Letters: Exams system fails the test


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The Independent Online

Richard Garner is right to highlight Ofqual's findings that school textbooks focus too much on examination preparation ("Exam boards accused of textbook bias", 8 November).

Too many chief examiners have put their names to texts that, in the rush to publish before a new syllabus is introduced, are inferior to others available. Some even contain factual errors and examination boards have had to accept those errors in pupils' exam answers as they were in the published texts. Yet schools feel that they have to purchase these "official" texts, even knowing that they are substandard, or their pupils may be disadvantaged in some way.

It is, of course, the same examiners who run even more lucrative courses for teachers hoping to gain an insight into the next examination series.

The answer seems clear: Ofqual needs to ban exam boards from promoting specific texts and insist that any examiner does not make commercial gain for as long as the syllabus lasts. Only then will pupils be assured of the best possible resources in support of their learning.

Neil Roskilly

Chief Executive Officer, The Independent Schools Association,

Saffron Walden, Essex

Reading Steve Connor's article "Drug tests on way for students as one in 10 use exam boosters" (7 November), it is clear that the establishment is keen to address not the root of the problem, but the symptoms.

The use of cognitive enhancers is an unavoidable consequence of the pressure applied to students to perform in exams. Drug tests would only serve to make a mockery of the academic system while failing to achieve their goal. The way to resolve the issue is to alleviate the pressure through coursework and modular examination, not by punishing offenders.

Chris Goodwin


It's time for Republicans to do what's right

In 2008 the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that the number one goal for the Republican Party would be to make sure that President Obama was a one-term president. They had one goal and that failed. America has suffered because of it.

On Tuesday America denied McConnell his goal and we re-elected President Obama. So now it's time for Republicans to give up the crazy nonsense and get to work doing their jobs. I'm hoping that Republicans learn something from this and they follow Governor Chris Christie's example as a new template for Republican behaviour.

It's time for Republicans do what's right and argue over who gets the credit rather than do what's wrong and fight over who gets the blame.

Marc Perkel

Gilroy, California, USA

I don't understand this idea that the Republican Party has got to reinvent itself. Fifty eight million American voters listened to the billionaires, the crooks, the cultists, the nutters and a queue of men wanting to theorise about rape, and decided that this was the party for them.

Maybe a bit of fine-tuning required, but this is not a party with any fundamental problem. In contrast, America. There's something we need to talk about.

Trevor Pateman


Like most progressives, I am heaving a sigh of relief that Obama won and the neo-con Tea Party nutters failed to get their puppet president.

However, as a Green, I am despondent that the only mention of climate change during the election came from right-field when Republican Mayor Bloomberg supported Obama for his stance on climate change after Hurricane Sandy mashed Manhattan. All Obama could raise was a post-coital murmur of "warming planet" at his victory speech.

The economic crisis may have wiped climate change from the political and popular agenda on both sides of the Atlantic, but Hurricane Sandy coming so swiftly after drought destroyed crops in the US and rains beat them down in the UK shows that climate change is already causing great damage.

These events should be a warning to all politicians, especially to Cameron's so-called "greenest government ever" that they cannot continue to betray their environmental promises.

Chit Chong


Will the Nobel Committee be awarding Obama another $1.4m for being re-elected?

Adrian Marlowe

The Hague

Mr President, congratulations on your election victory! You now have the unique opportunity to enforce an equitable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu needs to be given 60 days to repatriate all Israelis from the illegal settlements in the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem, failing which all US aid, both civil and military, should be discontinued, and all bilateral trade suspended.

AIPAC, the Israel lobby in America, needs to be designated a foreign agent under existing legislation to ensure that they are no longer an obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

Only these actions will ensure a compliant Israeli government and an imposed equitable solution, to avoid a disastrous war in the Middle East. That war would inevitably involve the use of nuclear weapons. Serious threats to world peace require serious action.

Douglas Reed

London NW11

Police elections are pointless

I would like join other readers to protest at the holding of police commissioner elections. We already have a complete range of elections for the counties, cities and districts and also for parish councils. We do not need more elections. If we have elected police commissioners, why not for health services, or schools or transport and planning? These are just as important.

Councillors and their staff at the local councils could provide democratic control of the police, just as in the past. They also control services for children, street lighting, housing etc. It's much better to consider these together than to manage policing on its own.

As others have suggested, please spoil your ballot paper!

Philip Morgan


The good name of public relations

Ian Burrell is right that the recognition of reputation's impact on an organisation's bottom line is behind the rise of public relations – but wrong to suggest this is "bad for journalism" (5 October).

Public relations is a growing industry because the internet and social media's proliferation means organisations can speak directly to their publics. Therefore professional communications is replacing the role that traditional media used to have. With journalism jobs becoming increasingly scarce, public relations is an attractive alternative.

Burrell alludes to PR's dirty washing and the Leveson Inquiry, but it is the reputation of journalists at stake, not the PR industry. In fact, most corporate "lobbying scandals" do not involve any lobbyists or big business, but politicians pretending to be lobbyists and journalists pretending to be businessmen.

We are not a perfect industry, but there is a desire for transparency and accountability. This is why the Public Relations Consultants Association already regulates its members, lists them and their clients online, and has called for a more comprehensive statutory register of lobbyists.

Francis Ingham

Director General, Public Relations Consultants Association

London SW1

The first female Freemason

I was very interested in your article ("Shake on it, sister" on 6 November) about the Freemasons now including women in their branches. In 1712 my Irish ancestor Elizabeth St Leger, after whom I am named, secretly listened to a meeting of her father, brother and other Freemasons in their home. When she was discovered, some of the Freemasons declared she would have to be killed as she now knew too much. A compromise was reached whereby she became a Freemason, up till now the only woman Freemason. I am delighted to hear how times have changed.

Caroline Elizabeth St Leger-Davey


Archbishop of Eton

In 1959 Harold Macmillan declared that "Mr Attlee had three old Etonians in his cabinet, I have six. Things are twice as good under the Conservatives." Now that an old Etonian Prime Minister has approved the appointment of another old Etonian as Archbishop of Canterbury, is it the case that things are twice as holy under the Conservatives?

Ivor Morgan


Congratulations to Justin Welby in becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. But yet another old Etonian in a position of power? It would be churlish to suggest it's a case of the old school dog collar.

Phil Mason

Northallerton, North Yorkshire

Perfect gent who betrayed Britain

Shaun Walker's piece "The spy who stayed out in the cold: George Blake at 90" (7 November) includes this: "He never really felt part of the British establishment... saying that one has to belong to a country first in order to betray it."

Interesting then that the picture – I assume recent – shows him wearing a Royal Air Force tie with a motif of Spitfires, Tornados and the RAF crest. He still looks the perfect, distinguished establishment figure. Perhaps that's one reason why he was such a successful spy.

Sean Maffett

Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Visa mix-up

I sympathise with Bill Barnes (letter, 7 November) having myself attempted to negotiate the Indian visa system. Unfortunately, I overlooked one of the six fees, the one for the courier return of my documents and visas. All my documents, without the visas, were sent back with a request for the extra fee. Of course, they were sent by courier.

Jeremy Straker

Tonbridge, Kent

Nadine's defence

As one of Nadine Dorries' constituents, albeit one who disagrees with her on most things, I think there are two points to be made. After all her faceless Tory predecessors, at least Nadine is entertaining. And we know exactly where she is; how many can say the same of their MP?

Martin Lowe

Cranfield, Bedfordshire