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Letters: Creating new schools gives parents real choice

These letters appear in the Saturday 19th April edition of the Independent

Jane Merrick (“It’s two decades since ‘education, education, education’, but still Britain’s primary school admissions are a farce”, 17 April) made two contradictory points.

She argues that parents need to be provided with more choice, while also criticising the Government for setting up free schools in areas with a surplus of places. She can’t have it both ways. While there is a clear need to address the shortage of places, this does not by itself increase choice. It is only by creating new schools and new school places across the country that we can provide a genuine choice for parents. We are confronting both of these challenges.

We have made an additional £5bn of funding available in this parliament alone to councils to create new school places – double the amount spent by the previous government over the same period – leading to the creation of 260,000 new school places by May 2013, with many more in the pipeline.

We are also allowing good schools to expand without the restrictions and bureaucracy they faced in the past. Nearly 80 per cent of new primary places created are in good or outstanding schools and, thanks to our reforms, the number of children in failing secondary schools has already fallen by a quarter of a million since 2010.

We have opened more than 170 free schools for 80,000 pupils, and the vast majority are in areas facing a shortage of school places or are in deprived communities. They are proving hugely popular with parents – attracting almost three applications for every available place – and offer good value for money.

We are building schools at a fraction of the cost of the former government’s Building Schools for the Future programme.

Ensuring enough school places for the growing population is one of our top priorities. Most councils are on track towards creating enough places, with 212,000 new primary places created between May 2010 and May 2013. There are no easy solutions, but this Government has made great strides in driving up the number and quality  of places.

David Laws, Minister of State for Schools, London SW1


Jane Merrick aims at the wrong targets when she says parents haven’t truly been given “choice” over which schools their children can attend. If all schools were capable of educating our children to a high standard, there would be no need to have any notion, however spurious, of “choice”.

That our schools are not in a position to do this is down to the failure of successive governments which, instead of being accountable for this negligence, promote a specious concept of parental choice as a smokescreen to hide behind.

As Merrick correctly points out, no such choice exists, yet parents are led to believe it is they, rather than the Government, who have failed their children.

Michael O’Hare, Northwood, London


Church has a role  to play in state

The arguments Mary Dejevsky deploys to urge a separation between Church and State fail to convince (“If Cameron is invoking God to make his party appear less nasty, then he really hasn’t a prayer”,  17 April).

She mentions the diplomatic minefields such as a PM converting to Catholicism, but we have managed to navigate these and other instances with aplomb over hundreds of years. Then she cites the diversity of the population, but many non-Christian faith groups support the current set-up. They reason that religion in the UK is protected through an established church, with the Church of England providing a buffer for this.

And in relation to the spats between the Archbishops of Canterbury and governments, these are a sign of a healthy democracy. Faith leaders should have a voice in the public debate, just as much as other civil society leaders, though they must be sensitive to the fact that this brings no automatic entitlement to shape laws.

Zaki Cooper, Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews, London NW4


Excerpts from The Gospel According to David Cameron for Easter:

“Consider the lilies of the field. They do not labour or spin. Typical of the something-for-nothing culture we are determined to end.”

“And he welcomed the moneylenders into the Temple – and gave them all huge bonuses.”

“It is easier for Eric Pickles to go through the eye of a needle than for Starbucks, Google and Amazon to pay corporation tax.”

“And he said unto the leper: ‘Atos says you’re fit to work. We’re taking you off disability benefits.’”

“There are many mansions in my heavenly father’s house, but if you’re on benefits, in council accommodation and have a spare room, we’ll hit you with the bedroom tax.”

“Love thy neighbour as thyself – unless they’re a Bulgarian or Romanian immigrant.”

Sasha Simic, London N16


What is it that David Cameron does or refrains from doing because of his Christian faith? Without being clear about that, surely his profession of faith is meaningless? “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Mark Walford, London N12


Whatever happened  to progress?

I’ve just finished re-reading a book that was given to me by my mother on my 16th birthday. It was published in 1914 and tells a story of poverty wages, starvation, charities providing essentials, short-time contracts, zero hours, corrupt businesses that own politicians and vice-versa, and an apathetic population who mistakenly vote for their own drudgery.

They only want “plenty of work” and are encouraged to live a vicarious existence, marvelling at the antics of the rich and famous. We haven’t advanced much in 100 years have we? The book? The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell.

Martin Carty, Aldridge, Walsall


Music can thrill without being painful

Chris Maume (“It isn’t a proper rock gig if you don’t leave with your ears ringing”, 17 April) may be being deliberately provocative, but to believe that rock music has to be painfully loud is stupid.

Perhaps groups play so loudly in order to drown out the moronic shouting and whistling which seems to accompany every gig I hear on the radio.

Does Chris ever go to a classical music concert? Part of the appeal is the contrast between the whisper-quiet passages and the fortissimo of almost a hundred musicians playing flat out. They do not need to be amplified. The loud music is thrilling, but not painful.

When Maume needs hearing aids several years before he should because of exposing his ears to excessive volume, I suppose he will expect me to pay for them out of my taxes.

Seriously, we are storing up huge costs for the NHS because of this insane liking for loud live music, and the use of portable music players on public transport with their monotonous percussion noises leaking from the earphones.

I like certain kinds of rock music but I refuse to go to excessively loud gigs. And to suggest that one wears earplugs is adding one stupid idea to another.

Peter Grove, Salisbury, Wiltshire


Days of the celibate priest are numbered

Your report “Catholic bishops call for priests to be able to marry” (18 April) on the possibility of change relating to the discipline of celibacy for Roman Catholic priests is timely.

The recently reported remarks of Pope Francis, suggesting that local diocesan bishops must take responsibility for the solution of local problems, has opened the door to discussion in a new way. 

For too long, the whole matter of celibacy for those ordained in the Roman Catholic communion has been a closed book. The Church, through the example of Francis, is experiencing a re-examination of its mission.

This one aspect of Church discipline (for that is all it is) is now being questioned. The answering of a call to ministry need not be associated with an altogether separate calling to the celibate life. The time has come to revoke a discipline that has become a hindrance to vocation.

Chris McDonnell , Secretary, Movement for Married Clergy UK, Little Haywood, Staffordshire


There’s nothing funny about ‘comedic’

I do not agree with Guy Keleny’s dismissal of the word “comedic” (Errors and Omissions, 12 April). If the word “comic” were used in the sentence he examined, it could be taken to mean that the sensibility is comic, in the sense of being funny, rather than relating to comedy.

Most people would probably not be confused for long by “distinctive visual and comic sensibility”. However, I think “comedic” works well and removes any ambiguity even if it is a neologism. I like “tragedic” for similar reasons and would like to start a campaign for its adoption.

Alan Knight, Helston, Cornwall