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Letters: Education policy

Government education policy is damaging its own objectives

Sir: We are specialists with considerable experience collectively in the different phases of education who have come independently to the same conclusion; that government policy is no longer the solution to the difficulties we face but our greatest problem.

We have the same objectives as this Government in wanting to offer a first-class education and training to all and, in particular, to narrow the attainment gap between the most and least advantaged. We have, however, become increasingly dismayed by ministers who are intent on permanent revolution of every aspect of the education system: in so acting, they demonstrate a deep lack of trust in the professional education community.

It is not only the torrent of new policy that rains down on each sector, the constant changes in direction and the automatic rubbishing of any discomforting evidence by ministers: it's also the failure of successive ministers to appreciate that reform has to be accompanied by continuity if the stability of our educational institutions and the high quality of their courses are to be preserved.

For example, despite its rhetorical advocacy of lifelong learning, the reality of government policy is that there are now 1.4million fewer adult learners in the FE sector, broadly defined, than there were two years ago. Similarly, the new policy in HE of withdrawing funding support for all those learners studying for an equivalent or lower qualification (ELQ) to that which they already possess, will reduce dramatically the numbers of adult learners in the system. These policies are being pursued despite near universal condemnation – the Select Committee report on ELQs was particularly damning.

Despite significant, additional investment in education since 1997, our research shows that government policy is now working against the government's own intentions and that the current frenetic pace of change must slow down to what is pedagocially (and structurally) possible.

We need a more consultative, democratic and inclusive way of developing and enacting policy for all the public services. The one change we need above all is for government to consult the professionals and learners before it announces policies which will damage the objectives that we all share.

Emeritus Professor Frank Coffield Institute of Education, University of London Professor Richard Taylor Director of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning, University of Cambridge, Professor Sir Peter Scott, Vice-Chancellor, University of Kingston, Professor Stephen Ball Institute of Education, University of London

Why New Labour isn't being heard

Sir: No one reading Jon Cruddas's article ("We're talking a language that's failing to resonate", 27 May) would suppose that New Labour has held power since 1997, that he, himself, entered Parliament in 2001 and that, between them, they have created many of the problems he now proposes to solve with a raft of contentious policies.

He harps about insecurity, not recognising that by raiding and then wrecking the pension system, the Government has created widespread insecurity, particularly among the elderly. He praises the introduction of the minimum wage, without understanding that wages were driven down in the first place by immigration. He complains about social immobility when one of the great engines of social mobility, the grammar-school system, was decimated by one of his (old) Labour predecessors, Anthony Crosland. He talks about fairer taxes, when the past 10 years have seen perhaps a greater increase in taxation, largely by stealth, than has been imposed in as many previous decades. Runaway house prices and unmanageable debt have been due, in no small measure, to lack of adequate supervision of financial institutions by the regulatory bodies put in place by his Government.

If Mr Cruddas has an urge to do something radical, he should press for an election this year and let the voters decide whether they want what he offers. He can then "resonate" to his heart's content about the good things, and there must be one or two, this Government has done. He might get lucky.

E G Jones

Newbury, Berkshire

Sir: Can I make it clear that Gordon Brown is not wanted in Scotland either (letters, 28 May). He is too right-wing for us. We have free social care for the elderly etc not "courtesy of English and Welsh taxpayers", but through our own taxes. How it is redistributed is up to our Scottish MPs in Edinburgh.

Scotland has always been more socially democratic than England. The laird and the crofter's son went to the same school. We have much more in common with the western European model of democracy than the American right-wing one so beloved by England.

Cyril Mitchell


Sir: I thought I had left tribal politics and the attendant genocidal hatred in Africa; I could have been forgiven for thinking that your correspondent who wrote, "Brown must realise he is not wanted", was a Dinka from Southern Sudan, a Kikuyu from Kenya, a Shona from Zimbabwe, Amharic from Ethiopia, an Hawiye clansman from Somalia or a Hutu from Rwanda.

Using emotive, hate-filled statements which among African tribesmen have often started genocidal wars, he added: "Most English people see Labour as a Scottish-led anti-English party, and this result confirms this. Brown has no right to be the de-facto first minister of England and his attempt to cling on to power will not help him or his party".

Did Africans learn tribal politics from their former colonial rulers, or is tribal hatred indeed human nature, with no racial, national or religious boundaries?

Sam Akaki

London W3

The environmental price of Severn plan

Sir: Large green-energy schemes frequently win the backing of conservation groups (letters, May 23). Support was widespread for the London Array offshore windfarm off the Essex coast, and Black Law onshore windfarm in central Scotland. The RSPB is working positively with a range of renewable-technology developers on other projects across the UK.

We and others have published two reports showing plainly how targets for emissions cuts and renewable-energy generation can be met without encroaching on important wildlife sites. The Severn estuary is one of those sites and for that reason, is protected by the strongest and most effective environmental law in the world.

The RSPB and other green groups are doing all we can to facilitate green-energy generation. But like any energy project, the government will need to demonstrate that a tidal-power project on the Severn will be both cost effective and an environmental price worth paying to form part of the much-needed radical plan to combat climate change.

Martin Harper

RSPB, Sandy, Bedfordshire

Sir: As doctors and health professionals, we are profoundly disturbed by Gordon Brown's plan to roll out a "more ambitious" atomic-energy programme (report, 29 May). Sir Anthony Cleaver, chairman of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, recently estimated that the cost of cleaning up existing nuclear waste and contaminated land in the UK would be at least £72bn.

