Letters: First-rate apprenticeships

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 16 August, 2013

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As said by Julie Stanbridge at Ernst & Young, university isn’t the default any more; young people have to think carefully and consider all options (“The age of apprenticeships”, 15 August). I see it as extremely positive that our youth are thinking about the best routes into their chosen professions and spending time considering all pathways.

A study we commissioned last month revealed that 81 per cent of parents are unaware that a Higher Apprenticeship is a university-level qualification. We need to break the myth that apprenticeships are a second-rate option.

Jane Scott Paul, Chief Executive, Association of Accounting Technicians, London EC1

Having just read your report “The age of apprenticeships”, as a retired lecturer I can offer some advice to potential undergraduates. This is: if you get exceptional grades that will get you to a top university (Oxbridge or Warwick for example) then take the loan out and go. Otherwise, opt for an apprenticeship or a job at the bottom of the ladder.

Successive governments have put pressure on universities to award better grades, but this has resulted in things being dumbed down year after year. After all the debt, students with relatively poor degrees are at a distinct disadvantage as against those who left school and can now offer experience.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

Keep mental patients out  of hospital

That compulsory detention under the Mental Health Act is now being used as the only way to secure a hospital bed (report, 14 August) is one of the most alarming consequences to date of NHS cuts.

Hopefully, however, we have learned from past knee-jerk reactions to previous crises in our mental health services and will not go down the superficially attractive but disastrous route of “more beds!”

The traditional approach of “detain, label and medicate” has dominated our often ineffective, and sometimes damaging, services for decades, partly because of the colonisation of psychiatry by the pharmaceutical industry. Trusts that are genuinely listening to service users and their families are developing, to the extent their limited resources allow, humane and effective alternatives to the stigmatising and often frightening hospital ward.

These alternatives focus on real social and psychological needs rather than trying to suppress human distress with ever increasing prescriptions of drugs, most of which are little better than placebo.

Admission to psychiatric hospital, compulsory or voluntary, should be an absolute last resort. The gathering together of large numbers of highly distressed people in one building has never been very good for anyone’s mental health – patients or staff.

Professor John Read, Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool

Israel’s perilous path to peace

Israeli intransigence over settlement expansion could stymie not only the current effort at a peace deal, but, of concern globally, threaten the very viability of international jurisprudence and diplomacy (“Israel to seize Arab property with new legislation”, 15 August). 

The UN declared Israeli settlements illegal under 1979’s Resolution 446. The EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, has boldly and unequivocally stated this week that Israel is violating international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory. Israel should be alarmed as its reputation slips internationally. The US response over Israel’s behaviour has been repeatedly and frustratingly tepid. Without a peace deal soon the Palestinians should rightly win backing at the UN to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, a move the US would no doubt vigorously oppose.

We need a world where the powers that be do not allow Israel to make a mockery of international agreements: this would incite tension and cynicism within and beyond the Middle East.

Catherine Thick, Founder, Equity & Peace, Newcastle upon Tyne

Both Katherine Butler and Robert Fisk (14 August) are keen to emphasise the weakness of the “Palestinians” compared with the “Israelis”. Both obscure the point.

The logic of the peace process is “land for peace” – the Israelis give land and the Palestinians receive land. The only winners to come out of the process are the Palestinians, for they are the only ones to gain anything.

Mr Fisk (though he is to be applauded  for recognising that not all Israelis are against the two-state solution) mischaracterises the situation when he asserts that the Palestinians don’t “trust” the process and the Israelis don’t “want” it. Since the Palestinians are the only ones who stand to gain anything concrete, and since no one seriously believes that Hamas and states like Iran, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia are suddenly going to fall in love with Israel in response to the establishment of a Palestinian state, Israel has just as much right to distrust the process as the Palestinians have.

