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Monday 18 February 2013
Letters: Gove risks a historic catastrophe
Elizabeth Truss defends the history National Curriculum proposals on the grounds that they include diverse groups and encourage critical reflection (Voices, 14 February). We applaud each of these. What neither the minister nor her boss understands, however, is the impact of the new proposals in the classroom.
We’re not sure that parents have yet realised that their six-year-olds may soon be learning about the concept of Parliament and the meaning of “nation”. Meanwhile, their eight-year-old siblings will be tackling the sensitive complexities of the Crusades, all in the hands of teachers without history degrees, teachers without knowledge of history or its scholarship.
Nine-year-olds will wrestle with the differences between Catholics and Protestants and the causes of the English Civil War, never to return to these at secondary school, never to be taught them by specialist history teachers. To label the proposals “age inappropriate” is just the start of it.
Mr Gove wants pupils to have knowledge. We agree: knowledge is central and plenty of it should be British, too. But these proposals will not achieve what Mr Gove wants. At best, children will emerge with superficial, vague and ill-formed notions of a narrative that has taken a tortuous seven years or more to wade through, with scant specialist teaching. Their understanding will be practically nil and their love of history destroyed. What is more, do we really want to be the only leading educational jurisdiction in the world not to have a proper, mandatory world history course?
We represent the history departments of three large comprehensive schools in south London, all rated “outstanding” by Ofsted and all with an excellent track record of engaging and challenging many thousands of young people in history. We would like to know on what experience the Secretary of State and his ministers are basing their decisions, given that this is the first national curriculum written in this country with no transparent authorship. We know it will fail and what is more, we know it will fail to deliver what Mr Gove and Ms Truss want. It is a catastrophe.
Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College
Langley Park School for Boys
Norbury Manor Business and Enterprise College
Supermarkets must take blame for horse meat
So far the supermarkets have managed to avoid much of the blame for the horse meat fiasco, casting themselves in the light of well-meaning victims of organised crime. We should not let them get away with it. They are responsible for the food they sell, in the same way that an airline is responsible for passenger safety.
Imagine an airline claiming that an air disaster was caused by a faulty component having been used by a rogue maintenance company. That industry has achieved astonishing safety levels through a massive investment in the control of its supply chain. Our supermarkets on the other hand prefer to invest in customer tracking and loyalty schemes, with the goal of improving margins. They squeeze every last drop out of their suppliers’ margins while failing to require and verify the application of rigorous standards of quality and traceability.
It is time for our supermarkets to take responsibility for the products they are selling, and to build appropriate quality into their supply chains.
The good news in all of this is for all those great local businesses and their suppliers who make a point of buying and selling locally with full traceability of their products.
Your leader (16 February) about horse meat and food safety says: “The failures are strikingly similar to those which underlay the BSE scandal – for all the measures introduced to prevent any recurrence.”
Plain wrong. BSE was a brand new British cattle disease that we exported to the rest of the world. All the policy makers got BSE wrong because all the experts had got it wrong as well – those who said that it was harmless and those who said that millions would die. Nobody predicted that it would mainly affect people in their early 20s or that it would be very hard to catch (millions exposed, 176 cases between 1995 and 2011). There were no cases in 2012 – control measures are working. BSE was not due to sloppy abattoir practice, or fraudsters, or mislabelling. There is no DNA test.
BSE led to more regulation. The Food Standards Agency was set up because of it. Don’t blame it for the horse meat scandal. Its top priority is food safety. In 2010 its responsibility for food authenticity in England was removed without notice by the Coalition Government.
Lisa Markwell’s article “You don’t have to buy cheap meat to eat on a budget” (16 February) carries an implied message that has become all too common among commentators in the last couple of weeks as the horse meat saga has unfolded: it’s your own fault for buying ready meals.
