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- Arts + Ents
Wednesday 31 August 2011
I find it sad that at this time of year local newspapers are full of photos and statistics relating to those who have got the "highest" or "most" exam passes, and implying how good their schools must be. How do other children feel who have worked their socks off, but are not able to achieve so highly?
I have never understood the logic of being proud of having clever children in one's family or school, any more than being proud of them having blue eyes or black hair. Of course there is reason to be proud of the hard work done by the children, their parents and their schools, which enables them to achieve as highly as they can – though not if it is at the expense of them "having a life" or enjoying extra-curricular art, drama, music or sport.
I think it really would be an even greater achievement to be proud of though, if schools publicly rejoiced in how many children progressed from being below average, at entry, in academic attainments, attitude or confidence, to having caught up, by having made above average progress. It would be at least as much to be proud of if schools were proactive from the beginning in identifying all children they had who were dyslexic, dyspraxic, or with ADHD or Asperger's and providing for them appropriately. Is there a school anywhere in the UK like that?
Christine A Howlett
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
Sue Huyton's son might be nearer the truth than she thinks when he says that a D, E or F are not failures at GCSE (letter, 27 August).
If my memory serves, when GCSE was first introduced, grades were awarded according to achievement: no one failed or passed. Also GCSE focused not on the accumulation of knowledge – to be forgotten the day after the exam – but on what a candidate could do with that knowledge.
This was not generally understood by employers, the general public, educators even, who wanted to know what these grades meant. "We understand O-levels," they said. "How do they compare?" They were told a grade C was is approximately equivalent to an O-level pass.
"Oh," they said, "then a D is a failure." No, a D is a D! The need for a pass-or-fail measure persisted, though, and myth became truth, later warmly welcomed by successive governments as a means of grading schools and teachers.
That a young person reaches their potential is far more important than a pass or a fail. That they are keen, hard working and interested should be of far more importance to prospective employers. Perhaps schools could then concentrate on educating rather than exam passing.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
A prize ought to be awarded to the private school headmistress Cynthia Hall (report, 27 August) for saying she wants an aspect of the education system – the recognition of A* grades in university admissions – to be fairer. She is the headmistress of a highly selective school and her school "cherry picks" only the most academically bright and highly motivated children.
I work in the state sector and take in all the children in the local area into my school, irrespective of ability, motivation or parental support. For Cynthia Hall to talk about wanting a fairer system deserves a prize: for hypocrisy.
Dudley, West Midlands
David Wilkins (letter, 27 August) needs to update his knowledge about GCSE. As someone who has been involved in the setting, marking and grading of a languages GCSE for many years, I know that the examination boards go to great lengths to ensure that standards are comparable from year to year, as they realise that often people of different ages are competing for the same job.
The other assertion made, that "there is virtually no communicative work done in a [languages] GCSE", can only be made by somebody who has not looked at a GCSE specification since these were established some 25 years ago.
The aim is communication, and not merely transactional language for basic tourist needs, but a sound basis to enable a student to begin to function adequately in the foreign country. The prescribed topics, such as the environment, work, social problems etc, are relevant and are meant to provoke discussion, and the style of testing encourages communication.
As for Flaubert, well, we didn't even do Flaubert at O-Level when I did it in the mid-Sixties. Yes, that would be irrelevant. But then, just to be provocative, so is maths: apart from percentages, the only maths I've ever used I learnt at primary school. But so what? I couldn't call myself educated had I not done maths. Relevance isn't everything. Education is more than that.
Libya: now for the payoff
Whatever opinion one might have of Colonel Gaddafi (and I do not find him endearing), it is obvious that the rebels now safely installed in Tripoli thanks to Nato firepower owe a huge debt to the West, which will be paid in black gold, with profitable deals and generous franchises.
If Libya's only staple export was dates, Washington and its compliant Nato marionettes wouldn't have cared what Gaddafi was doing to his people. Any intelligent person can see this; but what is obnoxious is the cynical assumption on the part of Obama, Sarkozy, Cameron and Berlusconi that the majority of their citizens are too dumb to grasp it.
When the Algerian people too rise up against their autocratic rulers, where will Gaddafi's family go then?
