early as the 1970s, but the UK opted not to introduce it, since this would have undermined the Crown Colony’s earning potential.Had a democratic system been introduced back then, by 1997 it would have been almost impossible for China to dismantle it. The choice for Britain was simple: principle or profit. Profit won.

Now that the territory is one of Beijing’s cash-cows, it is again denied full democracy, but this time for different reasons. Either way, the fate of Hong Kong has always been wrapped round the axle of outside agendas in the most terrible way. The result is one of the most educated and prosperous societies in the world forced to accept political candidates vetted by a one-party dictatorship.

Beijing’s lack of vision is regrettable; but China is not a democracy, so what can one expect? Britain is one of the oldest democracies in the world. Where lies the greater shame?

Mike Galvin
Tewkesbury,  Gloucestershire


George Osborne should do a goodwill tour of China. The Chinese Communist Party would love him to bits.

They’re pushing the idea of lessening their poverty gap so as to galvanise their internal market. They don’t seem to be too keen on actually implementing the necessary changes to bring this about (they’re rather fond of cheap labour), but, bless ’em, I guess they’re worried that if they don’t at least acknowledge the need then the West will assume they have no idea what they’re doing.

Osborne could go over there and tell them not to bother. Give them the good news. He’s discovered that economies don’t work that way at all. The CCP can drop the charade and start boasting. “Look at us, Britain! We’re way ahead of you!”

Pete Marchetto
Guilin, Guangxi Province, China


Town with a steamy past

I refer to Richard Poad’s letter of 3 October, where he mentions Affairs of the Heart, a novel by HG Wells. In fact the title of the book is The Secret Places of the Heart, published in 1922. The theme of the novel is a search for an adult pattern of sexual morality.

At the time there was an outcry at a suggestion in the book that Maidenhead was a rendezvous for illicit love affairs.

It is well known that Wells used Monkey Island Hotel for his liaison with Rebecca West, a long-time mistress, among his many others. West describes the hotel in her novel Return of the Soldier.

Not a major novel, The Secret Places of the Heart merits reading if only for the illuminating historical and descriptive commentary on places such as Maidenhead, Avebury, Stonehenge and Tintern.

Eric Fitch
Secretary, The HG Wells Society, Hereford

No sex without smartphones

My wife and I noted with concern the introduction of an app for consensual sex (report, 2 October).

Neither of us has a smartphone. We are not looking forward to our newly imposed celibacy.

Michael O’Hare
Northwood, Middlesex