Letters: Government literacy drive

Early literacy drive is State-imposed child abuse
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The Independent Online

Mixed metaphors about holes and digging and fiddling in Rome come to mind, with the government yet again showing an abject bankruptcy of the imagination in its plans legally to impose writing on three-year-old boys ("Boys aged three 'must work more' ", 29 December).

Surely any open and relatively undefensive government, faced with a substantial deterioration in young children's capabilities after the first year of the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage, would begin by thinking again about its essentially arbitrary pitching of the learning goals in the EYFS "curriculum", rather than simply imposing more of the same fare on our hapless young.

It is a constitutional outrage of scarcely believable proportions that the government takes upon itself the right legally to impose pedagogical practices that have no evidence base on very young children, practices many authorities on childcare believe to be developmentally inappropriate and even harmful to those children. Such an extraordinary state of affairs is an open goal for a concerted legal challenge.

Your disappointing leading article ("Closing the education gap", 29 December) merely adds to the highly fashionable obsession with early literacy, in assuming "earlier is necessarily better", when a wide range of highly experienced early-years opinion begs to differ. Not least, recent ground-breaking research from the University of Otago, New Zealand, shows conclusively that introduction of literacy learning to children under six has no long-term benefit whatsoever.

Campaigns such as ours will continue to expose these State-imposed child-abusive practices relentlessly until such time as some evidence-based sanity prevails in the pre-school domain.

Dr Richard House

Co-founder, Open EYE Campaign for open early childhood learning,

London SW15

A bitter pill to swallow

It was with a heavy heart that I read the article from Liz Hoggard, "A morning-after pill is best served without a sermon" (29 December). I find her attitude to abortion disturbing, not to say frightening.

The idea that young women who find themselves pregnant should have the immediate facility to abort the new life in them, by use of Levonelle 1500, without having to think or care further about the consequences of their actions is bad enough, but then to expect everyone around them, including the pharmacist, to be forced to silently endorse the same total lack of moral awareness or responsibility, is a sad comment on our society.

But my main concern is the wider assumption in the article, that the expression of individual convictions has no place in public services, and, by extension therefore, in the public sphere at all, for fear of offending or stirring the conscience of some individual or group.

Moral reform has always been informed, if not driven, by public debate, followed by the action of Parliament and the State, and the agenda for public debate has been set by concerned individuals, whose deeply-held moral and/or religious views have forced them to act. William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer spring to mind.

What I see now in the UK is the State gradually arrogating to itself the right to decide whether something is right or wrong, and doing its level best to stifle debate, which is never a healthy state of affairs. Left to itself, the State has no moral scruples, as the lessons of the 20th century teach us, in the history of the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Cambodia, and so on. Individuals and groups have to be allowed freedom to express their moral convictions without fear of being persecuted, in both in private and in the relevant public sphere, if the liberal democracy allegedly so dear to Liz Hoggard is to continue.

Andrew Rumley

Chatham, Kent

She's a victim, twice over

The article about Ms Lorraine Morris, who faces prosecution for prostitution offences after she called the police to report a violent attack, makes important points but leaves out crucial aspects of what happened ("New laws put prostitutes at risk, claim escort agencies", 29 December).

First, the attack was serious and could have resulted in severe injury or worse. Two men, one who seemed to have had a sawn-off shotgun up his sleeve, pushed their way into a flat run by the Cloud Nine escort agency, threw petrol about and threatened to torch the premises.

Second, Ms Morris courageously came forward to give police information about the agency; she was told this was needed to prevent another attack, and the men had threatened to torch other premises.

She encouraged other women to report what they saw, after the police assured her that the information would be used only to investigate this serious crime. Yet this information is now being used to prosecute Ms Morris for brothel-keeping.

Third, while the police investigate Ms Morris, the two violent men are still at large and have been heard publicly bragging about the incident. How many more women must suffer before the police arrest these men rather than their victims?

Cari Mitchell

English Collective of Prostitutes,

London NW6

Rising house price is not good news

So, the average home has gone up by 68 per cent in value during the past 10 years, after allowing for inflation, and this, presumably, is meant to be a good thing ("House prices increased 5.9% during year", 31 December). Would people feel such delight if the cost of food, gas and electricity had increased by 68 per cent, above the rate of inflation, during the past 10 years?

Rising house prices simply mean that fewer young people will be able to afford to buy a home, particularly as pay is being frozen or cut in many jobs. Instead, more young people will be compelled to live at home with their parents, perhaps until they are well into their 30s.

Unaffordable housing might also undermine the Tories' expressed desire to promote marriage, because young couples might defer getting married, and starting a family, until they can afford to buy a place of their own, which might not be for a very long time.

Pete Dorey

Reader in British Politics, School of European Studies, Cardiff University

Your story of the 5.9 per cent rise in house prices reported by Nationwide and the decade-long 117 per cent rise in house prices indicate the problems of lack of housing supply rather than any increases in demand and the property market "bouncing back". Put simply, over the past 20-plus years, we have failed to build enough housing in the South-east and London regions.