In the tones of an evangelical marchioness behind the counter of a Victorian soup-kitchen, Markwell states that it is nonsense to state – or “bleat on” – that people have neither the time nor money to make meals from scratch. Markwell ignores the many urban areas of our cities where there are no organic butchers or even a Waitrose; the families in which no one has been taught to cook; or the fact that to many of us cooking is a dismal chore and food merely a means to an end.
From her London kitchen doubtless it’s easy for Markwell to despise us hundreds of thousands of ready-meal consumers; but I for one resent her implication that therefore horse meat is all we deserve!
The article on potato chips (“Chip chip Hooray!”, 15 February) singularly failed to mention that the very best chips are cooked in horse fat. Was this a deliberate omission at this sensitive time?
Derek J Carr
Does our attitude to eating horse meat mean that we’re a nation of hippocrites?
George Macdonald Ross
Affordable for whom?
Cllr Fiona Colley’s letter (9 February) responding to your article “£1.5bn revamp of sink estate reveals ‘social cleansing’ plan” (5 February) said: “I do not expect to have to constantly challenge lies that are spread about this essential work.”
Her letter did not specify which elements of your article she felt were lies. Instead she filled her letter with the euphemisms common to those working in the “regeneration” industry.
Dismissing the term “social cleansing” she says the Elephant and Castle will have at least 1,625 new “affordable homes”. She did not mention that her administration is replacing over 1,200 social rented flats with just 79. Nor did she think to explain for whom the new flats will be “affordable”. Or that Southwark Council has in parallel recently approved three major new residential tower blocks around the Elephant & Castle with absolutely no “affordable” housing at all.
Doubts about gay marriage
I do so agree with Martin Williams’s comments about civil partnerships (letter, 13 February). Like him, my partner and I contracted our civil partnership in 2006. Unlike him, we decided not to have a ceremony; this was because we did not want to be just like straight people, but were grateful for the equality in law that civil partnership conferred on us. We too are afraid that civil partnerships are being devalued.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has had the effect of making homophobia respectable again – at any rate among Tory MPs. As a Quaker, I am sad to see the Religious Society to which I belong, which has a testimony against outward forms and ceremonies, expending its time and energies campaigning for this Bill when there are more pressing concerns affecting gay people.
I suspect that pro-gay “straight” people – perhaps because of guilt feelings about past prejudice – are more enthusiastic about full gay “marriage” than are some gay people themselves.
Another king deserves burial
The discovery of the mortal remains of Richard III and the plans to reinter them in a tomb “worthy of a king” are laudable. However to complete this investigation and to show equal respect to another king, Westminster Abbey should allow, with Her Majesty’s gracious permission, a similar investigation and honourable burial of the bones believed to be those of the boy king Edward V and his brother the Duke of York, known as the “Princes in the Tower”. Can it be that Richard’s (presumed) victims deserve less?
Let’s be honest: the reason for the competition for Richard III’s remains is simply tourism
‘Free’ care isn’t
Let me disabuse Martyn Shepherd (letter, 16 February) and the English media in general of the notion that elderly people in Scotland do not have to pay towards their care. The much-vaunted “free personal care” simply stretches to matters such as assistance with dressing, washing and simple medical treatments. It does not stretch to payment of the food and accommodation costs of nursing homes. I am sure that proportionately as many elderly Scots as English require to sell their homes to pay nursing home costs.
I was surprised to see how many newspapers trotted out the line that the Catholic Church was shocked at the resignation on health grounds of Pope Benedict. When he was elected, experts said that liberal cardinals knew they wouldn’t get one of their own into St Peter’s throne because John-Paul II had packed the College with ultra-conservatives. So the liberals voted tactically and elected the conservative with the shortest life expectancy.
Vote for RBS
I initially read Saturday’s articles on the plan to give RBS shares to taxpayers with puzzlement. Continued taxpayer ownership of RBS is politically “untenable”, so a scheme is afoot to “hand it back to the taxpayer”? Then I read the words “as early as 2015” and enlightenment dawned. It’s an attempt to buy votes in an election the Tories would otherwise probably lose.
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