When one degree is not enough
The 2:1 benchmark for graduate jobs is not a recent phenomenon (report, 6 July). I graduated with a 2:2 Mathematics degree from Oxford back in 1994. Large graduate employers back then were stipulating a minimum of a 2:1 degree and only small ones would consider a 2:2.
We are now in a state where a second degree or Masters is the only way a graduate can stand out from the crowd.
This puts students into potentially more debt, with still no guarantee of a job. If we concentrated on developing thinking skills, creativity and problem-solving at university rather than just increasing knowledge, we might find our graduates attracted more employers to invest in this country.
Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands
Young, tech-savvy and employable
Sean O'Grady predicts young workers will be the hardest hit by public-sector cuts (7 July). But "Generation Y" graduates (those born from the mid-1970s onwards) may fare better than he expects.
Studies of this generation have shown that they have a much better grasp of how to use technology to their advantage than any other generation. Being immersed in social media, they have highly advanced social skills and are motivated by working in complex jobs where they can multi-task.
Modern technology and chastened economic times mean that we are all working in more flexible, complex and entrepreneurial ways.
Employers would do well to recognise this when choosing between older and younger workers – it is my view that Generation Y may provide companies with real competitive advantage and thus show real resilience in this poor labour market.
Katie Best, London EC3
More vocational training needed
The news that there are 69 applicants chasing every graduate job is the sad and inevitable outcome of a governmental mindset that getting 50 per cent of young people through higher education is the answer to the UK's skills deficit. As we are now seeing, the "university or bust" route, which has led to on-the-job vocational training being viewed as a poor relation, offers no guarantees of a job upon graduation.
Many young people leaving university without a 2:1 degree will find themselves among the increasing legion of NEETs – indebted and without jobs, skills or hope.
This situation is easier to prevent than to cure. Greater emphasis should be placed on vocational qualifications and apprenticeships, the flexibility of which gives businesses what they want and need most – a well-trained, well-skilled workforce that is up to the job in hand.
Jane Scott Paul, Chief Executive, Association of Accounting Technicians,, London EC1
As many as 69 graduates applying for every vacancy sounds bad and is bad. But how many applications does each of these graduates send? One, 20 or 69?
Wolfgang Slessenger, Kenilworth, Warwickshire
Israel: why EU pressure is vital
Your leading article "Time for action, Mr Obama" (7 July) states that the only power on earth capable of putting pressure on Israel to cease its violations of international law is the US. This is the received wisdom.
But Israel enjoys all kinds of economic and political benefits from a very close relationship with the EU; from its preferential trading agreement, to funding for military research, to membership of Uefa and the Eurovision Song Contest.
As a member of the EU, Britain can call for suspension of these relationships. It is up to individuals to lobby our MPs and MEPs to work for this suspension – and to refrain ourselves from supporting the Israeli economy – until Israel decides to join the community of law-abiding nations.
Hilary Wise, Director of Publications, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, London W5
An "easing" of Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza (report, 6 July) is better than the status quo, but a collective punishment of civilians being modified is still, essentially, a collective punishment of civilians. Israel's new measures mean a loosening of the shackles, not freedom for the beleaguered people of Gaza.
Beside the blockade, Binyamin Netanyahu's Washington visit should see the US president returning to the topic of Israel's illegal settlements and the unjustified destruction of Palestinian homes on Palestinian land.
Recently, for example, there has been a spate of Israeli military eviction-orders served on Palestinians in the Ein al-Hilwe and al-Farisiya areas of the West Bank's Jordan Valley. Some 83 people currently face forced eviction in the district, part of a long-term trend that has seen Israel demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes (as well as schools, clinics, water cisterns, electricity pylons and animal shelters). It isn't just the blockade that is stifling the life out of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK, London EC2
You are disingenuous in your attribution of responsibility to the United States for the dire situation in Palestine. The media is equally culpable.
You continue to use euphemisms promoted by Israel: land that has been stolen from Palestinians is described as "settlements"; you present Israeli delaying tactics as progress by applauding Israel for "lifting the blockade on Gaza". While the media writes about the "peace process" and the "complexities" of the region, Israel continues to steal land and kill Palestinian civilians by the hundred.
