Letters: Education

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We are neglecting those children who find school 'just too much'

Sir: I have spent much of the last 27 years teaching and working with those "poor wretches for whom school is just too much" (Comment; Peter Inson, 1 August).

In my experience this group not only consists of the disaffected and excluded but also large numbers of looked-after children, those with learning difficulties and disabilities and increasingly boys.

A successful education system should cater for all children not just, as it would seem, able girls; and exactly what are we teaching our girls? Is education really about sitting quietly and regurgitating reams of neatly presented information?

There are, of course, plenty of children who come out of the school system with the required proof of achievement, but at what cost? How many young people leave school with a sense of regret or loss? How many feel that they have really benefited from the experience not just the result? Education should be about instilling a love of learning, a thirst for knowledge and an enthusiasm for extending that knowledge. All children start off wanting to learn. What do we do to them along the way?

We need to provide an education that can be valued by all and values all. There is an explicit expectation that all children should progress at the same speed and reach all milestones at the same time. Increasingly any child who does not do this must have a problem.

I know a little boy who is just four. Already his mother is told that he cannot concentrate, he dislikes sitting still, he has poor social skills, his language development is slow, possibly he has ADHD, maybe she should consider ritalin

This is a child who plays for hours with his favourite toys, loves stories, questions constantly, loves running down the beach finding all sorts of interesting things, sleeps well. Already it is evident that school is a miserable place for him. I fear he too will become another of those "poor wretches".

Shame on us.



False promises of help for Darfur

Sir: If the records of UN Resolutions on peace keeping in Africa are anything to go by, then the latest resolution sponsored jointly by Britain and France, "giving a green light" to send 26,000 troops to Darfur, must be a monumental false green light ("UN to send 26,000 troops to halt conflict in Darfur", 1 August). As the time-honoured adage says, "the proof of the pudding is in the tasting". One recent UN resolution pudding has already spectacularly failed the "tasting".

On 21 February 2007, the United Nations "unanimously" adopted Resolution 1744, authorising the deployment of an Africa Union peace keeping force in Somalia (AMISOM). Immediately, five African countries; Burundi, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda agreed to a total of 4,000 troops as part of a 8,000 strong force "to be sent to the east African nation, which has been torn apart by civil war since 1991".

Five months on, the carnage is going on and intensifying because only Uganda has sent a miserable 1,500 poorly trained, equipped and motivated soldiers. They are sitting ducks to the battled-hardened Somali militias.

If the African Union cannot or will not find a mere 4,000 troops to send to Somalia, where are they going to find the 19,555 needed to be sent to Darfur by the end of the year? In any event, according to your report, this new "hybrid force" are supposed to take over from a largely ineffectual 7,000-strong AU force, which is already there.

What guarantee is there that this new force will be any more effective than the ones they are taking over from?

If Mr Brown is serious about ending conflict and poverty in Africa, he must avoid making headlines without the means to implement his promises. He must also deal with the oldest militia control of Somalia, which turned the African country into a failed state 15 years ago. Most of all he should recognise that African leaders are not willing, or able, to send troops into a "sister" country.



Students need better careers advice

Sir: With the lack of resources devoted to qualified, informed careers advisers in secondary schools across the country, the National Audit office figure that over 100,000 students drop out of university before completing their first year is not surprising (report, 26 July).

Poor advice about course choice and last minute decisions made in panic after receiving exam results are a deadly combination which could lead even bright and capable students on the track for an unsuccessful university experience. Until schools and colleges commit to offering students the depth and quality of careers advice necessary to help them make important choices about their education and careers, we are unlikely to see a decrease in dropout rates.



Sir: I read with interest the correspondence from Lawrence Lockhart (Letters, 1 August) about student debt. As president of the trade association, R3 - The Association of Business Recovery Professionals, which represents 97 per cent of the country's insolvency practitioners - we see the problems associated with indebtedness on a daily basis.

Rising personal debt is an issue not just for insolvency practitioners but for the country. In a recent R3 survey we discovered that a large proportion of debt is being shouldered by those who can least afford it. The young, lower-paid workers are carrying more non-mortgage debt (credit cards and the like) as a proportion of their gross personal income, than the average man or woman in Britain. This includes those who are still burdened with student debt.

Our survey also showed that student debt was the fourth most important constituent of non-mortgage debt, behind credit/ store cards, unsecured bank loans and overdrafts. We expected that the 18-24 age group would carry some student debt, but we were surprised to see that such debts are still an important feature of overall indebtedness in the next age range, 25-34.

It is clear that this is a significant contributor to the overall indebtedness of some people in society and that despite their educational qualifications and potential job prospects they struggle with managing it.



Time to build closer links with Europe

Sir: Relations with the rest of Europe are certainly a big item on the in-tray of Gordon Brown (Steve Richards; "Forget George Bush and America - the big foreign policy challenge for Brown is Europe", 31 July). The fact that he has already signalled his willingness to work with our continental partners by meeting with the German Chancellor and the French President in his first few weeks in office illustrates the importance of European cooperation. Moreover some of the wider economic and cultural trends are pushing the UK towards closer links and integration with the rest of Europe. This is particularly ironic at this time when the Eurosceptics make a lot of noise about the Reform Treaty.

