Letters: Gove's plans contravene Education Acts

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 13 June, 2013

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We consider that the Government’s approach to the teaching of history, as outlined both in statements made by the Education Secretary and the Prime Minister, and in the draft history curriculum, runs contrary to the statutory duties set out in the Education Acts of 1996 and 2002.

The 1996 Act, Section 406 states: “The local education authority, governing body and head teacher shall forbid… the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school.” The Act of 2002 at Sections 78 and 79 requires the Secretary of State, local education authorities, governing bodies and head teachers to secure a “balanced and broadly based curriculum”.

In defiance of these legal obligations, the Government’s attitude to the teaching of history is underpinned by an unbalanced promotion of partisan political views. The Education Secretary has gone on record stating that the purpose of the changes which he proposes is to make history teaching “celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world” and to portray Britain as “a beacon of liberty for others to emulate”. He spoke in Parliament of history lessons which focused on “British heroes and heroines”. The Prime Minister has referred to the teaching of “our island story in all its glory”.

The draft curriculum document reflects this unbalanced national triumphalism. This is evident in the emphasis which it places on “how Britain influenced the world” (to the exclusion of the reverse) and on the importance of “the concept of nation and of a nation’s history” – second in the list of concepts required to be imparted to five- to seven-year-old infants. It is also evident in more subtle ways such as its handling of slavery, which is not mentioned as part of “the development of a modern economy” and which is listed elsewhere as “the slave trade and the abolition of slavery”, implicitly giving equal weight to the two.

Given that the new history curriculum has been widely criticised for its Anglocentric focus, in its marginalising of the role of women and non-white ethnic groups, and its wholesale failure to reflect the views of those appointed originally to advise the Government, it falls well short of the requirement to be “balanced and broadly based”. The presence in the draft curriculum of the occasional individual such as Mary Seacole, herself a late addition to it, has rightly been described as a “garnishing of tokenism” by an original adviser to the Education Secretary on the history curriculum, Professor Simon Schama.

The Department for Education has not made a serious attempt to refute or to address the charge of political bias and the Education Secretary has given further evidence of his political partisanship by frequently branding his critics “Marxists” and “lefties”, a clear indication of his determination to exclude one end of the political spectrum.

We therefore consider that there are strong grounds for believing that this curriculum, should it be implemented, and any further changes to the teaching of history which seek to impose a political bias or flout the requirement for breadth and balance would be unlawful.

Robert Evans, Regius Professor of History Emeritus, University of Oxford

Jonathan Hart, Head of History, Dinnington Comprehensive School

Guy Halsall, Professor of History, University of York

Stephen Hodkinson, Professor of Ancient History, University of Nottingham

Matt Houlbrook, Tutorial Fellow and Lecturer in Modern British History, Magdalen College, Oxford

Angela Piccini, Dr/Senior Lecturer, University of Bristol

David Priestland, University Lecturer in Modern History, Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford

Eric Rosenthal, Head of History,  Slough Grammar School

Professor Richard Toye, University of Exeter

Alex Woolf, Senior Lecturer in History, University of St Andrews

and more than 100 others

GM crops are not a silver bullet for agronomic woes

Tom Bawden notes that 61 per cent of UK farmers would like to grow GM crops (report, 12 June). This is hardly surprising, given the many promises made that GM crops will provide a silver bullet to solve all their agronomic woes. The reality, as borne out by around 10 years of growing in the US, is quite different.

Farmers are finding the use of the two GM crop traits (herbicide tolerance and insect resistance) overwhelmingly used are now causing huge problems in pest and disease resistance. In the meantime, they are locked into the GM system, partly through lack of availability and higher cost of non-GM seed because of the domination of the industry by just four corporations.

Other innovative breeding techniques are suffering from lack of funding as good money is thrown after bad for the promise of alleged GM advantages which have not been achieved. The UK should not look to pursue outdated and out-of-touch GM technology but should instead focus on agroecological systems which produce good yields of crops with far lower inputs of fossil-fuel-based and mined fertilisers, growing crops with 80 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions, and producing food with higher animal welfare, lower pollution, and with more wildlife and jobs on farms.

