Letters: GCSE results

GCSE results: good and bad news for employers
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The Independent Online

Same old story about GCSE results, with a lot of miserable people unable to celebrate the achievements of those at school.

What on earth does it matter (even if it's true) that GCSEs are easier than O-levels were 50 years ago? Universities and employers compare across one year, not across generations. When I employ someone I measure them against other people likely to be of similar ages. What matters is whether a candidate has worked hard compared with their peers, not whether they know more or less than their parents did at the same age.

And the drop in language learning? Forcing students to learn foreign languages when they are completely irrelevant to them is such a daft measure of educational success, unless the whole way they are taught and measured is changed. There is virtually no communicative work done in a GCSE, so an A* pupil might be unable to speak to, say, a French person. We want people who can speak French, not read Flaubert in the original.

David Wilkins

London W1

So, after the perennial nonsense of printing more exam certificates than ever before, in what seems to be akin to the printing of money for the purposes of quantitative easing, the British Government is now intending to introduce an English Baccalaureate – awarding it to pupils getting seven supposedly-worth-having GCSEs at 16.

The problem with this is, of course, that there is a perfectly-good International Baccalaureate already in circulation and it's a plausible alternative to A-levels at 18. That bona fide Baccalaureate has increasingly gained credence and converts over the past decade, not only in schools but in universities and as a worth-having qualification recognised around the world.

Let's hope that the Department for Education is capable of coming up with a new name to avoid confusion. If they really have to fiddle with the nomenclature instead of doing something of real value they could go back to using the term "School Certificate", from the middle of the last century. But what we don't need to do is taint another decent qualification.

Over the last quarter of a century we have gradually seen the majority of people pass most of their exams at 16 and 18. But it is difficult to see how they do so when around a quarter of those going into secondary schools are functionally illiterate. Do they rally at 16, 18, 21 or 22? So we have to endure the perpetual equivalent of the Emperor's new clothes.

Perhaps what we should be doing is having a public inquiry into educational standards.

Paul Dunwell

Alton, Hampshire

Hooray! The Independent's education correspondent has belatedly discovered that our education system has been reduced to the manipulation of pupils to improve school positions in government league tables ("This is all about school rankings in league tables", 26 August). It has been happening in primary schools since 1997 (with SATs for 11-year-olds) but the discovery that it is happening at GCSE in the secondary schools makes it big news.

Don't you think that two successive governments might have noticed what is happening to our children in this reductionist model? Of course they have, but this is what the last two governments (and their lucratively funded advisers) apparently see as a model for educating and developing lifelong learners.

Perhaps the total of Neets hitting almost one million this week and the disenchanted youthful looters of the current summer are telling us something different?

Professor Bill Boyle

School of Education

University of Manchester

It is wonderful to read about the accomplishments of our youngsters at GCSE. However, I do have one question: what counts as a failure?

My own son assures me that D, E and F are passing grades. Since I know that schools are judged on grades A-C, my response has always been, "Not in this house." Is it so very bad for a child to be told they have failed?

Or is it part of a pattern? All shall pass. All shall go to university. All shall have degrees. Perhaps that is why we have ended up with large numbers of unemployed graduates and universities charging fees because they cannot survive otherwise.

Sue Huyton


Helping police with inquiries

It has taken five days to investigate the crash at Bournemouth and clear the Red Arrows to fly again. Yet the inquiry by the IPCC into the shooting dead of Mark Duggan by the police, which sparked the recent riots, is "complex" and may take four to six months.

I do not understand why there should be such a huge difference. Perhaps, if the inquiry is prolonged, people will have forgotten about the circumstances in six months' time, and there won't be an outcry when the officers involved are exonerated.

Dr Clive Mowforth

Dursley, Gloucestershire

Andrew White (letter, 15 August) makes a plea for policing to more directly benefit the ordinary citizen, with a greater focus on street policing. I have lived in the same inner-city street for more than 20 years and I have no recollection of seeing a police patrol on foot in my street, although I see traffic wardens almost daily.

It would seem to me to be better, if one has only one type of patrol, that it should be by an agent with an interest in all types of crime rather than just one type of crime.

Of course, we all know that the streets are so zealously patrolled by traffic wardens because there is money to be made out of parking offences, whereas ordinary policing is messy and less profitable. Isn't it sad that we have become so materialistic that even the maintenance of law and order has been boiled down to money-making?