More British people than ever before are studying in, visiting and doing business on the continent. Last year 53 million visits were made by British nationals to the rest of Europe. There are now 750,000 British properties in Spain and half a million in France. Over 750,000 British companies trade with the continent. As someone who established his political reputation on the economy, Gordon Brown will not be blind to the power and importance of these economic trends.



Cheddar railway network is growing

Sir: Sue Purkiss appears to blame Dr Beeching for the closure of the railway through Cheddar (Letters, 25 July). Although passenger services were not withdrawn until September 1963, closure had been approved before the publication of Beeching's proposals ["The Reshaping of British Railways"] earlier that year. Running across country from Witham to Yatton, the service did not link Cheddar directly with Bristol and was very limited.

Your correspondent gives the impression that Cheddar is now without any public transport. Although the bus service to Bristol is sparse, buses run every hour to and from Weston-super-Mare.

After reaching a low point in the mid-1970s, the railway is growing, with stations and lines opened or re-opened, an increase in the passenger network of some 300 route miles, and more passengers using it than at any time since the 1950s.



Newcomers stifle village life

Sir: Colin Bower (letter, 31 July) has touched on a subject which is stifling this country. As chair of our village hall, I have experienced at first hand new people moving into the village, and having noise from the village hall modified and all activity banned after 11pm, even though there has been a village hall in this area for 50 years or more.

Local newcomers have had church bells muffled, corn-dryers moved and cockerels necked. A new estate was built adjoining a field and one resident complained about a haystack blocking the view! The stories are legion.

The law should be changed. If there is a tradition of noise or any other activity, it should be the complainant who either puts up with it or moves. Most villages are not quiet little backwaters. They are full of activity and noise, otherwise they wouldn't survive.



Confused identity in academic boycott

Sir: Readers of Julia Pascal's review of "The Last Resistance" (30 July) are likely to gain the mistaken impression that I was the proponent of the academic boycott campaign against Israel in 2005. Whilst I have expressed reluctant support of the boycott in the absence of international pressure on Israel, I was at no point involved in this campaign, nor am I today. On this matter, I believe I am being confused with Hilary Rose.

Nor do I support the dismantling of modern Israel as Pascal also suggests. Finally, while standing by my claim that we need to understand the motives of suicide bombers, I have made my condemnation of these acts unequivocal both in these essays and elsewhere.



Pop stars who are true to their origins

Sir: If privately educated and middle class pop stars want to sing in working class accents (Arts & Books, 27 july), they are perfectly entitled to do so. That is their choice, although it begs the question as to why they are so insecure about using their own voices.

But, please, let there be no more talk of "authenticity" as we had to suffer all last summer regarding Lily Allen.

Frankly, if we're talking being "true to oneself", then surely they would do just as well to salute Victoria Beckham who has never tried to be anything that the lower middle class suburban princess she undoubtedly is.



Cohabiting couples

Sir: There is one thing which keeps puzzling me: why do co-habiting couples, who demand the same rights as married couples, not get married?

Deciding not to get married was the admirable way of showing that a relationship was strong and the couple's commitment didn't need the official approval and sanctioning of marriage. And now these couples want the same rights and protection like married couples but don't want to commit to signing that bit of paper? Am I missing something here?



Drained out

Sir: Being a resident of Cheltenham I have to agree with George Sharpley (Letters, 31 July) that to combat our recent flash flooding, regular clearing of drains is the obvious answer. As well as lorries delivering water in the town this week, the last few days have also seen an influx of gully and drain-clearing lorries; the words "horse, stable-door" and "bolted" spring to mind.



Sir: I agree with Dr John Latham, global warming is probably responsible for the recent rainfall and concomitant flooding in the UK (letter, 26 July). But Professor Crutzen's plan to inject particles of reflected sulphur into the stratosphere sounds bizarre; hasn't man already done enough damage?

Perhaps we should leave the Earth alone to fend for itself and see what happens.



Noisy jingles

Sir: Norman Shepherd is unhappy about sloppy TV subtitles (Letters, 28 July). My grouse is against radio and TV producers who feel that no programme, even the news, can be deemed complete without bursts of jarring and "jingly jangly" music inserted as a background to the spoken voice.

This is distracting and unnecessary and just one more reason why the hard of hearing need recourse to (reliable?) subtitles!



Missing mammals

Sir: Water voles are indeed severely threatened in the UK, with numbers only a tenth of those remaining in 1990, but they are not our rarest mammal species (report, 31 July). Habitat management and restoration, including the control of American mink, hope to improve the situation but their numbers continue to fall.

Britain's rarest (resident) mammal is probably Bechstein's bat, the Scottish wildcat or the black (ship) rat, whose numbers may be less than a few thousand.



Real ales

Sir: Andrew Dewson (28 July) in his article "Fuller's goes for liquidity" refers to English Ale as "lukewarm". Real ales should be delivered at cellar temperature of 12-14C. If he gets his any warmer he should send it back and not take any nonsense from the bar staff.