Rather than telling Mr Obama what to do, perhaps The Independent can start closer to home and support the boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel for its illegal activities. It worked in ending apartheid in South Africa.
Khalid Haneef, Watford, Hertfordshire
Your cover story "The truth about Israel's land grab in the West Bank" (7 July), is self evident but still heartbreaking.
We Palestinians have lived with Israel's "facts on the ground" since 1947. As these "facts on the ground" are expanded with the support of an indifferent United States and misguided Christians who genuinely believe that the cruelty of dispossessing millions of Palestinians was ordained by God, we Palestinians continue to live in the wretchedness of the Diaspora or under the inhuman iron fist of occupation.
How much longer will this continue? We are to blame for not seeking peace more effectively regardless of the cynicism of the big players on all sides.
Dr Faysal Mikdadi, Dorchester, Dorset
Your leading article of 7 July demands that President Obama take action vis-à-vis Israel's dispossession and occupation of Palestinian lives, homes, and land. But every US President, with the exception of Eisenhower, has caved in to the Israel Lobby's demand for full political, financial, and military support for Israel. Even during deep recessions, aid to Israel often supersedes funding for domestic programs. America would rather fire teachers than fire Israel's domination of Congress.
Obama is no different. He has conned the world with laudable rhetoric, but in his deeds he is pro-war, pro-business, and pro-Israel, regardless of its actions.
Unless the American people demand public financing of political campaigns, money will continue to buy the best government, and laws that serve special interests, and not America's national interest – and the Israel Lobby will continue to be pre-eminent in Washington.
Mohamed Khodr, Winchester, Virginia
When Sir can't control the class
I shall follow with interest the progress of the new chairman of the House of Commons education committee, as he attempts to rid classrooms of incompetent teachers (report, 5 July). A prerequisite will be a definition of incompetence in this field.
The abilities required to get the best out of willing, able pupils in a supportive environment are quite different from those needed to contain the most rude and aggressive pupils with no parental backup.
At one end of the spectrum is a command and enthusiasm for the subject, and the commitment to encourage the development of young people. At the other, the skills of a drill sergeant-major or prison officer are more appropriate.
Teachers who are equally proficient at both extremes are rare indeed. I have seen teachers who are adored by one set of pupils and described as inspirational, be reduced to tears by the thuggish behaviour of a different class. There are few teachers who do not have horror stories of a nightmare class and pray that they are never inspected without notice while attempting to teach them.
Your editorial comment "If a teacher cannot control a classroom, they should not be in that classroom", is apposite. There probably are other classrooms where they would perform well. Therefore, the practice of moving teachers on to another school does tend to be self-balancing.
Teachers who fail to cope will usually give up of their own accord eventually. If that is not soon enough for Graham Stuart, then perhaps he should look more closely at the teacher-training process, where too little time is allocated to developing classroom-management skills. The period of teaching practice is treated as an exercise in survival of the fittest, so few hopeless candidates get past that hurdle.
Peter English, Ruthin, Denbighshire
Let's not deceive ourselves into thinking that the teaching profession conspires to cover up for incompetence. Believe me, as a now ex-teacher of 38 years' experience, I can safely say that no one wants to have a class after a previous chaotic lesson with another teacher, as can happen in secondary education, and spend the first 10 minutes bringing the children down to earth. At the very least this is inconvenient, especially as it may happen every week, with the timetable being set for the year.
Don't assume that moving the "bad" teacher on won't work either. Often a new environment and the right support will work wonders.
Equally I have known excellent teachers who have had to move schools because of school closure and redeployment, who have been torn apart by their new charges when in their new school.
John Saunders, St Albans, Hertfordshire
Your leading article of 5 July oversimplifies the issue of "incompetent teachers", by equating teaching competence with the ability to control a classroom. By your reckoning the most competent teacher would be the one who is best at crowd control, or possibly lion-taming. The problem is much more nuanced than this.
Unmentioned in your report is a problem which, in my view as a teacher of almost 40 years, contributes greatly to "incompetence" – and that is that thousands of teachers in English state schools teach subjects of which they have little or no formal knowledge .