Emma Hockridge, Head of Policy, Soil Association, Bristol

I am surprised at your leading article giving blanket support for GSM foods in Europe (12 June). The science is still far from complete. 

Capitalism is poor at assessing and pricing risk – greed creates optimism. There are indirect risks that sweeping changes in agriculture can bring, such as reliance on monoculture. I would far rather a blanket ban than gung-ho support.

Jon Hawksley, London EC1

A coach full of drunks: perfect

On top of the arguments that Josh Barrie sets out about the “motorway pub” (Report, 5 June) there is also the issue of “coach parties” which are a main intended customer group.

When I heard a Wetherspoon’s representative mention this (on BBC News), I immediately recalled the account of a coach-driving friend who told of how a drunken wedding party that he had picked up from north London started fighting among themselves, wrecked the coach and needed to be dragged off by the police. So, even if the coach driver is sober, having a horde of screaming drunks in your vehicle turns that vehicle into 20 tons of lethal, unpredictable weapon.

You have to wonder how the authorities arrive at these decisions, but the answer isn’t too difficult to guess: it all comes down to the lobby power of the “profit hunters”.

Alan Searle, London CR4

Of course Boots pays sales tax

I am delighted to hear that Alliance Boots pays its taxes (letter, 3 June). However, it is misleading to say they pay sales and other taxes.

I shopped at Boots today and paid for my goods, which included VAT. Boots merely collect it and then pass it on to HMRC. They can avoid paying employer’s National Insurance only by not employing staff. Alliance Boots is obliged to pay property tax or not register its leases.

So the only realistically avoidable tax is corporation tax. While I’m pleased they have paid £64m corporation tax, they should not be allowed to claim credit for paying other taxes which in reality are merely collected by them on behalf of HMRC.

Rod Findlay, Newcastle upon Tyne

What about the working fathers?

So a study has found that children’s academic performance is not harmed if their mothers work in their early years (report, 11 June). Would a “comprehensive” study not also investigate the link between children’s academic performance and fathers who go out to work? It seems that, just days after the Centre for Social Justice report highlighted the growth of fatherless families and “men deserts”, we still expect only mothers to care for children.

Peter McKenna, Liverpool

Shame on the middle-lane hogs

I have been astonished by the defences of middle-lane hogging (Letters, 12 June) which, incidentally, rarely happens in France and Germany. Although people have claimed that lane-changing increases risk, it makes motorway travel a lot less monotonous (there is always the danger of switching to auto-pilot) and reduces the likelihood of frustrated drivers “undertaking”.

Gill Learner, Reading

All you defenders of middle-lane hogging, when you join a motorway behind one vast haulier in the otherwise deserted inner lane, but can’t overtake it because of the middle-lane hoggers endlessly nose-to-tail – do you ever have second thoughts?

Yvonne Ruge, London N20

Often provoked by middle-lane hoggers those who overtake on the inside commit a worse offence. Can we see this illegal commonplace discouraged?

Tom Hickmore, Brighton

Syrian crisis

If our Prime Minister’s favoured option is for the UK to supply arms to either side in the Syrian War he is taking sides and joining the war.

If he really does want us all to join in this war, would he first please provide us with full and honest information justifying doing so on our behalf ? To date, he does not have the mandate to commit us to such an expensive and time-unlimited extreme action.

Andy Turney, Dorchester, Dorset

Spies spy shock

The stated mission of the US National Security Agency is to “collect (including through clandestine means), process, analyse, produce, and disseminate signals intelligence information and data”.

What a shock to discover that a government department is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

Dr John Doherty, Stratford-upon-Avon

Female musicians

Thank goodness The Independent was able to furnish its story “So why do all female classical musicians have to be thin and sexy?? (11 June) with a photograph of, er, a thin and sexy female classical musician. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had a clue what all the fuss was about, would we?

Michael O’Hare, Northwood,  Middlesex

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