Stephen Glasse, Kingsbridge, Devon

Paxman takes it on the chin

Terence Blacker (15 August) suggests that Jeremy Paxman’s beard is a “cry for help”. Being a hard-hearted soul, I have no time for men or women sporting facial hair, whatever the reason.

As we have had vans touring parts of London telling illegal immigrants to go home, how about a similar operation with the billboards declaring that only beardless citizens (especially celebrities) are welcome? 

Ivor Yeloff, Norwich

Terence Blacker asks why men grow beards. Having had a beard myself for over 40 years, my wonder is that men shave.

I grew a beard at university and, yes, it might have been something about looking young for my age and wanting to look older, but it was mainly just to see what it looked like. 

It was then that I realised what a chore shaving was. When I shaved the beard off as an experiment about 30 years ago, I realised how much I disliked shaving and, what was worse, a couple of hours after shaving my chin itched from the stubble for the rest of the day. 

And my confused friends, who had never seen my chin before, asked me to grow it back. I’ve not shaved since.

A friend of mine, a keen reader, once told me that when he grew a beard he realised it meant an extra five minutes each day in which he could read a book. When I reminded him of this more recently, he told me that nowadays it meant an extra five minutes in bed.

Paul Dormer, Guildford

I’m sorry, it just wasn’t cricket

On 26 July you published a letter of mine recommending the garden release of the African field cricket Gryllus bimaculatus. It is widely available in the UK as a reptile food, has a pleasant song, and I thought it would add exoticism to my garden. This idea was also the subject of a light-hearted article published in The Independent on 3 August.

Last Thursday I received a phone call from the police informing me that by introducing into my garden a species of cricket not native to the UK, I’d broken the law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, section 14(1)), and later I was interviewed by a policeman. He was very friendly and pleasant (he wanted to educate more than anything else), but I did receive an Adult Restorative Disposal (ARD).

Through your columns may I now warn the public against releasing any non-native animal species into our environment, and apologise for any confusion I may have caused? British ecosystems are ancient, precious, and fragile, and the consequences of such actions can be potentially devastating.

Daniel Emlyn-Jones, Oxford

Payday loan to buy drugs

On the eve of her admission to a drug treatment clinic, my daughter took out a loan with a payday loan company to buy drugs. She lied on the application form, saying she was on benefits, and there were no checks to see if she would be able to repay the money. In fact, she has no income and I support her.

Thankfully she is drug-free at the moment, but for parents and friends of drug addicts the advent of online loans is a horrifying prospect. I am certainly glad the Archbishop of Canterbury is challenging irresponsible lending.

Name and address supplied

The city that likes bikes

Bella Bathurst asks if bikes will ever truly belong on Britain’s roads (Voices, 13 August). Bikes certainly seem to belong on Bristol’s roads. In Bristol, unlike most towns where I’ve cycled, there seems to be more mutual toleration between cyclists and drivers, and between cyclists and pedestrians.

I’m not sure why this should be. Perhaps it’s because bikes are allowed on so many pavements. Cyclists don’t feel such a need to take stupid risks in traffic. They also seem more considerate towards pedestrians. Not quite Holland, but Bristol is getting something right.

George Meikle, Glasgow

Lesson from St Paul

Christina Jones (letter, 14 August) rightly notes that “pay is not all” with respect to recruitment and retention of key professionals, such as teachers. A child and adolescent psychiatrist myself, I would only like to echo her words and maybe add from St Paul: “Faith, hope and love ... and the greatest of these is love”  (I Corinthians 13:13). I am sure that most other faiths have similar quotations and I would love to hear them.

Susanne Griffin, London NW1

Seen him before

I know it’s the silly season, but did you have to subject us to yet another photograph of spin-crazy David Cameron, providing yet another “photo opportunity” (14 August)? It was neither a good photograph nor an illustration of “news”. And as for the caption: shock, horror! A dog squirmed out of its handler’s arms, while being stroked by Cameron. Well, I never.

Norman Evans, East Horsley, Surrey

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