Letters: Conditions British teachers face

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Astounded by the disgraceful conditions British teachers face

Sir: Both Stephen Shaw and Margaret Jones (letters, 25 August) make important points about education in the UK, but the most important component is teachers. The support they fail to receive from the public and the Government astounds me. Teachers' working conditions in schools where I have taught are disgraceful. No proper preparation desks or areas to read and research.

Why is there such a shortage of teachers in this country? Poor pay, little respect for the teaching profession, and an attitude of blaming the education system and teachers for all the problems in society. I have worked in three comprehensive schools in Kent and the state of school buildings are an absolute disgrace. Office workers would not put up with what teachers have to endure everyday.

Students also are shortchanged in many ways. One way is too many teachers who stay for only a short time (like me), another is too many useless exams that lack integrity and newspapers that print lists of successful schools when the public has no real idea of the conditions in other schools that are not so successful. Single-sex schools and church schools dominate and these tend to have a more stable staff.

I have found it challenging teaching here and have nothing but respect for the teachers who keep trying so hard when they get nothing but brickbats. The Government could save millions if it tried harder to retain teachers by providing them with decent working conditions, respecting their professional abilities and giving them long-service leave and study leave so they can refresh themselves and increase their skills by working and studying in other education systems.

Australian teachers receive these benefits. They also seem to have more control over discipline and expect students to behave in class so all students can learn. Here parents seem to think it is OK for their children to treat teachers with total disrespect.



Pub reform: first curb binge-drinking

Sir: I agree with your leader of 31 August that licensing reform should be based on sound evidence rather than scaremongering.

Experiences in countries with a similar drinking culture to ours demonstrate the risks of extending licensing hours without first getting binge-drinking under control. In Iceland, drink-driving arrests soared by 80 per cent and hospital admissions for drink-fuelled assaults leapt by a third. After two years, the Icelandic government abandoned its reforms. Similar effects have been reported in Australia, Ireland and Canada.

The British government failed to spend a penny on external research into the potential effects of these reforms before passing the legislation, and have failed to tackle the problems associated with binge drinking culture in this country.

A balanced approach to licensing reform, considering both the advantages and risks associated with longer opening hours, is needed. Until more is done to tackle binge-drinking, the Government should put its licensing reforms on ice.



Sir: I am so grateful for Jennie Bristow's article "Critics of 24-hour drinking need to get out more" (31 August). I can now explain to my 87-year-old mother-in-law that the al fresco activities taking place in the car park of her apartment block next to the local branch of a well-known chain of pubs are "all fantasy".

She enjoys the benefits of the vomiting, urination, defecation and, if lucky, can observe fornication and even activities which the local Hexham Courant described as "not to be mentioned when ladies are present". Perhaps Jennie Bristow should get out of the pub a bit more and see what is going on outside.



Sir: To a government intent on social reform along the lines of relaxing the licensing laws may I suggest another measure similarly likely to increase both urban violence and national morbidity and mortality, namely a change in the built-up speed limit from 30mph to 50mph.



Sir: Kate Greenhalgh (Letters, 30 August) speculates that an increase in exam performance by teenagers, and an increase in alcohol consumption by teen-agers is an indication of stress. Informed opinion in my local points to a more obvious correlation: that drinking alcohol sharpens the brain.



Shocking American attacks on UN

Sir: Your report (26 August) of the catalogue of criticisms brought by the American administration against the United Nations Organisation was so depressing that I was unable to finish reading it.

The US government is displaying shocking naivety and irresponsibility in undermining the institution that is our main hope for world peace. Certainly, the constitution of the UN is in need of reform. Most urgently, it is time to abandon the veto powers enjoyed by the five permanent members of the Security Council: they are a relic of the Cold War and survive as a manifestly unfair discrimination and an irritant to states which do not possess the veto.

But as the only institution with the authority to override the sovereignty of member states in their claim to make war on each other, the UN performs functions that are essential to the maintenance of the peace of the world, and it is deeply reprehensible of American national spokesmen to damage this role. The UN may need friendly criticism, but it is trying to fulfil appallingly difficult tasks and requires the constructive support of all responsible governments.



Sir: It seems to me, as a United States citizen, that your selection of anti-US letters (31 August) only gives aid and comfort to our enemies and seems to be typical of head-in-the-sand thinking.

Terrorist attacks over the past decade or so have increased in intensity by Muslim extremists killing innocent Americans and Europeans. The straw that broke the camel's back was 9/11, killing almost 3,000 of our population. Our President rightly advised the world that our patience had ended and terrorists, and the nations that support them, are also enemies and if necessary would be eliminated by military force, not on our turf but where they live. Hooray!

My country is the most benevolent conqueror in the history of the world, as was seen in the Second World War.



Turkey and a million Armenian deaths

Sir: I entirely concur with Maureen Freely's view that it is in Turkey's interest to discuss the Armenian issue in a free and open manner (Opinion, 31 August). The deaths of a million (or more) Armenians in one year, 1915, is too important an issue to leave to the opinions of bigoted nationalists.

