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Tuesday 30 August 2011
Letters: Exam results
Another GCSE results day has arrived. I teach mathematics in an inner-city secondary school. My class were on the borderline of C/D grades. Two of them got Ds and everyone else C or above. A great result, which has helped my school achieve their target for A*-C grades.
The students and I have received congratulations for "all the hard work". I don't want to take anything away from their achievements, because I know they worked very hard. However, I know that despite my attempts to teach maths all year, rather than teach to the test, there are probably only eight or nine students that have the understanding of the C grade.
I was asked by students occasionally: "Sir, why are you teaching us all this; is this going to come up in the exam?" I would reply that it wasn't my job to teach them what was going to come up in the exam, but to teach them maths.
My department has come under increasing pressure to enter children early, as they did this year for the English exam. I understand why it is important for the school to put so much effort into getting C grades, but I fear that this will have a poor effect on many of those students. Students struggle at A-level courses, which I believe is because they don't have the in-depth knowledge of the subject required or the ability to study independently. And I feel that teaching the beauty of maths is being sacrificed sacrificed for C-grade exam passes.
It's time we stopped always congratulating teachers and schools for pass rates and instead, whilst acknowledging the hard work of teachers and students, tried to get some sort of grip on why we need a standard to rate schools by and what effect that is having on our learners.
The editorial "Pupils lose out with a system so prone to manipulation" (26 August) is confused. Early entry for the English GCSE, a key qualification for higher education and employment, is of clear benefit for an individual student.
Yes, it does raise a school's performance measure and may hoist the school an extra notch in the tables, but this is hardly manipulation on the scale we see in the world of business, politics or journalism. A student who has just gained a grade C following a D in January will not feel used but delighted.
A further benefit for students is the reduction in the number of exams taken in the summer term; or are we to believe that taking more than 20 exams in a three-week period is character building?
Giving students resit opportunities is motivational, demonstrating that improvement can be made and that intelligence or ability is not fixed. Cameron believes that everyone deserves a second chance, after all.
Senior English Adviser
Your leading article laments a "new tendency of schools putting their pupils in for English and maths GCSEs early". There is nothing new about this.
Fifty years ago I took (and passed) nine O-levels a year early and then went on to specialise in science A-levels, which I also took a year early. No one asked the students for their opinions about this; we were just expected to comply. This had nothing to do with personal development but everything to do with bringing credit to this highly academic grammar school and its headteacher, long before the days of league tables.
I have always regretted spending a year less on languages and humanities at the time when I could have gained most from them. It is a cause for regret that cramming for exams is still the dominant motivation for today's schools.
Fears and hopes for Libya
Dr John Cameron (letter, 29 August) is correct to draw our attention to "Libya's rag-tag rebel government, with its tribal, geographic, ethnic and religious divisions [which] looks doomed from the start".
What most of us do not seem to realise is that Libya is an artificial creation, essentially a conglomeration of what was left of the Ottoman Empire in North Africa after the French took control of the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) and the British took over Egypt.
Its components have little in common. Tripolitania is essentially part of the Maghreb whereas Benghazi and Cyrenaica are more within the Egyptian cultural sphere. This division goes back to antiquity, when the former was part of the Western (Latin) Roman Empire whereas the latter was Byzantine (Greek).
The vast majority of the country is desert with nomadic Arabs and Berbers whose primary loyalty is tribal and not national, while there is a population in the south with more affinity to Sub-Saharan Africa than the Arabised Mediterranian littoral.
In this, Libya is similar to Yugoslavia, set up under similar conditions after the First World War, and we can expect it to fall apart with similarly horrific conflicts.
Martin D Stern
Salford, greater manchester
What a pleasure to read the letter from Anthony C Pick (29 August). Like him I have been appalled by the persistent cynicism of many reporters, either in their commentaries, or in their questioning of Libyans, whether rebel soldiers or civilians.
We have witnessed a magnificent moment in history, and the most surprising and uplifting aspect has been the almost universally positive, honourable and responsible attitudes of the fighters and their leaders. It is incumbent on the Nato countries that have supported the military removal of the Gaddafi regime to do everything to foster that desire to unite Libya under a new system that enables all Libyans to have a good quality of life, free from fear.
Of course there will be revenge killings and bad treatment, but already the stories coming out from those liberated from Gaddafi's jails make the actual level of restraint shown so far even more impressive.
