Letters: Gove ignores the real issues with the curriculum

These letters appear in the Thursday 28th March edition of the Independent

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The Secretary of State for Education recently responded with a ferocious attack on 100 academics who criticised the weaknesses of the new draft primary curriculum (Letters, 20 March), labelling them “Marxist” and “Enemies Of Promise”. Although I may be the least of the 100 signatories, perhaps I could reply to that.

The fact that Mr Gove has identified that three signatories have political views which he finds abhorrent is a mischievous diversion. I know few of my fellow signatories personally, but, according even to Mr Gove’s arithmetic, it would seem that at least 97 out of 100 who signed agreed with the critique of a poorly designed curriculum, not with any other signatory’s political ideology.

The criticism was a response to Mr Gove’s blinkered, almost messianic, self-belief, which appears to have continually ignored the expertise and wisdom of teachers, head-teachers, advisers and academics, whom he often claims to have consulted. We are people whose lives are devoted to helping the next generation to succeed and prosper in education, not political fanatics. I am grateful to be in company with such distinguished, experienced and eminent people in their fields as Andrew Pollard and Margaret Brown.

Mr Gove falsely accuses us of criticising things which we do not (spelling correctly and learning times tables are important), while ignoring the real issues with the curriculum which have been raised. In my own subject, he has persistently ignored the advice of those who teach primary mathematics and the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, and the majority of the Curriculum Steering Group the DfE set up resigned in protest at his response to their work.

Our grandchildren’s futures depend on getting the new curriculum right. People in high office would do well to listen, rather than respond with outbursts bordering on hysteria.

Ralph Manning, Lecturer in Primary Education, School of Education & Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia, Norwich


Given the recommendation that nurses adopt a duty of candour, can we now look forward to Mr Gove welcoming a similar duty for teachers? Judging by this week’s vote of no confidence by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, I doubt there will be much reluctance on the part of classroom teachers to assist in the noble task of blowing the whistle on the shortcomings of the service in which they work. They can bear witness to the bureaucratic meddling, the destructive target-setting, the lack of respect for the profession, the endless succession of damaging, wrong-headed initiatives and the cynical politicisation of Ofsted.

Robert Pendry, Devizes, Wiltshire

What would David Wilkins – who suggests that teachers, in defending their pension rights, are placing an unfair tax burden on the next generation – have me do (Letter, 26 March)? Forgo my pension and conditions of service to be like some badly treated workers in the private sector? Do all British workers need to race to the bottom to prove who has got it worst?

Why should teachers who unionised for safety give up their hard-won rights because some workers have not taken this step? The Government must love this, a disunited workforce emasculating itself by criticising the perceived perks of some careers.

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln

David Wilkins’s letter seems to miss one vital point. On the day that it was announced that 770 bankers were paid more than £1m last year, and in the week it was revealed that one Barclays employee had bonuses of £17.8m, it seems patently absurd that hard-working public servants like nurses and teachers are the ones paying for the massive mistakes of bankers who continue to earn obscene amounts of money during a period of austerity.

Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh, Essex

Plain packaging means more fake cigarettes

I write in response to your article “Plain cigarette packets not a ‘smuggling risk’” (25 March).

I have worked in the packaging industry for more than 40 years and can assure you that the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products would have unintended consequences.

The production of packaging is a complex process and involves not only the common 20s carton but a range of other products all produced to exacting standards. The printing techniques for the branding on the packs employ enhanced design features – such as embossing, debossing, hot-foil stamping and UV varnish, among others – and typically use between eight and 10 unique colours from state-of-the-art printing equipment. In contrast, pictorial health warnings which would feature on plain packaging can be produced and reproduced using low-cost printing techniques, from equipment readily available in the market, using just four basic print colours.

Any move to a plain packaging specification will benefit the counterfeiter and producer of fake products.

The Government’s aims of reducing the number of young people smoking should be supported, but the effect of plain packaging could potentially be the opposite. Results from Germany have indicated that better education, information and cultural awareness deter young people. This is what should be adopted in this country, rather than increased regulation where there is no evidence that it will work.

Mike Ridgway, Ilkley, West Yorkshire


Topsy-turvy subsidies

Working couples each earning up to £150,000 – six times the national median income – are to be offered a taxpayer-funded subsidy of up to 20 per cent of childcare costs per child per year.