Hurricanes and Spitfires
Excellent though the piece on rebuilding Hawker Hurricanes was, (29 August ) a small error created an unfortunate impression.
The workmanlike Hurricane has always been overshadowed by the glamorous Spitfire in the public imagination, but its design was not quite so archaic as implied. Sydney Camm's monoplane fighter evolved from his biplane Hawker Fury design of 1931, not a "First World War biplane".
Camm's Hurricane, first flown in 1935, was a revolutionary design as a high-speed monoplane fighter with eight guns, at a time when the RAF's standard machines were much slower biplanes with only four guns. The airframe was more traditional in construction compared with the stressed metal skin of the Spitfire, but it had the advantage that battle damage was easier to repair, so aircraft could be returned to service more quickly.
The Hurricane design continued to evolve, responding to the demands of combat, for instance incorporating metal-skinned wings as well as devastating cannon firepower, and continuing in production until late 1944.
There were no fewer than four Hurricanes active at Shoreham RAFA airshow this month.
Golden Green, Kent
Fascinating as your piece on Hurricane restoration was, I have to wonder who told you that "the Hurricane proved deadly when pitted against the Luftwaffe's Me109".
It would hardly have been the late Sir Keith Park (had he lived) who, as Air Vice-Marshal, had the job of defending South-east England from German air attack. Park commanded more Hurricanes than Spitfires during the Battle of Britain because the former arrived first and were there in greater numbers. But because the Hurricane could barely hold its own against the Me109, his tactic was to send the Spitfires – of which the Mk I was about equal to the current-model 109 – to hold off the 109s while the Hurricanes went for the bombers and their close-escort Me110s.
Thus the reason the Hurricanes knocked down more aircraft during the Battle than did Spitfires was that there were more of them and they had the easier targets.
David J Boggis
Fat tax in lean times
Wonderful! Just as the poor working classes, the elderly and disabled are struggling to cope with massive job losses, benefit and pensions cuts and obscene rises in fuel bills and public transport fares, government "experts" want to introduce food taxes "to make us fitter" ("The case for a fat tax", 26 August).
Where do they get these idiots from? Are they trying to cause a revolution? Much more of this bleeding dry of the British citizen to finance politicians' fat-cat lifestyles and even those of us who vehemently condemned the "Harvey Nicks rioters" will be sharpening the pitchforks.
The Conservatives and their Liberal prostitute supporters should study French history to learn what happens when a government pushes its citizens too far.
What would be the point of a fat tax if it merely puts the price of junk food up to that of the so-called healthy? People would still eat the junk, because it is convenient and they prefer the taste.
If however, the tax was used to subsidise healthy food, making it cheaper than the junk, people might be persuaded to give it a try and notice a difference. We would probably have to wait for 10 years, though, for the nation's palate to be re-educated.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Mown down by cyclists
Peter Forster (letter, 29 August) considers the sign "Cyclists Dismount" fatuous. Dismounted cyclists do take up more pavement space, true, but they pose considerably less danger to pedestrians. A walking cyclist (unless very determined) is far less likely to mow you down. I imagine that is the reason for the sign.
Newcastle upon Tyne
I've been monitoring the debate on cyclists and have to say it has been rather disappointing. You get one letter saying "Cyclists are good," followed by one saying "Ooh but what about that time I saw a cyclist do something bad? They must be banned!"
Of course there are cyclists who are inconsiderate, as with all sorts of people, but surely motorists can't claim any sort of moral high ground when nearly all of them speed on a regular basis.
Secularists are the real bigots
In response to Ian Quayle's criticism of my letter (23 and 24 August), I would respectfully question his assertion that "making allowances for particular requirements of one faith group is inevitably going to discriminate against others".
Respecting the conscience of someone who does not wish to promote a particular activity need not affect the freedom of someone else to act differently in concert with those of a like mind. In the case of Lillian Ladele, the Christian registrar, the gay "wedding" could have been performed by someone who had no moral objection. One could compare this with the present ruling that doctors who do not wish to perform an abortion on conscience grounds are not required to do so, and for secularists or fanatics in the "gay" community objecting to a similar principle in other areas of life demonstrates that they are the real bigots. Perhaps in their intolerance they will even try to overturn the abortion concession.