What is needed now is for Libya's own money, currently held in frozen assets abroad, to be released without delay to the interim government, to give the best chance of a return to normal services and civilian life. Even if it has to be lent to them in the short term, that is one loan that has an assurance of repayment, unlike so many others closer to home.
Greedy banks are not alone
You are right to slam the Royal Bank of Scotland for its lack of ethics in dealing with Belarus and its engagement in other repugnant activities ("A state-owned bank should be setting an ethical example",
29 August), but surely it is surprising that you are surprised.
We live in a society in which the central ethos is to accumulate and secure eminence over others – a feature of humanity that Thomas Hobbes noted when describing the state of nature. Witness companies seeking to expand, ruin competitors and grow profits; witness rioters grabbing the designer suits; witness the wealthy outraged at some income being taxed at 50 per cent.
Most of us yield to the ethos to some extent – the challenge is to minimise the extent. We could turn to the politicians, but witness the many politicians who, keen to secure political eminence, toe party lines and vote for policies that do nothing to pull us away from the consumer obsession for more and more.
Abortion is a class issue
The ultimate goal of anti-abortion campaigners is to render all abortion illegal, contrary to the wishes of the 83 per cent of British people who support a woman's right to choose. ("Government launches abortion advice service", 29 August)
They know that the rich, powerful and privileged will always be able to evade inconvenient laws. So they opt for incremental whittling attacks on rights to safe, legal and free abortions, disguised as balanced, neutral advice, knowing that the poorest and weakest will suffer most.
The trade union movement, together with all UK political parties with pro-choice policies, should recognise the class nature of this latest pernicious attack and unite with women's organisations to defeat it.
Let the rich pay more council tax
John Kampfner writes that the super-rich should pay more tax (Opinion, 26 August). One of the simplest and fairest ways to increase taxes on the super-rich would be to increase the number of council tax bands in England from the current eight with a top limit of £320,000 (1991 valuation) to 20 bands stretching up to, say, £100m. It's not a new idea, but it bears repeating.
There would only be a need to re-rate a small percentage of homes, and if it were introduced without increasing the overall council tax take, it would allow council tax bills for the vast majority of people to be reduced.
It also has the big advantage of being easy to collect from everybody, whether or not they are domiciled in the UK. What's not to like?
When the council tax was introduced properties were divided into eight bands, A to H. When owners of properties in bands A to G wish to, or have to, move, one of the factors they have to take into consideration when looking for a new house or flat is the council tax band available properties are in. Moving up one or more bands can make an appreciable difference to the monthly outgoings.
However, owners of band H properties have no such worries; their moves will either be to a similar band property or a cheaper one – there is no dearer one. There is no apparent justification for this arbitrary division of some properties into bands but not the rest.
Surely the time has now come to address this anomaly by continuing the banding process upwards, using the same process as was used before, asking estate agents to allocate H-banded properties to new bands where appropriate, using as many of the remaining letters of the alphabet as is necessary.
Geoff S Harris
When work has no purpose
Howard Jacobson's assertion that being in work is better than not being in work (27 August) misses the truth by the same margin as the Bertrand Russell argument in favour of light-heartedness and play that Jacobson seeks to debunk. Work or play in themselves are not desirable – rather, it is the sense of purpose that either can bestow on one's life that matters.
In the case of work, this either comes from a sense of being valued by one's employer, from being genuinely interested in one's work or from an appreciation and enjoyment of one's work colleagues and environment; or a combination of all of these. When one's work provides none of these motivations, then a life without work, in whatever form, may well provide a greater meaning than one spent in an employment whose sole purpose is to further enrich those at the top of the tree.
The fact that many of those who were rioting and looting had regular jobs underlines the point. Work without purpose and dignity is not worthy of the name.
India reveres its naked ramblers
It is unfair that Stephen Gough, the "naked rambler", has been put back in jail for almost 22 months. In India both Jain Digambara monks and Hindu Naga sadhus wander the streets naked without fear of being prosecuted and jailed. Why are his human rights being denied, because some individuals find the sight of a naked human body unacceptable?
West Bromwich, West Midlands
Instead of arresting the naked rambler yet again, consideration could perhaps be given to applying in the Chancery Division for a vesting order.