As a result, there is always pent-up demand in these areas. The effect of this is seen in the families and individuals unable to afford housing and, perhaps worse, families having to live in overcrowded accommodation both of which store up social problems for the future. The only way to make housing more affordable is for us to build more family-sized homes in the private and social sectors.

Luke Evans

London SE5

Student visa seen as a gold-plated scam

Mary Dejevsky talks a lot of sense (Comment, 29 December). A few years ago in Bangladesh, a well-known newspaper editor there told me that Britain's student visa scheme is universally regarded as a gold-plated immigration scam.

The "traditional" means by which a young ill-educated Bangladeshi man could emigrate to Britain was through an enforced/arranged marriage to a British-Bangladeshi girl. But British-Bangladeshi girls are ever more unwilling to marry unsophisticated strangers who know nothing of British culture and society.

But with a three-year visa, a "student" (who will in fact spend all his time working) can gradually acclimatise himself to the British way of life and thus make it much more difficult for a local girl to refuse him as a husband.

The idea that any "student" from Bangladesh (or from dozens of other countries too) will return home without having moved heaven and earth to ensure permanent residence here is laughable.

In misgoverned, overpopulated, environmentally threatened states, the emigration imperative is utterly overwhelming. People aren't stupid either. They can spot a wide-open goal. The expansion of higher education in the UK, wholly dependent on a maladminstered and barely policed influx of foreigners, offers them this on a plate.

David Hargreaves

London SW11

Christmas humbug? No, it's just bunkum

Maybe the reason for Margaret Knight's lament ("Even Britain has now taken Christ out of Christmas", letters, 23 December) is that more people have rumbled that the whole Christmas story is largely bunkum.

It's been based on the myth of a passing patriarchal control-freak sky-god, and the story of the Virgin Mary is little more than just another transferred myth from the Greek god Zeus, who did this sort of thing all the time.

The name "Jesus Christ" is the Greek translation of the Hebrew for King or, God King as such was regarded in those days, for King Josephus or possibly Joshua. The later death on the cross and resulting symbolism is the former Greek Dionysus myth, and before that, the Egyptian Osiris myth transferred. JC probably was, if he existed at all, the legitimate and earthly only next king of the Jews, the Herods being Roman appointees. Later Christians, Paul especially, just hyped up the whole story for their own ends in their battle against the Roman Empire.

Ray Duff

Folkestone, Kent

Arise, Sir Robert, but not yet

As I understand it, the honours protocol is to receive a letter advising you of your recognition weeks before the official announcement on New Year's Eve. I have received no such letter but, what with the postal strike and all, I held on to the hope that this morning's newspaper would bring confirmation of my inclusion.

Alas! It appears that once more I have been overlooked, along with millions of others who contribute so much to our society and economy. Oh, we are fed the occasional morsel of the odd lollipop lady or road-sweeper, but that only shows the system to be elitist. Will someone please scrap the Honours List?

Hang on, wait a minute. Is there any chance that the letter went to the wrong Stewart?

Robert Stewart

Wilmslow, Cheshire

You're under de-free

Your reporter's use of the legal term "de-arrested" in his story on Colonel Gaddafi's son (31 December) has made me wonder, do we have on our statute books legal definitions for "free" and "de-free". If not, why not?

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands

Forget Schengen

Your correspondent, Dennis Lennox, of Cheboygan County, Michigan (31 December), provides the usual over-reaction from the USA to an event which, it appears, it had every opportunity to prevent. Schengen opens borders across Europe, allowing a similar freedom of movement as Americans enjoy, in roughly the same size of area, and has nothing to do with the Christmas Day incident. The suspect started in Nigeria, then passed through security in The Netherlands and perhaps even had a passport check in transit. Those are the places to check for the intelligence that was available.

Edward Hutson

Caterham, Surrey

Problem licked

John Sharkey may be celebrating being able to re-use an apparently unused stamp (letters, 28 December), but he is costing the recipient a nearly £1 handling fee plus the cost of the stamp. The machines at the Post Office mark each stamp with a UV-readable mark so they know when someone is being dishonest. Frankly, honesty pays.

David Gould

Canonbie, Dumfriesshire

Snap decision

I'll bet the authorities in Tehran (report, 31 December), faced with the worldwide dissemination of mobile phone footage of the disturbances in their country, are kicking themselves that they didn't have the foresight to make the photography of police officers behaving badly an offence. Again Britain leads the field.

Andrew Calvert

Ruislip, Middlesex

He's no hero

Johann Hari's praise for Peter Tatchell (30 December) ignores the latter's "outing" of public figures who were homosexual but kept it private. Tatchell's exploitation of the public's weird fascination with other people's sex lives was an unforgivable invasion of individual privacy.

Tom Canham

Little Dewchurch, Hereford

Oil's the answer

Peter Bloxham (letters, 15 December) asks why Blair's principles for regime change apply to Iraq, but not Zimbabwe. There's no oil in Zimbabwe.

George Heath

Harwich, Essex