Letters: Control of schools

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The Independent Online

Sir: You demean the concerns of teacher's unions about the white paper on education by calling them "squeals of protest" (leading article, 26 October). May I point out that the "providers of education" throughout the world are teachers, the majority of whom are in trade unions and teachers' associations. When we voice concern it is as educators, with morals, principles, experience and, for some of us, a well-developed understanding of the philosophy of education as well.

Firstly, we object to the provision of education being taken out of local government, which is elected, and put into the hands of businessmen and a Blair-appointed managocracy that is unelected. This will disempower the vast majority of parents. Do you really think a nurse working shifts and feeling angry about her children's education will have the time or energy or confidence to start her own school?

The white paper is a statement of sound-bites not substance. There is no guiding philosophy other than "the free market is best". The evidence to support this is not just thin, it runs the other way. I work in the FE sector - free from local authority control - and it is a nightmare. Management spend more time talking about budgets and funding than they do about education. They employ strategies that amount to increasing class sizes, cutting teaching hours for students and increasing "distance learning". This makes good business sense but undermines students' right to a high quality education.

The purpose of education is to empower the student by helping them understand the world in order to improve it. This ideal will be subverted by businessmen who deny the value of any ideology that contradicts their right to make a profit.

I feel cheated. There has not been a debate that the teacher's unions have lost. I could wipe the floor with Ruth Kelly or Blair myself. This white paper is full of adjectives about choice and parent power, which when examined amount to nothing but an attack on local democracy and a public service. I predict an explosion of management from industry in schools. But let me stress that teachers like myself will never surrender our teaching practice, nor our incomes, to the dictates of Bill Gates and his ilk. A comprehensive, multicultural, secular education is still the best for our kids.



Anti-poverty drive has forced change

Sir: What a sour, defeatist article by Stuart Hodkinson summing up the achievements or otherwise of the Make Poverty History Campaign in 2005 ("Is this history?", 26 October). As someone who's been involved in ground level MPH campaigning this year, I really do believe that with the necessary political will we can put an end to global poverty (not just poverty in Africa), in the same way that our 19th-century predecessors abolished slavery.

But these things don't happen at the wave of a magic wand. Political will emerges from public awareness. Whatever their shortcomings Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, the MPH coalition members and the massed ranks of MPH celebs have forced the global movers and shakers to look the issue of poverty in the face this year.

By all means criticise those involved for the inadequacy of what's been achieved to date. But please don't write off the progress that has been made. Would we have got this far down the road in raising awarness of global poverty and the Millennium Development Goals without MPH, and does Stuart Hodkinson really want us in the UK to write off our public campaigning as being as futile as he seems to be suggesting?



Sir: This year Make Poverty History and Live 8 have forced world leaders to deliver $50bn more aid by 2010 and to cancel the debts of 18 countries (rising to 38 countries over time). There are new commitments to deliver near universal treatment for Aids, and to fight malaria. Conservative estimates suggest that when these commitments are implemented four million lives will be saved every year.

Yes, there is more to do. The aid money must come quickly and with no liberalisation strings attached. But it is wrong to suggest it won't kick in until 2010. The OECD predicts steady increases starting now. Yes, more countries need debt cancellation, but Stuart Hodkinson's list of 62 countries that should get debt relief includes Burma and Zimbabwe- we cannot cancel the debts of those regimes, however needy the people may be.

And yes, we are still waiting for trade justice, although as a result of Bob Geldof's determined efforts we have a great blueprint from the Africa Commission which strongly rejects forced liberalisation. There is no doubt that this G8 produced more than any other and that it did so because of the global campaign and because of Live 8. Campaigners must remain united in focus if we are to succeed in ensuring promises made are kept, and improved upon.



Sir: Stuart Hodkinson is wrong ("Is this history?", 26 October). If you wore the wristband, went to a Live 8 concert, joined the march, you should be proud. On 2 July, the quarter of a million people marching in Edinburgh formed an historic alliance with the billions who watched the Live 8 concerts around the world. This combination of grassroots activism and mass mobilisation was unprecedented and delivered real change.

Although the G8 by no means delivered all that is needed, it was more than had ever been delivered by the G8 before, more than anyone thought was possible one year ago, and a significant step in the right direction. If promises are kept, millions of lives will be saved as a result of what this year has already achieved.

Since July, Make Poverty History campaigners have worked tirelessly to secure and go beyond the steps taken by the G8. The biggest mass lobby of 2005 takes place next week calling for trade justice not free trade. The coalition is now working towards the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Hong Kong - a crucial moment for the campaign when we will be looking for implementation of the promise of no forced liberalisation, first made in the Commission for Africa.

Some critics may take comfort in cynicism. But when a child dies every three seconds because of poverty, we prefer to keep our focus on holding world leaders to account for what they have promised to do - and what they have not. We hope the millions of people who have taken action this year feel proud of how far we have come and remain determined to go further in the fight against global poverty.



Ban the import of wild birds

Sir: Government plans for a Europe-wide ban on importing live birds comes as little surprise in light of the recent arrival of avian flu on our shores ("Dead parrot did have killer strain of bird flu", 24 October).

