Letters: Increase in demand for special educational needs

Rising numbers of disabled children need education
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The Independent Online

It is vital that educational provision keeps pace with the growing population of children with special educational needs ("Schools face huge rise in special needs cases", 30 November). Our experience at St Margaret's School confirms that the needs of the most severely disabled children are becoming progressively more complex.

We cater for children and young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties and complex health needs. Many of our pupils would not have survived 10 or 15 years ago. Some were born prematurely, some have degenerative conditions, others have acquired their disabilities as a result of an accident or illness. But thanks to advances in medical science growing numbers of such children and young people are living well into adolescence and beyond.

They may be unable to walk or talk and require support in every aspect of their lives, but it is society's responsibility to ensure they are given the chance to lead childhoods full of fun and learning. With the right structure and expertise this is possible.

Our school has integrated therapeutic and medical support and is equipped with the latest technology. We have developed and published our own specialist curriculum, the Profound Education Curriculum, which is now in use in many other special schools in the UK and internationally. It reaches far beyond the National Curriculum to record and evaluate the very small yet significant developmental achievements these pupils are able to make.

Such an education is necessarily more costly than mainstream provision, but it is the only way to guarantee these pupils' right to learn, enjoy, participate and reach their full potential.

Jan Cunningham

Head Teacher, St Margaret's School Tadworth, Surrey

Hacker must not rot in a US jail

Gary McKinnon (report, 27 November) should go through the British courts, be given a suspended sentence and be hired by the Government to check our national security systems. Comparing his value to the nation to that of the average bank CEO would indicate a starting salary of at least £11m. Gary is a national treasure and it is idiotic for him to rot for decades in an American jail.

Putting on my American citizen's hat (I have dual nationality) I want to know why those responsible for Defense Department computer security are not facing decades in a high-security jail. At the least they are guilty of gross negligence and dereliction of duty.

As Britain would now have someone who can break into America's most secure systems, the UK need no longer be blackmailed into illegal operations by the threat of exclusion from American intelligence: Gary could get it all on his own.

Most importantly, in America one gets as much "justice" as one can afford (think O J Simpson). I doubt if Gary's family have the resources to take on the US government in this respect, especially when they are looking for a political scapegoat.

John Day,

Port Solent, Hampshire

I have mixed feelings about Gary McKinnon, and would normally be in favour of throwing the book at fraudsters or geeks hacking into people's computers. In this case however national security consideration could be used to justify opposition to a process being followed under a very one-sided extradition agreement.

Someone who can hack into what should be the world's most secure system in an age when any future enemy would be very keen to do just that could surely be invaluable to our national defence. Pay Mr McKinnon handsomely to find access into our systems and even if he only succeeded once or twice he will certainly have earned that salary.

The Americans at the end of the Second World War spirited away some Germans from judgement at Nuremberg and put them to use in America's cause during the cold war. There is every reason to suspect they could establish permanent control of our hacker through court proceedings in the US and use him similarly.

Had McKinnon hacked into the defences of North Korea or Iran he would have been able to name his price and his conditions to the US.

The intransigence of the UK government in this matter leads me to wonder if our government has agreed to a secret deal with the US, as it did when Blair and Bush led us into the Iraq quagmire. Nothing indicates more clearly to me our present status as a subordinate 52nd state.

W R King

Blairmore, Argyll

Swiss minaret vote unfair to Muslims

How can the Swiss say that they want to ban the minaret and yet consider the Muslims as equal citizens of their country? That would be like saying that we include Christianity in our fold but they cannot have their churches.

By this action, Switzerland is fuelling the stigma that European Muslims feel that they are alien, and giving more reason for us Muslims outside of Europe to believe that Europe, the great champions of equality, are fair to everyone but the Muslims.

I fear the repercussions of this foolish action in the years to come. Before, you could argue that such reactions to Muslims came only from individual politicians. Now it is shown as a whole country's doing. Financially the reaction might be swift and vocal. That is not a problem for Switzerland only but for us all.

Mishal Kanoo


Sid Lassi's contention (letter, 1 December) that the Swiss are denying Muslims the right to practise their faith is as ridiculous as saying that a burqa is an essential part of any Muslim woman's dress. The Swiss are simply saying they don't think minarets fit in visually with their landscape, not that Muslims should be prevented from worship, which can be practised in any building at all.

Allan Friswell

Cowling, North Yorkshire

The Swiss referendum result makes you wonder about the desirability of true democracy. If we had the Swiss system here, would we not also have a non-white immigration ban, hanging for paedophiles and torture for terrorism suspects? Perhaps there is an upside to having only a pretence of popular representation.

Ed Edmunds

Barry, Vale of Glamorgan

What would the world reaction be if the Swiss electorate were to vote against the building of synagogues?

Thomas Eisner

London SW14

Give animation an even break

The English animation industry is at a tipping point: it either survives or dies. Thomas and Friends, Bob the Builder, Noddy and Wallace and Gromit are all programmes that have turned England into a recognised centre for animation.

