Letters: Education system

How education dumbed down
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The Independent Online

Anthony Seldon's excellent article ("Our education system is collapsing into a form of mass indoctrination", 17 July) reminds us of New Labour's 1997 commitment to "education, education, education" but claims that "the tyranny of exams has been allowed to become overtly dominant".

Perhaps he doesn't emphasise sufficiently the links between the two. The Government, having made its commitment and backed it with cash, needed hard evidence to show that progress was being made and that due credit could be taken. How was this to be achieved? Improved exam results were the obvious answer.

How were better exam results to be achieved? First, new courses were introduced that offered lots of easily obtained qualifications that were claimed to be "GCSE grade C equivalent". Thus, a pupil who might have expected no more than three Cs in traditional subjects might now find himself with 10.

Second, courses were accompanied by rigid and detailed mark schemes. Teachers were sent on courses to be instructed in these so they could go back to their schools and tell their pupils that, in order to gain an A*, they would have to write this, this and this.

This strategy has worked wonderfully. Schools around the country have been glorying in hugely improved results and praise has been heaped on them although in some of them, media studies and beauty therapy have thrived while modern foreign languages have all but disappeared. Full marks to the Government.

Stephen Shaw

Newthorpe, Nottingham

Jordan will stay united

Robert Fisk's article "Why Jordan is occupied by Palestinians" (22 July), in which he says that a letter by a few army retirees "is the first serious opposition to emerge against King Abdullah", borders on sensationalism. To go as far as saying that these disgruntled ex-soldiers represent a fast-growing Jordanian "national movement" is equally far-fetched, if not misleading.

There is no doubt that any patriotic Jordanian, including myself, will tell you that Jordan has been reeling from endemic social malaise, excessive nepotism and lack of the applicability of the rule of law. Such factors, coupled with lack of decisive action, have indeed failed to galvanise a purposeful Jordanian national stride. Yet, these military retirees should not forget that it was the Hashemite regime in the first place that preserved Jordan from being part of the ominous Balfour Declaration of 1917. That is quite an achievement given the plethora of so-called national Arab movements that have in fact done nothing but squander Arab lands through adventurism and hyperbole.

So, to argue that this very Hashemite regime is now somehow part of a conspiracy to turn Jordan into Palestine could have not been further from the truth, if not even ludicrous.

Indeed, all patriotic Jordanians are one in asserting that the national unity of Jordan is something that should never be tampered with. They are equally unanimous in condemning all forms of discrimination against our citizens due to ethnic origin, religion or intellectual orientation.

Dr Lu'ayy Minwer Al-Rimawi

Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

Let's see where the money goes

Is there a conspiracy to keep everybody in ignorance, including politicians, about how the Government spends our money? Sixty years ago, the balance of payments and the national debt were frequently published, along with a simple pie-chart showing how our money was being spent. It would really help if you would re-establish this practice along with the amount per capita on each sector.

It is meaningless to say that the school improvement programme is going to cost £55bn; but when you say that it is going to cost every man, woman and child in the country £887, it becomes comprehensible.

Over the past 50 years, we have had a series of governments with little understanding of basic economics. We have been saddled with this enormous debt, which will take 20 years of austerity to pay off, presuming that we don't go bankrupt first.

The best figures I have been able to come up with are that we owe about £870bn, which is about £14,000 per person, and it is going to take half of our tax revenue to service this debt.

Most politicians have never run their own business and have no experience of the real world. Politicians are experts at public relations, manipulating people, not administrating a complex and ever-changing system. We are heading for rough times that will make the Great Depression seem like a bump in the road.

Peter R Moore

Ipswich, Suffolk

Cuts in government expenditure mean that money remains in the pockets of taxpayers, a simple truth everyone should be made aware of.

William W Scott

North Berwick, East Lothian

Legal chiefs are discredited

It seems there will be no prosecution over the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests (report, 23 July), not even an assault charge. This, despite mobile phone and CCTV footage and scores of independent witnesses.

Why did it take the CPS and IPCC 16 months to come to a decision? It seems by kicking this into the long grass the hope was that public memories would fade. The family of Mr Tomlinson are right to infer there is a more lenient approach to police officers accused of serious crimes. The IPCC and CPS are totally discredited.

John Boylan

Hatfield, Hertfordshire

The Justice Secretary plans to make it more difficult for people to secure arrest warrants for foreign dignitaries. That should be a very simple piece of legislation. Simply confer honorary police officer status on all foreign dignitaries; that would render them completely safe from any legal proceedings in this country.

