Good schools are only part of the answer for children in care
Sir: The article by Andrew Adonis, Minister for Schools, (28 August) inspired me with a pinch of half-baked hope. It is encouraging to hear that there is to be a focus on the lamentable lack of educational achievement for children in care. The prospect of such young people being able to attain places in the best state or private sector schools sounds appealing.
Having spent over a quarter of a century working with such young people I am painfully aware of the problems they experience and present in the classroom. The school often becomes a locus for extremely challenging behaviour, though it is rarely the cause. From the substantial number of young people in care I have known, I can think of a few for whom an excellent school would, by itself, provide the answer to their problems. However, for the most troubled and troublesome members of this unhappy group, the notion that even the best possible school could meet all their intensely complex needs is naive and deluded.
Children do not enter the care world lightly. Local authorities will only incur the expensive responsibilities in loco parentis when there are no alternatives. These children will have endured longstanding and generally awful experiences. A fine school may provide an essential part of the answer to such problems, but only a part. The young person needs to be actively involved in the process of looking at their educational needs and ambitions. The school needs to be integrated into a network of support systems, including foster carers or residential staff (as applicable) counsellors, mentors and youth workers.
The idea that there is a simple cure for the complex educational problems of kids in care, just popping them into a classy school, is a non-starter. It would lead to such kids notching up further failure and, in all probability, copping the blame.
Migrants allow firms to neglect training
Sir: Why do you suppose business leaders might want unlimited immigration (front page, 30 August)? I would argue that it is to keep down the pay and conditions of workers in this country.
I have two sons, 16 and 17 years old. Both I and they, for the past 12 months, have been trying to obtain them apprenticeships in the building sector. Initially this was as a plumber and electrician. We have also tried to get them any other apprenticeship. There are none available. My boys' friends have also found it impossible to get an apprenticeship.
People I know in the building industry have told me that this situation is mirrored across the country and is almost entirely due to the influx of trained trades-people from Poland. This has allowed major building companies to absolve themselves of the responsibility of training our own workers. Friends in the building trade have told me that they have begun to notice that building companies are starting to offer poorer pay and conditions as a consequence of the sudden rise in supply of skilled workers.
Imagine how much worse it will be if workers from Romania and Bulgaria are allowed unlimited access to our labour market. This is not an anti-foreigner rant. I would do the same if I lived in a country like Romania that didn't offer the same prospects as working in the UK might. However, our first priority must be people who already live here.
Sir: Your front page carries a number of quotes from chairmen and CEOs of large companies, telling us lesser mortals of the benefits of unrestricted immigration.
All will live in substantial properties, in desirable villages or suburbs where the devastating effects of massive sudden increases in settlement on housing, transport and services will not affect them. While an untramelled influx might be beneficial to their businesses and bonuses, they will not suffer the downside.
Put each of them in a council flat in an overcrowded inner city, or in a queue for NHS treatment, and they would rapidly change their minds.
ROTHERHAM, SOUTH YORKSHIRE
Sir: Mary Dejevsky's concern for central and eastern Europe's "highly skilled people, squandering their skills in Britain" (Opinion, 25 August) is touching. Presumably, she would like to resolve this "moral question" by leaving them happily poor and unemployed in their home regions, perhaps through the creation of some form of semi-permanent, second-class EU membership?
Depriving central and eastern Europeans of one of the few direct economic opportunities that an expanded European Union offers is not the solution to the our problems of low wages and low skills, or the new member states' difficulties restructuring and adjusting to the single European market
DR SEAN HANLEY
LECTURER IN EAST EUROPEAN POLITICS, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
Lutyens would not approve
Sir: In the article on the Stirling short list ("The best new buildings", 25 August), one point about the Brick House brought me up short.
Referring to Sir Edwin Lutyens in support of the Caruso St John design is a step too far. Sir Edwin was indeed the imaginative designer of his time, but he worked with a structure of design rules. He designed with wit; sometimes bent the classic rules, but the results were always buildings (in particular, houses) that could comfortably house a family and their possessions.
The Brick House is a typical statement of the current architectural mode; an ego-trip, clever, inventive but, in the long run dictatorial and self-aggrandising.
Just imagine putting your furniture in the room illustrated.
THORPE BAY, ESSEX
Party of progress under Campbell
Sir: Sean O'Grady's article "Bring back Charlie Kennedy" (25 August) fails to highlight the progress that the Liberal Democrats are making under Ming Campbell's leadership.
The proposals produced by the party's tax commission represent the most radical shake-up of taxation proposed by any major political party in decades. Over two million people would be taken out of paying income tax and National Insurance altogether and we would scrap the regressive council tax in favour of local income tax based on the ability to pay. Over 25 million people would benefit from a 2p cut in the rate of national income tax.
Unlike the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are serious about the environment. Warm words will not tackle climate change. We need to shift the burden of taxation away from positives - such as rising incomes - and towards activity that damages the environment.
We are also the only party that is serious about tackling income and wealth inequalities. It is not acceptable that the richest 20 per cent contribute a lower proportion of their income to the Exchequer than the poorest 20 per cent.
The most recent ICM poll showed Lib Dem support rising 5 percentage points to 22 per cent. By any historical analysis, this is an extraordinarily strong position for the party to be in at this stage in the electoral cycle.
Under Ming's leadership, the Liberal Democrats will set out bold policies for a fairer and greener Britain and can be confident of continued electoral success.
