Letters: Faith school places

Faking faith for a school place
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I’m not sure what Andrew Penman means by a “good” education” (“Why I faked religion to find a school”, 30 September), but it clearly doesn’t seem to include moral education.

Does he really feel that it is appropriate that his children should learn from a very young age that it is right to lie in order to achieve what you want in life?

Tony Bex,

Ramsgate, Kent

Last year, when my wife and I were on holiday in Surrey, we attended Sunday Mass at the local Catholic church. We were horrified to witness many children running around, parents talking, taking no interest whatsoever during Mass.

We were so upset that, after receiving holy communion, we walked out. Later that day, my wife suddenly said: “I bet there’s a good Catholic school in this area, and non-Catholic parents want their kids to go there.”

So, Mr Penman, we welcome anyone coming to our church; all we ask is that you respect our rights, as Christians, our customs, our values and our faith. There is nothing worse than sitting behind a man, as we were, who is reading the Sunday newspaper during Mass.

Dave E Owen,

Church Stretton, Shropshire

Andrew Penman may not be aware why certain schools are church schools. It’s not because the local clergy has barged in and taken over. Quite often, the land and school were once owned by the church and have been donated to provide education to the locals. This can be found in the church deed which the school will hold. If he wants an atheist school he can have one, if he can afford to buy the land and buildings.

Did he stop to think why church schools are so popular? Something to do with the values and distinctiveness that church schools come with, which lead to an excellent all-round education, perhaps. Those points apply equally to other faith schools, not just C of E schools.

He was willing for his children to benefit from this but then soundly denounces the church as an atheist. I don’t really mind non-believers in church schools providing they accept that it is a church school and that there are those who are practising believers (proper ones) and expect that to be respected and upheld at the school.

Alan Sykes,

Keinton Mandeville, Somerset

I am closely involved in my church. We have a Church of England Primary School in our village and I can categorically state that only three sets of parents attend church whose children go to our school.

None of the teachers, including the headmaster, attend. It is not a requirement that parents of children wishing to enrol at our school have to attend services. I would go so far as to say that I believe if that was the case then the local authority would withdraw funding.

I am not offended by Andrew Penman attending Church in what he appears to believe is a requirement for his children to gain admission to a Church of England School and I don’t believe most Christians would be. We would welcome his attendance because at the very least he would have the opportunity during the Confession and the Intercessions to reflect on his personality and his relationship with his neighbours and the wider world. It appears from his article that he did not take advantage of that but, in any event, God moves in mysterious ways.

David Beechey,

Halsall, Lancashire

Richard Garner reports (25 September) that 10 years ago, Sacred Heart RC Primary School in Blackburn “was a flourishing Catholic community, with 91 per cent of its pupil intake professing the faith. Now that number has dwindled to no more than 3 per cent.” In 2010, he goes on, “around 97 per cent of its intake is Muslim”.

This development strikes me as one of segregation. Perhaps the Catholic community in the distant past held a similar position of ghettoisation, but such a development does not appear to bode well for integration of the young Muslim population of the town.

Richard Madge,

Bexhill On Sea, Sussex

Burke's idea of society

Now hold your horses a bit. Edmund Burke as the promoter of a family-based “Big Society” (The Friday Essay, 1 October)? The MP for the family-respecting slave-traders of Bristol and their American customers? Pull the other one.

Burke spoke for an essentially aristocratic view of the “contract between generations” which allowed for clearances, forced emigration (black and white), the suppression of trade unions and anything else which might disturb the management of society by aristocratic elites in their own interests.

His use of the word “platoon” gives the game away. Families were all right if their sons fought in France for the squire, and touched their forelock in gratitude for survival when they didn't get their houses back afterwards. That was Burke and his contemporaries’ “open society”.

J S Brennan,

West Bromwich, West Midlands

Edmund Burke may not have used the words “Big Society” but he did coin the phrase the “swinish multitude”. “Good order” he believed, depended upon the “natural subordination” of those who labour to people who own wealth.

How do Nick Clegg’s plans for making the electoral system more representative square with the ideas of a conservative thinker who feared the votes of those in “servile employments”? And David Cameron’s opposition to those plans suggest that his thinking is very much in the tradition of Burke’s.