This gives us reason to reconsider the policy of importing birds at all. The transport of live birds for commercial purposes is cruel and inhumane, birds being taken from their homes for mere human entertainment. Trapping wild birds depletes flocks in the countries of origin, and a number of birds die either in the trapping process or in overcrowded transport. Besides the considerable issues of the animals' welfare, importing live birds greatly and unnecessarily increases the likelihood of spreading disease.

Even the transport of pet birds from abroad should be reconsidered. A quarantine system where a parrot from South America dies of flu caught from East Asian birds raises a host of animal protection concerns on its own.

The benefits of halting the import of live birds far outweighs any arguments otherwise. Commercially transported birds would no longer senselessly be subject to distressing conditions, pets would be protected from the dubious safety of quarantine areas, and we would no longer be gambling with the threat of avian flu.



Swapping reason for mumbo jumbo

Sir: Science, by its very definition, is infallible when correctly applied, so it was strange to see your correspondent Paul Connors (letter, 26 October) berating columnist Johann Hari for his "absolute confidence" in it.

How can you be criticised for that which is applied rigorously and impartially in order to demonstrate the accuracy or otherwise of a proposition? Science is the proving or disproving through rigorous observation and experimentation, any number of theories. Indeed, it is the essence of confidence: that which confirms or disproves beyond doubt.

To criticise people for following such a rational approach shows how far we have moved away from reason in recent years, and how much belief in such ridiculous fads as feng shui, astrology and crystal therapy has risen. Give me Richard Dawkins over Carole Caplin any day.



Send cheques not cards this Christmas

Sir: The last 12 months have seen an unprecedented number of natural disasters and I have been wondering how businesses could do more to provide financial help to organisations and charities dealing with these tragic events.

It has concerned me for a number of years that my firm has both sent and received business Christmas cards when this financial resource could be better used elsewhere. Often cards received are signed by people we have never met, or even spoken to. We have therefore made the decision that from now on we will not send cards but will donate an equivalent amount of money to appropriate charities. This will result in us making a donation of £1,500 this year.

I have also asked all of the firms we deal with to consider the same course of action. There is no reason why this should not become a new and valuable source of income for charities. It will of course be impossible to gauge how much money might be raised but I have asked those sending cheques to mark the back "In lieu of Christmas cards".

As enjoyable as it is to send and receive Christmas cards between business colleagues and clients, I believe our donation this year will be much more beneficial in providing some relief for those who desperately need it. Imagine the scope of this opportunity if every business followed suit.



Offensive remarks betray feminism

Sir: I was saddened to come across your article "Why Men are Crap" (25 October). In response to the comments of Gordan Ramsay, Neil French or Larry Summers - none of which I agree with - the article launched into an all-out attack on men. Beyond a couple of the views, which were balanced or tongue-in-cheek, the remainder of the article appeared to consist of gross generalisations and sweeping judgemental statements. Is this not what the original feminist movement set out to quash? Suffice to say, I found the comments in your article sexist, bigoted, shortsighted, offensive and unhelpful.



Sir: Congratulations on not being afraid of making bold distinctions between the sexes. Can we look forward to an article called "Why Women are Crap?" What about the French? Or Buddhists? I doubt it, because in today's world the only groups you can target without fear of reprisal are posh people, men and gingers.

Which means it's open season on Prince Harry.



No need to pay for visas  

Sir: The premium rate telephone calls to the Visa Section of the US Embassy, referred to by Ray Dodge (letter, 25 October), can be avoided by not going to the US, unless a trip there is completely unavoidable. Those of us who oppose the occupation of Iraq should be encouraging others of similar mind to boycott America and its businesses. There are plenty of other places to visit in the world.



Dinner with Cherie

Sir: I recently attended a talk by Robert Fisk in Galway. All the proceeds were shared by Amnesty International and the International Centre for Human Rights. He made a point of taking no fee. Could I commend your distinguished correspondent's example to Cherie Blair ("Dinner with Cherie as guest swallows up cash", 26 October)? She must realise that her attractiveness on the lecture circuit owes something to her marriage. She might therefore feel it appropriate to donate her fee to charities working in countries which have suffered as a result of her husband's ineptitude, such as Iraq.



Historical judgement

Sir: How encouraging to see that even such an expert historian as Antony Beevor thinks that it was Chairman Mao who made the famous remark about it being too soon to be able to express an opinion on the outcome of the French Revolution (You Ask the Questions, 21 October). Actually, it was his much more subtle prime minister, Zhou Enlai.



Rural monstrosities

Sir: There has been much comment recently on the stupidity of 4x4s in the city. Here in the country, too, 4x4s are frequently used to ferry children to school and to do the shopping. Many of our roads are narrow, and it is common to be stuck behind a couple of 4x4s having difficulty getting past each other. Of course, farmers and people who tow trailers may genuinely need them, and because of this legitimate minority, I am compelled to remain calm as I squeeze by these stupid monstrosities.



Painting lessons

Sir: "Vettriano is accused of copying (yet again)" (26 October). The painting in question is not a "Vettriano" as it was painted before he took the name, while he was still learning his craft; also, he was following in the tradition of such (unchallenged masters) as Van Gogh, who made endless copies of the works of Millet and Doré.

The guide to figure drawing referred to is not intended for illustrators especially; surely it is for the use of all those who wish to draw, including painters.