John Hall

Telford, Shropshire

Burchill, for and against

I still can hardly believe how simple-minded Julie Burchill's column was (21 July). First, she tells us the only problem with being fat is that one dies sooner than a person who is of normal weight. Not true.

Before this early death, a fat person may look forward to osteoarthritis in the hips, knees and ankles, making walking even more difficult. Low back pain is also a possibility. The feet and ankles often swell. All caused by the extra weight the body has to carry. Not finished yet.

Fat people sweat more than thin people, with the result sometimes of skin disorders because of moisture trapped in the skin. Fat people have difficulty breathing, because the lungs are depressed by the extra fat layers. I haven't yet mentioned diabetes. So, before death, there is a pretty good chance the fat person will live a miserable life.

And she said working-class people were all fat. Well, some of them are, but not all. I live in a working-class area and there are some who are fat, but there are plenty who are thin. It is an insult to working-class people.

But the biggest thing that annoyed me was that Julie Burchill is probably paid a nice lot of money to write, well, a nice lot of nonsense.

Ralph Baker


If it's any consolation to Ms Burchill I would have been in her queue. I did nearly cancel my Indy subscription because of previous tit-gate controversy, but admit I am pleasantly surprised by Julie's column and look forward to reading it. Maybe in time Julie will forgive Ms French who, after all these years, may not be as happy in her skin as she appears in public. Maybe she could do with a pep talk from la Burchill.

Lynn Bird

London SE23

I am totally loving Julie Birchall's new column. There's nothing like a good bitchfest to liven up a dull Wednesday.

Larissa Hutson

Ipswich, Suffolk

Royal insult for Griffin

I hold no brief for Nick Griffin whom I regard as a harmless if spiteful crank who poses a danger only to a large heap of pies. But I am staggered by the sheer small-minded cowardice shown by Buckingham Palace. Security threat? Discomfort to other guests? Would he be carrying a knife? Would any guest feel obliged to talk to him?

The man was invited because, for good or ill, he's an elected MEP. Shame on those who cravenly let their arms be twisted and who took this action. It has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with bad manners.

Allan Friswell

Cowling, North Yorkshire

Helpful bank

"The panjandrums of the banking world must put the needs of customers before their own convenience," says John Whitton (letters , 22 July). Some hope, when dear old trusty, tartan, dumb but loyal RBS PR tells me that the withdrawal of my (admittedly minuscule) current account interest is something that they have "enabled" themselves to do.

Alison Sutherland

St Ola, Orkney

Bowled out

Duff Hart-Davis, in his obituary of Sir Simon Hornby (23 July), states that in a cricket match in which Sir Simon was playing, a re-count revealed that Side B had won by five runs, rather than Side A by three runs. Mr Hart-Davis may know a lot about Sir Simon, but if he knew anything about cricket he would know that Side A batting first can win by runs and Side B batting second can win by wickets only.

David Hasell

Thames Ditton, Surrey

Perspectives on climate change

Our real green target is oil

Once again Johann Hari has drawn a clear line between climate-change idealists and climate-change realists ("Now Cameron jilts the environment", 16 July).

It is very depressing when those like him who want us to address climate-change issues, join forces with climate-change deniers to ridicule what little progress there is being made.

Liberal Democrats are used to being ignored, but now that we are in government (Oh, how I love that phrase), I sincerely hope that the UK will be moving towards a more sustainable economy. Chris Huhne at DECC and Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, are both committed to the "green economy" described in the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

One of David Cameron's first acts as Prime Minister was to support Chris Huhne in signing up to the 10:10 campaign, committing all government departments to reduce their emissions by 10 per cent over this year. Nothing like enough for Johann, but the 10:10 campaigners were over the moon, having failed to get the the previous government to sign up.

In addition, DECC has extended the home-insulation programme for another year and the Business Department has allocated a grant for the development of electric vehicles.

So with more than 90 per cent of Tories not accepting climate change what can be done by Liberal Democrats even in these key cabinet positions? Realism will have to be the order of the day, and whatever they manage to do, they will still find the likes of Johann Hari against them.

Fortunately, there is another agenda. Sod climate change, we have to wean ourselves off oil before the price destroys our whole economy and our way of life. Already there is talk of oil at $200 a barrel and it will go even higher. Pushing for better-insulated homes and lower-emission vehicles with lower fuel consumption, may be boring, but it's going to help. A lot.

I will be bitterly disappointed if by the end of the five years of this coalition, we are not half-way to our 20/20/2020 target (20 per cent reduction in energy use, 20 per cent electricity from renewables by 2020), with or without the support of the climate-change idealists.

Dr David Pollard

Salen, Isle of Mull