Nick Howard,


Doubts about cause of ADHD

The hype surrounding the latest research on ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and a supposed genetic link is unbelievable. Basically, it would appear that within a group of children identified as having ADHD 14 per cent were found to have a defective gene. This means that 86 per cent did not. Within the control group of children not identified as having ADHD, nevertheless 7 per cent carried the defective gene.

Perhaps what the research shows is that of the increasing numbers of children “diagnosed” with ADHD, only a handful actually present with this condition. The remainder are the children who are casualties not of their genes but of their environment, in a society where the “me” generation rarely prioritises the social and emotional needs of its young.

The research also suggests that the defective gene shows links with both autism and schizophrenia. No wonder it is so difficult to find two psychiatrists who agree on a psychiatric diagnosis. Part of the problem derives from the fact that the psychiatric model of mental illness has sought to draw a parallel with physical disease where the latter identifies particular illnesses or diseases as discrete entities with clearly specified causes. Mental illness is not so tidy.

Jean K Clydesdale,

Newcastle Upon Tyne

War with no victory in sight

It is generally accepted that 9/11 was masterminded by al-Qa’ida from their training camps in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of 9/11 the US attacks on al-Qa’ida bases had understandable motives: retribution for the attacks, to satisfy public opinion in America and to reduce the threat of further attacks being masterminded from Afghanistan.

Reducing the threat of terrorism against the West became and remains one of the main justifications for the “war on terror” and continuing military operations in Afghanistan. It was a mantra constantly repeated by Bush and first Blair, then Brown and now Cameron, in order to justify military action and persuade voters to accept the cost in lives and injuries and billions of pounds of defence expenditure in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the light of the latest warnings about the “severe” level of threat against European countries that still have troops in Afghanistan, nine years after the war in Afghanistan was launched, it is clear that the “war on terror” has not yet achieved this primary objective.

On the contrary, if anything it has provoked even more Islamic anger against the West, raised the level of threat and dispersed it into Pakistan, Iraq and right across north Africa. Nor is there any evidence to support politicians’ claims that the continued war will ever reduce the threat from terrorism.

Julius Marstrand,


Book-lovers at the BBC

In answer to Boyd Tonkin’s article “Autumn leaves on TV Screens” (1 October) I would like to assure readers that BBC television is very much alive with new literature.

Imagine’s profile of Diana Athill and the adaptation of Andrea Levy’s Small Island are recent highlights on BBC One. BBC Two regularly features new books on the Culture Show. Writers interviewed range from Martin Amis to Slavoj Zizek, and subjects this year include the Man Booker, Samuel Johnson and Orange prizes. The Review Show, which recently broadcast from the Edinburgh Book Festival, covers books along with the week’s other cultural highlights, and lovers of literature will find a wealth of programmes to interest them on BBC Four.

We don’t have a regular dedicated books show, just as we don’t have one for opera or photography – instead we offer a wide range of programmes that celebrate all these areas in a variety of ways that we hope will appeal to an audience who cares about the arts.

Last year a major season celebrated poetry across BBC TV and radio, and this year we have an adaptation of Christopher Reid’s Song of Lunch.Look out for a season celebrating the novel, including a series presented by Sebastian Faulks and Culture Show Specials about popular fiction and up and coming writers. We are always looking for new ways to celebrate books and reading, as we are with regard to other areas of culture which we hold dear.

Boyd Tonkin please note, and Jeremy Hunt too if he happens to be reading.

Mark Bell, BBC Commissioning Editor For Arts,

London W12

Banks, bombs and decisions

A Trident renewal decision will probably be postponed till after the next election . A report on the banking system will not be published until September next year. Two desperately urgent decisions are kicked into the long grass. As always, politicians are putting their own comfort and survival before the interests of citizens.

For once let politicians make a courageous decision. lf the UK legislates to curb the excesses and risks of our banking system then other countries will follow. If the UK honoured its commitments under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty other nuclear states would do the same.

Jim McCluskey,

Twickenham, Middlesex

In the 1950s, we were brought up to save. They sold us Savings Stamps with pictures of royal children and they enrolled us into the Post Office Savings Bank. For many adults, their POSB account was their only bank account, even though you couldn't write cheques on it.