LORELY BURT MP
(SOLIHULL, LIB DEM) HOUSE OF COMMONS
A simpler way to bake bread
Sir: Andrew Whitley's recipe for bread (Extra, 24 August) will not have encouraged many people to bake their own, as this method takes half the day.
The secret is the temperature of the water, which should be hand-hot. The yeast then froths quickly and does most of the work for you. You only have to mix the yeast and water well with the flour, knead the dough for two minutes and push it into shape in the tin. It takes less than an hour to rise to the top of the tin. It is not necessary to leave the dough to rise twice. I have tried this and the resulting loaves are no better.
I use the best organic flour and I make two 2lb loaves each week. They are not heavy, unlike some of the expensive ones you can buy. Everything is done from start to finish in under two hours.
I think Andrew Whitley is making an easy and enjoyable thing like bread-making appear very difficult.
Cuba has real democracy
Sir: Talking to "liberal" Miami Cuban émigrés will not make Johann Hari (28 August) more informed about life in a developing country.
"Ban on the internet"? I regularly communicate with Cuban hospital workers on the internet. It's hardly a revelation that Cubans do not have internet access in their homes; poor people tend not to have a phone line.
Elections? I would refer him to the excellent letter by R Maunders (19 August). If Cuban elections are not "open" neither are the elections of Elmbridge Borough Council in Surrey. The largest group on the council are representatives of the people's (residents') association.
Political prisoners? The people holding most political prisoners in Cuba are American, at camp X-ray, Guantanamo Bay.
DR RICHARD LANIGAN
KINGSTON UPON THAMES, SURREY
No mercy for errant kangaroos
Sir: Guy Keleny is right that cars cause car accidents (Errors & Omissions, 26 August), but his reference to kangaroos reminded me of a trip my wife and I took last year to Kalbarri, about 400 miles north of Perth on the west coast of Australia.
We arrived in Kalbarri National Park at dusk - and the locals were horrified when we told them we had been driving at that time. Apparently the kamikaze creatures are attracted by headlights and jump in front of vehicles. On hearing what we had done, one forthright Australian said : "If a kangaroo jumps in front of your car, don't try to avoid it; just hit the bastard. You'll probably do more damage to yourself if you try to avoid it."
Sir: Guy Keleny neatly challenges an "unexamined assumption" about the causes of car accidents but finishes by making another when stating that "car accidents are caused by cars".
Car accidents are caused by people. Usually, the driver is driving badly. Someone parking a car on a slope without applying the handbrake might cause an accident, too. More remote from the action, a badly designed or badly installed component that fails was designed or installed by a person.
None of our cars over the years has ever caused an accident: they just sat there quietly in the drive waiting for me to get in, drive off and do something careless.
Time for a dignified and legal exit
Sir: Am I alone amongst those over 70 in being rather fed up with the endless moaning in local and national media about the perceived problems with care for the elderly?
We use up NHS and social work resources, block hospital beds, insist on living on in our houses when they are sorely needed for the young, cost tax-payers an arm and a leg to keep in more and more residential homes (where few of us pay for our keep, having been advised to give all our assets away well in advance), and latest in the list, apparently we now won't eat up our food when in hospital.
And am I alone in feeling that it would be a great relief to many of us if we could rely upon an option, when we felt the time had come, of a legal, voluntary, dignified, final exit? At present that's only guaranteed for forward thinking vets, medics and pharmacists, or for those who can face, and afford, a gruelling one-way trip to a more advanced and compassionate country.
Investing in failure
Sir: As a teacher of many years of doctorate students I am glad not to be supervising Ewa Lucas-Gardiner on her doctorate, when she wants us to spend more time with those who have worked hard yet failed to achieve even a C at GCSE (Letters, 28 August). However, I am even more delighted she has no input whatsoever to our 2012 Olympic training strategy.
PROFESSOR IAN W BOYD
ST ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE
Sir: Wildlife conservation is really hard to do. It demands skill, knowledge, discipline and investment sustained over decades, during which the threats usually just keep getting bigger. It is therefore wonderful news (28 August) that 16 bird species have been pulled back from among the "living dead" - species committed to extinction because of small population sizes or vanishing habitats. It shows us that saving wild species sometimes really is possible. Many lessons can be drawn from this, along with a much-needed reason for optimism.
DR JULIAN CALDECOTT
Ordeal for the media
Sir: Just who does Natascha Kampusch think she is, failing to fulfil media expectations? No sustained tearful accounts of her "dungeon" ordeal. No condemnation of her captor. No joyful reunion with her parents. Doesn't she realise that if she goes on like this she'll have blown all chances of a book, a movie and a countrywide speaking tour for those aching to wring from her every last prurient detail of her suffering?
Sir: Christoph Alexander points out (Letters, 28 August) that painting the blades of wind turbines black and yellow, instead of white, would enable birds to see them better, but might be objected to by humans. It is now known that birds not only see more colours, and more sharply, than we do, but see infrared wavelengths (Scientific American, July). Blades could be painted so as to look white to humans but infrared-bright to birds.
Insult to Cooper
Sir: The correspondence about the graffiti on Cooper Brown's car puzzles me. Surely anyone who saw him get in the car and heard him speak would deduce those three facts?
Sir: I don't suppose that Cooper Brown was by any chance born in Iowa?