No long-term solution to dealing with Britain's nuclear waste has yet been found. Not only have the hazards and costs of the disposal of radioactive nuclear waste been underplayed by the nuclear industry to date, but grave security implications have also been ignored. Plutonium is a component of nuclear waste and could be diverted into making a nuclear bomb. In today's volatile world, this is a risk we cannot afford to take.

The Prime Minister has shown leadership in the recent banning of cluster bombs. He could show similar leadership by supporting cost-efficient energy-saving measures and renewables rather than nuclear power, which poses a huge and unacceptable threat to the health of present and future generations.

Dr Frank Boulton

Dr Douglas Holdstock

Medact, London N1

Sir: Green policies could be improved in two ways. Offset "green taxes" by reductions in taxes elsewhere, and increasing rail-freight infrastructure capacity.

Offsetting the fuel escalator by reductions in other taxes would be seen to be equitable. Increasing rail-freight capacity would reduce CO2 emissions by reducing lorry traffic, and cut congestion on the roads. Even Eddie Stobart has freight trains now.

Network Rail's Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) for freight said that vastly increased volumes of freight could be carried by rail on existing lines by upgrades costing just £500m.

Mike Pictor

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Northern Ireland and the Middle East

Sir: Alan Golding (letters, 22 May) draws a parallel between attempts to find peace in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland.

The latter came about because of very specific sea changes: Unionists perceived that they were losing the propaganda argument; their client state, the UK, was withdrawing support; violence was no longer supported by the Irish Catholic diaspora in the US after 9/11; economic inequalities between the north and the south of Ireland had reversed.

Except for the first of these, and that only in Europe, none apply to Palestine. One is at a loss to know what horror will make the Jewish diaspora in America abandon its support of Zionist outrages. Perhaps the continuing atrocity of Gaza, perhaps a nuclear attack on Iran? Or perhaps the pragmatic perception that the US's undying support is no more to be relied upon than that of perfidious Albion.

Stan Brennan

London N8

What the Nazis meant by 'Aryan'

Sir: In David Cesarani's convincingly argued review of Mark Mazower's book Hitler's Empire (Arts & Books Review, 31 May), his reference to "non-Aryan nations such as the Czechs and Poland" requires correction.

In the Nazi interpretation the term "Aryan" was applied to denote "membership of the main European races", the legally binding so-called "Aryan paragraph" specifically excluding the Jews and the Gypsies only.

Derogatory references to other European nations as subhuman, also linking the proper noun "Aryan" with "Aristocrat", were informal. Germans having to produce evidence of being Aryan did not become compulsory until 1938, although party members and officials had to supply proof of not being Jewish some years earlier.


Wolfson College, Cambridge

Might as well face it, we're addicted to...

Sir: Very interesting to read Johann Hari's opinion on our addiction to oil (29 May 2008). The real difficulty lies in what to do about it. My personal favourite would be to lower speed limits on roads to achieve greater fuel efficiency. As knock-on effects, casualties on roads would be significantly reduced and a 55mph speed limit, 40mph on minor roads, and 65mph on motorways and dual carriageways, would encourage more cycling. In addition, there would be greater use of the railways as being a quicker mode of transport.

For many the biggest addiction is not fuel, but speed.

Steve Moir

Brigg, Lincolnshire

BBC news abroad

Sir: As an avid BBC World viewer and BBC World Service listener, I was most interested to hear from an expat American friend that, although she has access to CNN, "for real news, I switch on the BBC" (letters, 31 May).

Colette Griffiths-Ogawa

Yugawara, Kanagawa, Japan

Screen violence

Sir: Joan Bakewell (Opinion, 30 May) notes that fictional violence on our screens is beyond control: "The virus is out there and creating havoc among the aimless young... there's no going back."

The late British Board of Film Classification Director James Ferman campaigned for 24 years to lessen the glamorisation of weapons in films and videos. For this he was sneered at and ridiculed by most of the film/video business, and immediately he retired, in 1999, his tough policies on weaponry in films were dismantled. In hindsight, his policies seem to have been wise and sensible.

Michael Bor

BBFC Examiner (1984-2000),London W2

Much-missed authors

Sir: C'mon, all the writers chosen by your people ("If I could bring an author back to life..." 29 May) left a fair-sized body of idiosyncrasy to plunder. Poor Max Sebald and Bruce Chatwin were grimly reaped before they'd hardly got started; they are sadly missed.

Malcolm Addison

Woodbridge, Suffolk

Blair's faith

Sir: Were we governed by a madman for 10 years? Looking at Blair's shiny face as he launches his "faith foundation" (report, 31 May) and then thinking of the untold harm that he helped inflict on some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, the harm he is still inflicting by not talking to Hamas, the complete absence of any sorrow over what he caused; I must conclude he is a sociopath with no conscience about, or sympathy for, all the hundreds of thousands killed and hurt in his and Bush's war.

Eddie Johnson

Long Melford, Suffolk

Imperial difficulties

Sir: One of your reports on 31 May refers to flood hazards in southwest England and quotes rainfall intensity in both inches and millimetres. Another deals with the collapse of the "dyslexia cure" business of Wynford Dore. There is a link between the two: children who are less intellectually gifted have to struggle with both Imperial (with illogical multiples) and metric-measurement systems and with non-phonetic spelling in the English language. Spelling reform and abolition of Imperial measurement would make education easier for the non-brightest children.

Julien Evans

Chesham, Buckinghamshire

Sparrow trouble

Sir: Oh dear! Do you realise that the sparrows having a "wing-trembler" ("Goodie turns baddie as viewers protest at Oddie's 'X-rated' wildlife commentary", 30 May) are both cocks? No wonder Passer domesticus numbers are in decline.

Alan Lewendon

Fordingbride, Hampshire