My General Teaching Council (Scotland) Registration recognises the subjects which I have been qualified to teach in Scottish secondary schools since 1971. When in 2009 I gained Qualified Teacher Status to teach in a state school in England, I was amazed to read in the letter from the GTC (England) that I was entitled to seek a teaching post in any National Curriculum subject in any age range at any state school. What a wonderful carte blanche that is for the promotion of incompetence!
At a school in England I overheard a teacher of German, with no French at all, being told by a member of the senior management team to take the timetabled class regardless, since a modern languages teacher should be able to teach a modern language.
That attitude, replicated all over England in many subjects, leads to the incompetence you savage in your editorial.
John Nolan, Dunfermline, Fife
Immortality for price of a pizza
I was disheartened to read in John Walsh's "Never say die" (5 July) an instance of the ever popular, yet potentially terribly damaging, misconception that the practice of Cryonics (the low-temperature preservation of humans who can no longer be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future) may only be pursued by those who are wealthy.
In trying to undo some of the damage this misconception creates, leading those on modest incomes to give it all up and suffer the maggots when they really needn't, please allow me to make mention that Cryonics is really quite cheap. A whole-body suspension at the Cryonics Institute in Detroit is sold for a mere £18,500 – all of which, to include the costs for shipping human remains to the USA (£10,000), can be covered easily, through life insurance, at about £10 a month for anyone who is relatively young and healthy. That's immortality for the price of a 9" pizza.
Ben Simmans, Harpenden, Hertfordshire
John Walsh takes two pages to say what the Quaker William Penn said in a sentence: "Death, then, being the Way and Condition of Life, we cannot love to live, if we cannot bear to die."
Ann Soutter, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Young boys need role models
Christina Patterson ("Men: the latest endangered species", 7 July) identifies a problem with boys' education which must be of concern to anyone who has anything to do with schools.
In our apartheid system of education, prep-school boys (often the future top directors) are overwhelmingly educated by men, while in primary schools there is often hardly a man to be seen. This is not to deny the dedication and competence of female teachers, but it a sad fact that there are far too few male role-models for under-11s in state education.
I see this in the (very caring) school in Oxford where I offer voluntary reading help to some 10-year-old boys. Maybe we need to give incentives to men to go into primary-school teaching and to move towards a quota system for male teachers. Though I'm not a big fan of positive discrimination, we need to recognise that, in our search for equality of opportunity, boys and girls do sometimes have different needs, and we should learn how to deal with them.
Don Manley, Oxford
In praise of long lost British Rail
R Long (Letters, 6 July) set me thinking back to railway privatisation. Then, there was a general assumption made by private-sector companies that British Rail must have been inefficient and they bid for franchises on that basis. It was soon discovered that BR was actually run very efficiently, having been used to having its funds squeezed year after year. The result was a bloody nose for those private operators who were first on the scene.
Should it turn out to be the case that the same now applies to large parts of the wider public sector, with relatively little scope for "efficiency savings", cuts of 40 per cent would lead to a decimation of services. Then we'll know what a broken society really looks like.
R P Wallen, Nottingham
Ken Clarke says prisons are expensive and not an effective deterrent. I say put them in the private sector, just like they did with our old folks' homes. They will be grossly underfunded, food will be appalling, human rights suspended, sanitary conditions disgusting and prisoners will never want to go back there again.
Fred Bishop, Lower Moor, Worcestershire
Face the evidence
How many readers noticed the skin damage from smoking in the face of Dame Beryl Bainbridge, who died recently? If further convincing is required, look at pictures of WH Auden. I believe more use of this type of evidence should be used in anti-smoking advice.
W Leslie Alexander FRCS, Rettendon, Essex
Guy Keleny seems to have been caught out by his own pedantry ("Errors and omissions", 3 July). His suggested Mary Dejevsky caption "fhrje yikw vebgfl ve; bvew" is not good English. The adverb vebgfl is only ever used to modify the verb bneugfrw and cannot be applied to yikw.
Phil Wood, Westhoughton, Greater Manchester