There are however some related issues. In the first place it is regrettable that the American (and naturally the British) governments have always supported the rigid ideological views of the Turkish government on this issue. Although they proclaim that they uphold, and indeed embody, the values of the West, in Washington and London those values apparently do not extend as far as a careful, critical, impartial assessment of the Armenian losses and responsibility for them. We have only to recall the New Labour government's embarrassment over the inclusion or not of the Armenians in the first Holocaust Memorial Day.

The second point is that the Armenian claims are not driven by a radical nationalist agenda. The vast number of Armenian deaths is documented in the diplomatic dispatches of the consuls of Germany and Austria (nations fighting alongside the Ottoman Turks), as well as in the reports of Scandinavian and German charities. There is also evidence from within the Turkish establishment, for instance in the report of the Mazhar Commission, which was set up after the end of the war to find out why Ottoman Turkey lost. Such reports support the views expressed today by Orhan Pamuk.



Sir: A month ago I would have read Maureen Freely, gone tut-tut and turned the page. However, I have just returned from Armenia where a visit to the Genocide Museum in Yerevan is, quite rightly, obligatory.

The tragedy of western, Turkish, Armenia is horrific; one can no longer say unparalleled, given the 20th century's appalling history. Eastern Armenia, under the Soviets for 70 years, had its own horrors, but at least the people and shreds of their culture survived, whereas the Turks annihilated all that there was of the oldest Christian nation, to make it seem as if it had never been. With no evidence on the ground, and no remaining people, they could then pretend it had never happened.

I was additionally distressed to note that although there were testimonials from ministers and governors of many other nations and states attesting the genocide, there was not one from the UK. Why not?



Hurricane highlights global weather peril

Sir: Eminent scientist disagree about whether Katrina's extraordinary power could have been enhanced by global warming ("King: global warming may be to blame", 31 August). Unsurprising, given that climatology has a short history, there are no precedents, and modelling weather patterns is highly complex.

But none of them contested the underlying proposition that carbon gases increase the planet's temperature, enhancing the potential for extremes of weather. Whether or not this particular event was enhanced by global warming, things will get worse.

Events have thrown Professor King's statement that global warming is a bigger threat than terrorism into stark relief. I wonder if America is comparing what happened to the Twin Towers with climate change, and wondering what to fear most.

Oil supplies were one casualty of the wind and rain. Perhaps that's the good news.



The richness of English spellings

Sir: Masha Bell (letter, 27 August) asserts that there is never any good reason for spelling identically sounding words differently. Never is a dangerous word.

She has a point with words such as practice/practise, variants from the same root. But beer and bier? Bare and bear?

Context can often give meaning, as Masha Bell pointed out in the case of "bar". However many of the similarly sounding words have different meanings because of their different origins. To do away with them all would not only shed the clarity that many give, but would deprive us of the pleasure to be gained from discovering the richness of their origins.



Bank holidays in the autumn

Sir: While I agree with the suggestion of Ray Edwards (letter, 1 September) that there should be another bank holiday between now and Christmas, I cannot support the notion that it should replace the May holiday.

Britain has far fewer national holidays than most of our continental neighbours and we should be looking to increase the current eight to at least ten. Most European countries seem to have at least one a month, so let's have two in the late autumn.

I would suggest one on the last Monday in October. This could replace the anti-Catholic bonfire night as a multicultural celebration involving Diwali and other religious celebrations around that time. I would suggest one on 1 December as a pre-Christmas jolly.



Insult to journalists

Sir: Apparently Ken Livingston faces charges from the independent Adjudication Panel for England for "treating a journalist with disrespect" (report, 31 August). After reading your article on bad interviews with "rock" stars (29 August), I can only assume that Luciano Pavarotti is in serious trouble as he was quoted as saying, "All journalists are shits"!



Tories' only chance

Sir: Not long ago, I was wonderfully pleased that at last we had a Labour government. I was also pleased that the Conservatives seemed intent on self-destruction, appearing to shy away from any of their MPs who had even a chance of regaining power. Now, as we have become accustomed to just how bad Blair is at guiding the future of the country, can we hope that the Conservative Party sees sense and embraces what appears to be their only chance, the charisma of Ken Clarke? The government of this country needs a credible opposition.



Shakespeare's paradise

Sir: If you are going to attribute quotations, take a moment to look them up and get them right ("In search of Eden", 31 August). The well-known description "this other Eden, demi-paradise", irritatingly familiar in this family due to its constant use at weddings by best men who think it's never been used before, comes from John of Gaunt's dying speech in Richard II.



Just souls in Limbo

Sir: June Tower (letter, 31 August) writes: "I have yet to meet a Roman Catholic or any other member of the Christian churches who can tell me what happened to souls before the birth of Jesus Christ." The catechism - learnt by heart by thousands of Catholic children - instructed us as follows: "Limbo is a place of rest where the souls of the just who died before Christ are detained." I always knew that this information would come in handy one day.



Cruel hunters

Sir: I was fascinated by the report on the reintroduction of wild species into the UK (30 August), an admirable project. I wonder if the resettlement of the grey wolf "to control the red deer and roe deer populations in Scotland" might contravene the law against hunting with dogs. Are wild packs specifically exempted, or are their activities not regarded in law as cruel?