Tenants of council and housing association properties – single parents, the disabled, individuals and couples who have worked in the low-wage economy for decades and who have brought up children who have now flown the nest – are, with a few exceptions, to be told to fork out an extra £10 to £20 per week to end the “taxpayer subsidy on spare rooms”, or get out. The vast majority of them will be earning significantly less than the national median income (about £25,000) which is why they qualify for housing benefit.

Nothing could more graphically illustrate the moral vacuum which we now inhabit.

Martin Wallis, Shipdham, Norfolk

Enough must be enough

Lord Heseltine identifies a very important question (Interview, 26 March). Why should we strive for more when we already have enough? We accept the idea of “enough” in diet, or heating, or medication. Only in economics does the obsession with “growth” make it revolutionary.

Yet we all know that the conventional view of the future – ever more people, consuming ever more stuff, for ever – is physically impossible on a finite planet; so population growth and economic growth will definitely end. The only questions are when and how. The only options in both cases are: sooner, by choice – fewer births and an orderly transition to a steady-state economy; or later, by necessity – more deaths amid ecological and economic collapse.

“Sustainable growth” is an obvious oxymoron. It’s high time we grew out of it and faced reality.

Roger Martin, Chair, Population Matters, Wells, Somerset

What’s the alternative?

Following Owen Jones’s article “Where’s the resistance to the Tories?” (Voices, 25 March), I’d like to know what real alternative to austerity The People’s Assembly is advocating.

Mr Jones talks about the movement demonstrating, campaigning, challenging, opposing – stirring words. He also talks about anger. Over the past two to three years, I have seen a great deal of all those things on display in a number of European countries, to no apparent avail, and have asked myself, without finding an answer: “What can be done when the money just isn’t there?”

I fall into the “stranded and without a political home” category of people to whom Mr Jones hopes The People’s Assembly will speak, but it will have to come up with some realistic and believable alternatives to austerity before I’ll be pinning my colours to its mast.

Lesley Wilson, Pontypridd

The wrong Thunderbird

Much as I enjoyed the cartoon of Boris Johnson astride Thunderbird 1 and wearing an International Rescue uniform that accompanied Matthew Norman’s article (Voices, 27 March), as a Gerry Anderson fan I should point out that Thunderbird 1 was actually piloted by raven-haired Scott Tracy. The flaxen-haired London Mayor ideally should have been shown astride Thunderbird 3, a craft piloted by the blond Alan Tracy. Alan was the most immature and petulant of the Tracy brothers, who lusted after Tin-Tin – undoubtedly an appropriate doppelganger for Boris.

Martyn P Jackson Cramlington, Northumberland

Matthew Norman asks what remains in this country that we would lose by electing Boris Johnson as Prime Minister (Voices, 27 March). The answer is our self-respect.

Paul Clifford, Oxford

The People's Assembly

Your otherwise welcome report of the People’s Assembly press conference (Independent, 27 March) contained two serious inaccuracies and one of these was reflected in the headline.

It claimed that I said there would be a march that would be larger than the February 2003 protest against Iraq on the date of the People’s Assembly, 22 June. I and others made it clear that the People’s Assembly is a conference not a demonstration.

I did say that there needed to be a movement larger than the anti-war movement in order to defeat the Government’s austerity measures. 

The People’s Assembly  will be the largest anti-austerity conference this country has seen. And it will, in all likelihood,  call for further action. And those of us initiating it hope that it will be the springboard for a truly mass movement. But that is for the future.

Secondly, and although I’m sure they can speak for themselves, Len McCluskey and Ken Loach agree on the call for a People’s Assembly Against Austerity to which they are both signatories, but they differ over the call for a new left party. It is important for us all that the People’s Assembly draws support from all parties, trade unions and campaigns. And from those many millions who simply want to halt the government’s cuts programme.

John Rees, London

Countless female success stories

I was a little disappointed to read the complaint by Dr Christina Julios (Letters, 27 March) about literary prize judges’ prejudices against female writers. Anybody reading the list of the winners of the Booker Prize and appearances on the shortlist would be rather surprised. I started to compile a list, just comprising the winners, and stopped for lack of time.

Cole Davis, Elets, Russia

Signwriters of the times

Some of the Mid-Devonian apostrophes have fled north (Letters, 25 March). They can be seen in gold on the café window in Matlock town centre advertising tea’s and coffee’s, or a mile down the road where a hall can be hired for business meeting’s and childrens party’s. I fear for the children, including my own, who probably attended the same school as the signwriter.

John Finch, Matlock, Derbyshire

Ripe for success?

David Miliband going to work for a charity in America with Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as “overseers”. Ye shall know them by their fruits.

John Pinkerton, Milton Keynes