Dennis Leachman

Reading, Berkshire

The high cost of food allergies

I am one of the many people who have food intolerances, as described by Dan Roberts (23 August). I am in the fortunate position of being able to buy substitute food products, which make my diet somewhat more varied and palatable, but am aware that the generally high price of these must put them beyond the range of many. A typical example is that in one supermarket ordinary porridge oats cost 9.9p per 100g, whereas gluten-free oats are 66.4p per 100g.

While appreciating that production costs for such products are bound to be higher, because of specialist manufacturing processes, special ingredients and a limited market, I recently wrote to the leading supermarket chains seeking their comments on the affordability of these foods. The uniform response has been that my letter has been passed to the relevant department, none of which has as yet responded.

Janet Woodward


Council tax goes up in smoke

David Prosser comments on Kent County Council's pension fund investment in tobacco companies (24 August).

The council's spend on education campaigns helping people to give up smoking is only a small part of a total £40m spent every year in meeting the excess costs of smoking in Kent over and above the taxes paid by smokers on their cigarettes.

That's not just the costs to GPs and hospitals, but includes the fire authority costs of cigarette fires in the home, police enforcement work on the 10 per cent of cigarettes illicitly imported, and local councils clearing litter bins and streets of stubs. So the county's own public health figures show the council invests £24m in a business which costs Kent residents £40m each year.

If Kent County Council doesn't care about the ethics, shouldn't they at least get the economics right?

Trudy Dean

Lib Dem Leader of the Opposition,

Kent County Council, West Malling

UK media just don't get France

Your silly-season instalment of Frog-bashing ("Why the French still don't get it", Lucy Wadham, 25 August) is as wide of the mark as most of its predecessors.

Recent polls have shown that the majority of French voters don't want Dominique Strauss-Kahn to run as a Socialist Party candidate in next year's presidential election. Far away from Lucy Wadham's dinner parties, many in la France profonde were shocked both by DSK's sexual behaviour and his flaunting of conspicuous wealth in TriBeca.

Then there's her example of the Dreyfus Affair. Initially, it was a "mirror to French anti-semitism". But he was cleared fully and reinstated following a powerful campaign sparked by Zola's "J'accuse".

Maybe it's more a case of the British media not getting it about France, a country of contradictions that defies stereotyping. Autre pays, autres moeurs.

Rod Chapman

Sarlat, France

Jobs market

It may well be true that "most jobs in the real world are not advertised in newspapers, but come from someone saying to their friend, relation or neighbour: 'There's a job going at my place.' " (Letter, 25 August.) Some time later, of course, you and the others involved may well be accused of nepotism, corruption and not putting jobs out to tender.

Bernard Smith

Hailsham, East Sussex

Living church

The use of a former church building for a Tesco Express should not upset Terence Blacker (23 August). The building is not the church, the church is the people, and if the building has become a burden the people will serve others better without it. It is good to see the building put to use for the community.

Sally Cannon

Ravenstonedale, Cumbria

Debt weapon

An academic study of the use of debt as a control mechanism would strongly suggest that the hidden agenda behind the sale of council houses (letter, 25 August) and the replacement of student grants by loans was the intention to inhibit strikes and student protest.

Canon Christopher Hall

Banbury, Oxfordshire

Perspectives on women in the boardroom

Yes, we can run things, but what about pay?

I have read much information over the years about women in management and am unsurprised that there are still so few reaching the top levels in business management. Paula Wilton's letter (24 August) remarks that the problem exists not just at top management levels and that it is difficult to reach all levels of seniority. That is very true. Many of us taking a family break have had to start again at the bottom of our careers.

One of the ways in which women achieve some success is in the management of charitable enterprises. I have been a director of two charitable companies, both running very successful enterprises and am now a trustee of a national charitable organisation. I know many competent women in similar positions. The difference of course is that these positions are unpaid.

In a country where charities now run many important mainstream functions it would be interesting to know just how many women are in charge and what it would cost if we remunerated them at a rate commensurate with business directors.

Gail Coleshill

Crewkerne, Somerset

And what about class?

You note that "just 12.5 per cent of FTSE 100 bosses are female" (leading article, 24 August). But I wonder how many of these chiefs of industry come from a working-class or lower middle-class background.

Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby, Lincolnshire