So far as education is concerned, many adherents of other faiths would prefer a school with a Christian ethos to a secular one in which religion may not be treated seriously. If education is compulsory, which few would challenge, then parents should have a right to choose a school where the beliefs and values of the family are respected, provided those schools also teach respect for those people whose outlook is different.
(Methodist Lay Preacher and member of Christian Peoples Alliance)
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
Paying for torture
Catrina Stewart is rightly shocked by what she has learnt of Israeli interrogations of Palestinian children ("How Israel takes its revenge on boys who throw stones", 26 August). Imagine the outcry if the boot was on the other foot, and Israelis were being tortured by Palestinians.
Indeed, there is strong evidence that Palestinian Authority security officers in the occupied West Bank do apply similar torture methods, but not against Israelis. It is their fellow Palestinians who suffer, as the PA's security apparatus works in collaboration with its Israeli counterparts in the service of Israel's security needs, not Palestine's.
The training of Palestinians for this "security" role has been paid for by Western donors, including, it is believed, the UK as part of "state-building" packages for the PA. If such funding has been stopped, it would be good to hear as much from the Department for International Development.
Senior Editor, Middle East Monitor, London NW10
After spending some time in London on holidays, and as an avid reader of your newspapers, I am bewildered at the negative press and obsession Brits have with Israel. An example is today's letters (30 August), in particular the musicians calling for the BBC to boycott the world-renowned Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.
At a time when we see atrocities and human rights abuses all over the Arab Middle East, committed by both dictators and rebels, and racism and discrimination against minority Christians in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, it is particularly bizarre that these people select the only democracy in the Middle East to vilify.
Room for a supermarket
I've just been reading the article about students at Edge Hill University being housed in Pontin's holiday camp (27 August). While I can certainly see the appeal of an en suite swimming pool, I find the idea of an en suite supermarket a little worrying. Will the students crawl out of bed and wander straight in to buy their breakfast? Is there one supermarket per room? Or am I just getting carried away and did the writer actually mean "on site" not "en suite"'?
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Will it really be counselling?
The Government proposes to launch an abortion counselling service. The objective of counselling is not to provide advice. Advice is concerned with influencing the making of decisions, in this case whether or not to seek termination of pregnancy. The aim of counselling is to assist the subject to explore and clarify their own feelings about the issue in question in order to arrive at their own decision. I wonder which the Tory MP has in mind. The two are worlds apart.
Dr Bernard Marks
Perspective on Hillsborough
As I searched for my dead son, the police were getting their story straight
I write in response to the article by Rogan Taylor "The truth is still out there" (25 August). I left the Hillsborough stadium at around 3.45pm on15 April 1989 on my way to meet my son Christopher. I soon came across Chris's friend who had been with him in the ground; he said Chris had been killed.
I made my way back to an area in the ground that had been turned into a temporary mortuary, I knocked on the door and the biggest and the least sympathetic policeman I have ever seen answered. It seemed to me they were expecting trouble. I gave my name and address to the officer and a description of my son, who was wearing a Welsh international rugby shirt. After about 10 minutes I was told that he was not in the temporary mortuary. I knew something was not right. Chris's friend would not make that mistake. I had no idea of what to do.
Two very kind people come to my aid. One was a young lady from the St John Ambulance Brigade and the other a Sheffield resident by the name of Betty Thorpe. Betty suggested that I should try looking for Chris at the hospitals in the area and offered to take me.
This was around 5.30 and as we left the stadium we were approached by the press. Most of them were shouting questions like "Do you have any comment to make about Liverpool supporters stealing from the dead?" or ". . . urinating on the dead?" They had their story, and yet not one Liverpool supporter was ever arrested, charged or convicted of any offence in relation to these allegations, simply because it never happened.
That was the start of the campaign to blacken the name of the people of Liverpool and the supporters, most of whom were normal decent people who simply went to a football match.
I spent the next six hours trying to trace Christopher, visiting many hospitals with Betty, only to find that Chris was in fact in the mortuary all along.
I believed then and still believe that the police strategy was to buy time to get their story straight. I look forward to the papers being released; maybe the truth will be told at last.
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