In retrospect, the POSB was a source of cheap money for the Government, paying out interest at or below the rate of inflation. Things have changed. Nowadays, savings accounts run by commercial banks and paying rates of interest below inflation provide cheap money for bankers to lend. To adapt a phrase: never a borrower or a saver be.

Trevor Pateman,


Not just in Dagenham

The release of Made in Dagenham, the film about women workers battling for equal rights at Ford, took me back to the mid 1960s, when my wife, then my fiancée, was working for a major tour operator in London.

She was promoted to run the busiest, male-dominated desk at the company’s HQ, Spanish package tours, and given a 10s (50p) pay rise. But she was still earning less than the men. She took this up with her boss, who told her: “It’s not company policy to pay women more than men.” So she told him she didn’t want the job. Her reward for that was to have her Christmas bonus cut.

She wasn’t in a union, but I doubt if that company would have recognised it.

Clive Goozee,


Steering the Segway

I don’t know what model of Segway Jerry Unwins is used to riding (letter, 1 October) but it certainly isn’t the kind I ride each time I visit Chicago.

Steering a Segway does not rely on rotating any twist grip but is indeed akin to steering a bicycle. Having filmed while riding one on several occasions I can vouch that it is perfectly possible and safe to ride one while steering one-handed.

Balancing on a Segway isn’t at all difficult, but it is only possible if the ignition is switched on and the gyroscopic balancing technology is active. I have it on good authority that the reason why President Bush fell off his was the simple fact that the ignition had not been switched on.

Wish Gdula,

Lampeter, West Wales

Like not cool

I have just been listening, fascinated, to a group of teenagers on a bus discussing last night’s entertainment. The ubiquitous and meaningless “like” did not so much pepper their speech (letter, 1 October) as drown it.

Among the phrases I heard were “It took like seven seconds to do it”, “The bar was open till like six o'clock” and “It was like so cool”. I do not believe that any of the information following “like” required any thinking time at all; “erm” and “err” were never in such profligate use. “Like” has become a mindless affectation.

Robert Miller,

Cromer, Norfolk


In the light of the possible failure of the current talks,where is our much vaunted Middle East peace envoy? When he was appointed in 2007 his comment was that “a solution to Mid-East problems was possible but it required huge intensity and work”. So where is he now, beavering away behind the scenes, or booksigning in a safe location?

Howard Jackson,


Perspectives on oil and ethics

Selective about human rights

Rebecca Tinsley’s article “Oil and ethics don’t mix” (1 October) was interesting but missed a broader argument. It gave credence to the idea that those who want political and economic power in the international arena care about ethics. I think a casual glance at other forms of Third World exploitation and the state of the global financial sector would disprove this argument.

But it also gave the impression that consumers such as the UK and the US treat all oil-producing countries in the same way. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. They clearly feel that human rights offences and genocide are disregardable. Indeed the widespread anti-democratic nature of the Gulf states is something that they are prepared to ignore.

But when it comes to countries who have committed offences against corporations a new standard comes into play. Venezuela’s attempts to fight poverty are deemed “dictatorial”, while Ecuador’s government is constantly undermined and finds itself without strong international support when threatened by a coup d’état.

These are the two member states of Opec who are expected to live up to the standards that the West really values. But those standards are not based on any ethical concern; they are about protecting their corporations’ profits and their own regional power.

Ronan Burtenshaw,


Tyrants who get away with murder

Your cover story of 1 October (“UK hails ‘new epoch’ in relations with regime accused of war crimes”) is a timely reminder of how lightly the UK and other western nations have treated genocide in Sudan and indeed elsewhere in Africa, a failing for which it is hard to see any explanation other than Western governments placingmuch less value on an African life than a European one.

The humanitarian arguments for opposing genocide and bringing perpetrators to justice are clear and overwhelming and should be enough to change UK policy. There are other arguments as well. If one dictator gets away with genocide, others will be encouraged to follow, a point illustrated by Hitler’s chilling 1939 comment: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The UK has a history of backing tyrants who are subsequently deposed and then being surprised that the people whom those tyrants oppressed have a low opinion of us. Will people in say 20 years time think of the UK as the nation that backed Omar al-Bashir in the way they speak of France backing those responsible for the genocide in Rwanda.

Tim Jones,

Rugeley, Staffordshire


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