The front page headline on Monday's sport supplement should have read not "Manchester 13 London 3", but "Manchester 13 North London 3". No other London fans would wish to be associated with a debacle such as overtook Arsenal and Tottenham, least of all Chelsea supporters.
Perspectives on the Middle East conflict
Proms exploited for arts propaganda campaign
As musicians we are dismayed that the BBC has invited the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to play at the Proms on 1 September. The IPO has a deep involvement with the Israeli state – not least its self-proclaimed "partnership" with the Israeli Defence Forces. This is the same state and army that impedes in every way it can the development of Palestinian culture, including the prevention of Palestinian musicians from travelling abroad to perform.
Our main concern is that Israel deliberately uses the arts as propaganda to promote a misleading image of Israel. Through this campaign, officially called "Brand Israel", denials of human rights and violations of international law are hidden behind a cultural smokescreen. The IPO is perhaps Israel 's prime asset in this campaign.
The Director of the Proms, Roger Wright, was asked to cancel the concert in accordance with the call from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott (PACBI). He rejected this call, saying that the invitation is "purely musical".
Israel's policy towards the Palestinians fits the UN definition of apartheid. We call on the BBC to cancel this concert.
Derek Ball (composer)
Frances Bernstein (community choir leader)
Steve Bingham (violinist)
John Claydon (saxophonist)
Malcolm Crowthers (music photographer)
Raymond Deane (composer)
Tom Eisner (violinist LPO)
Nancy Elan (violinist LPO)
Deborah Fink (soprano)
Catherine Ford (violinist, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment)
Reem Kelani (Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster)
Les Levidow (violinist)
Susie Meszaros (violinist, Chilingirian Quartet)
Roy Mowatt (violinist, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment)
Ian Pace (pianist)
Leon Rosselson (singer-songwriter)
Dominic Saunders (pianist)
Chris Somes-Charlton (artist manager)
Leni Solinger (violinist)
Sarah Streatfeild (violinist LPO)
Sue Sutherley (cellist, LPO)
Tom Suarez (violinist, New York)
Kareem Taylor (Oud Player/Guitarist and Composer)
Miriam Walton (pianist, organist and French horn player)
Naturally, the Israeli army is the baddie
David Hare is one of the country's most talented playwrights. It was a pity therefore to see his latest BBC work, Page 8, exemplifies the most simplistic nostrums. The old man gets the young beautiful woman and Israel and her army act as the lurking background evil.
The fashionable use of Israel and her army as the easy fall-back baddie is lazy and boring, and displays a wilful avoidance of the violence, corruption and oppression so common in many countries. That the heroine is the daughter of a well-meaning Syrian activist fighting for justice against Israeli aggression would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic, while so many Syrians are being slaughtered by their own leaders.
American public kept in ignorance of abuses
Thank you for the article detailing Israeli abuse of children arrested for stone throwing ("How Israel takes its revenge on boys who throw stones", 26 August). My husband served as an ecumenical accompanier for the World Council of Churches for three months in Palestine, and saw many youngsters taken away by day and by night.
Most had not thrown stones except at the electrified fences that cage some Palestinian villages. The fence is thus jostled and sends a "message" to soldiers monitoring it from their base afar. The soldiers are annoyed; they have to go check on the fences. But the real reason for abducting children is to get them to implicate others, as your article says, with the goal of intimidating those who organise peaceful demonstrations against the ever-encroaching occupiers.
If only an American newspaper would run such an article, but of course, that's just wishful thinking. Americans are kept largely in the dark, so our government continues to send $7m-$10m per day to finance such activities as you describe.
Fairway, Kansas, USA
Terrorism is the obstacle to peace
The latest terror attacks on Israeli civilians should provide food for thought when considering whether to support the forthcoming prospect of statehood for the Palestinians.
These attacks, just like so many others before them, did not stem from a lack of the state of Palestine, nor were they due to the occupation. The attacks stem from a basic intolerance of Israel's right to exist. If anyone is serious about creating a true peace this is the issue that needs to be tackled.
After Egypt committed to peace instead of war, there was a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. The same is true for Jordan. And hopefully one day, the same will happen between the Palestinians and Israel. However, this day will only come when the Palestinians grow sincere about stopping terrorism.
The creation of Palestine in the absence of a commitment to stop terror against Israelis will not bring peace. It will worsen an already bad situation for all parties concerned.
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