But within years, we will not be producing any such fantastic properties, as a result of tax breaks and government incentives in other countries. We, as a group of broadcasters, production companies and animators are calling for the Government to put English animation on a level playing-field with the rest of the world. We must remain competitive, and change must come soon, before talent leaks abroad, taking the industry with it.

The Government spends millions on educating some of the best talent the industry has, only for them to ply their trade abroad, lured by the promise of jobs. Animation has contributed millions to the UK economy. We have created properties that are exported around the world.

The Government has the ability to save the industry. It already has put in place a system to support film-making; it can do exactly the same for animation. The animation industry is talking to the Government; we hope they hear our story and support our industry now. We hope that come 2012, the year of the Cultural Olympiad, we still have an animation industry we can be proud of.

Oli Hyatt

Founder, Blue Zoo Productions

Gregg Lynn

Managing Director, Chapman Entertainment

Howard Litton

Managing Director, Nickelodeon UK

Miles Bullough

Head of Broadcast, Aardman Animations

Jeff Dunn

CEO, HIT Entertainment

London W1

Nazi criminals brought to justice

In response to your article (1 December) on the trial of John Demjanjuk, who is accused of assisting in the murder of 27,900 people in Poland during 1943, we cannot allow the passing of time to be used as a barrier to justice. Those who argue that people accused of carrying out Nazi war crimes should be left in peace because of their old age or failing health forget that Holocaust survivors have to live with their suffering every day and deserve to see some form of justice.

As a former war crimes investigator, I feel strongly that there can be no time limit on securing justice for the victims of the Holocaust. Whether Demjanjuk is found guilty or not, it is essential that we keep working to ensure that the perpetrators of heinous crimes are brought to trial and that we continue to raise awareness and educate future generations about the Holocaust.

Lord Janner

Chairman, Holocaust Educational Trust, Secretary, All-Party Parliamentary War Crimes Group, London SW1

These Christmas carols are no loss

It is interesting to find John Walsh (Tales of the City, 1 December) coming over all sentimental about Christmas carols – even deluding himself that they are "centuries-old". He also has a very hazy idea of what is in the New Testament, which, contrary to what he claims, does not mention an ass, a local governor, an innkeeper or livestock.

Our best-known carols, nearly all Victorian, are hackneyed, and despite John Walsh's burst of affection for them they seem to be fast losing their hold on the public imagination. About time too – most of them will be no great loss, either musically or theologically. There are a great many other hymns and carols, musically better and with better words, which express and educate Christian faith.

Adrian West

London N21

I think Dr Adrian Canale (letter, 30 November) has got his history in a twist. It was only relatively recently, AD 350, that Pope Julius I declared that Christ's birth would be celebrated on 25 December, to keep Saturn worshippers happy. For centuries before the birth of Christ the winter solstice was celebrated by pagans all over Europe. The current trend for a more secular interpretation of Christmas is more true to the roots of this midwinter celebration than the rather narrow minded version preferred by Christians.

Bob Armstrong

London SE2


Floods of evidence

Alan Thorpe asks whether the east coast floods of 1953 would have been blamed on global warming (Letter, 1 December). No, but the increased frequency of such events recently points to just that explanation: that more recent events are linked to accelerated global warming.

Irene Barker

Mendlesham Green, Suffolk

What's in a name?

One of the unexpected consequences when I got married was that my husband's double-barrelled surname (with no hyphen, which causes endless confusion to computers) would provide so much entertainment. I have been addressed as Mrs C R Um; acquired an extra line to my address (Mrs Crum, E Wing) which gave me delusions of grandeur; and learnt that in the Far East I am likely to be recorded as Mrs Ng.

Angela Crum Ewing

Reading, Berkshire

President Palin

Matthew Norman (Opinion, 26 November) should perhaps think of the benefit for Britain should Sarah Palin become President of the US. It would end this hideous "special relationship" that has existed to our gross disadvantage since the days of Thatcher and Reagan. Surely no British Prime Minister would want to be seen shoulder to shoulder with a President Palin? It would be unthinkable, unless of course Tony Blair came back to rescue the Labour Party and created Newer Labour.

J W Wright

Calne, Wiltshire

Vote for England

Now that the SNP is asking for a vote on the issue of the future partition of Britain into two states, Mr Salmond's proposed referendum should be held through the whole of the island. That might be to the advantage of the Scottish separatists, for it is quite likely that the majority of the English would vote in favour of ending the Union even though most Scots would probably vote for its continuation.

Michael Ghirelli

Hillesden, Buckinghamshire

Continental drift

Malcolm Haxby (letter, 26 November) suggests that a Roman still life fresco thought to show peaches may in fact portray black walnuts. Please tell him that the black walnut, Juglans nigra, is a North American species.

Simon Gowen

Rickinghall, Suffolk