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Thursday 16 July 2009
Letters: Independent schools
Charity ruling will make schools more exclusive
Both your reporting and your editorial regarding the Charity Commission's ruling about independent schools were typically even-handed (14 July), but I believe two key aspects were not covered.
First, the majority of independent schools that have charitable status only gained it recently, typically since 1950. These schools were often transferring from private ownership to one of trust status, and sought charitable registration to enshrine their not-for-profit ethos.
Secondly, the appointment of Suzi Leather as Chair of the Charity Commission was a highly political appointment. As a member of the Labour Party, Dame Suzi cannot be said to be a person of guaranteed objectivity when it comes to independent schools, and that is unreasonable because at the moment the commission is, effectively, both policing charities and sitting in judgement on them.
It is also likely that the Commission's ruling will have the effect of making many of the independent schools more socially exclusive, because, if they have to raise fees in order to fund additional bursaries, less wealthy families will be unable to afford the higher fees. Is that really what the Government wants?
Headmaster, The Froebelian School, Leeds
James Turner (Comment, 14 July) seems to believe that the parents of those who attend independent schools can "well afford" the fees. As a parent of two boys who attended independent schools I hope the policy of the Sutton Trust is not based on that premise. I had to sell my car to afford the first year fees before I had the opportunity to mortgage myself to hilt to meet the rest. Even then, both children qualified for scholarships and bursaries.
The real answer to the problem of charitable status for schools lies not in turning cartwheels to meet the needs of the Charity Commission but to make private, independent education unnecessary by investing in our regular schools and providing the same or equivalent education facilities as in the private sector. It is in this respect where the Labour Party has failed to live up to its mantra of "education, education, education".
Aid is too complex for a phone-in
Wildlife charities find it much easier to raise funds to help pandas and tigers than less glamorous fauna and flora. The same applies to fund raising for human development aid and so I read with dismay that the Tory Party proposes to run an X Factor style public vote to decide how UK overseas aid money should be spent.
This is likely to direct funds towards sexy projects but not necessarily those most likely to bring sustainable benefits to communities in need. It is also a concern that well organised pressure groups could distort the voting to block projects, such as sexual health programmes in Africa, that they find inimical to their own moral, religious or political agenda.
As with other areas of government spending, aid is complex and requires a technical expertise. I do not imagine that Mr Cameron will be asking the public to phone in to decide whether we purchase helicopters or tanks for the Army, and it is no more appropriate that he should ask us to decide on the aid programme.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Dominic Lawson's assessment (opinion, 14 July) that Britain's aid policies towards Africa cannot get smarter is depressing. What a dismal view of the human condition. His analysis flies in the face of much recent evidence. People can learn and policies can get better.
During the Cold War the West spent billions buying the support of dictators in Africa while the Soviets did the same with a different bunch of crooks. No surprise that aid didn't achieve much.
Developments since 2000 have been much more hopeful. First debt cancellation and then aid increases have begun to be linked to improvements in governance. Results have been impressive. There are 34 million children in school. Africa has seen growth rates of over 5 per cent. The number of Africans receiving life-saving Aids treatment has rocketed from 50,000 in 2002 to 3 million today.
Development campaigners, including Bono, whom Lawson refers to, have long argued that the indefensible trade barriers that Africa faces should be ripped down. It is of course African entrepreneurs and leaders who hold the key to the continent's future. If we are in their way, then we should get out of it. But we shouldn't be deaf to their calls for a hand up.
European Director, ONE, London W1
Chris Sexton (letters, 6 July) says it is right for Britain to continue to send aid to India, despite its ability to spend money on aircraft carriers, because in today's world we should cultivate their friendship.
India can afford aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons and a space programme but it seems that it cannot afford to help the poor who suffer from a lack of basic facilities such as health care or even good water supplies. So if the money is going directly to the needy, fine; but if it is going to the government not much, if any, would trickle downwards
Giving India money just to secure their friendship when it has a GDP of over $1trn is foolish. If India wishes to co operate with us as a friend, fine, but £825m used as a bribe to get its goodwill is a waste of money.
Dark tyranny of the burqa
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is spot on (13 July). Those liberals who defend the Burqa as an expression of freedom of choice are largely ignorant of the reality behind those dark shrouds that not only hide the woman but also the tyrannical ethos that surrounds every aspect of her life. There is no choice available to the bulk of these women, and the dress imposed on them is a visible reflection of the prison within which they are forced to exist.
Apart from the subjugation they endure as a result of their submission to fathers, brothers, husbands or other self-appointed guardians of their morality, they are victims today to a new phenomenon: a pernicious "sisterhood" which is spreading rapidly within their community preaching a primitive interpretation of Islam.
That network, bred on an incessant diet of talking fatwa heads beaming down on them from satellite and other new media outlets, preys on the vulnerable minds of young girls, closing their critical horizons even further within an already oppressive home environment.
As someone who was also flogged in Sudan (a long story), I'd like to offer sympathy and solidarity to Lubna Hussein and the Sudanese women charged with infringing the Islamist regime's dress code. ("Women flogged for wearing trousers in Sudan", 15 July).
In the 1980s, the same attire – tunic, trousers and shawl – was an official option for high school uniform and worn by Muslim and non-Muslim girls I taught in Sudan. How has it subsequently become immodest and provocative?
The flogging of women in Sudan rarely gets attention because it is mostly imposed on the poorest and least articulate. Ms Hussein is brave to tackle the matter head-on and alert the media.
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
Brandon Robshaw missed two important points in his article "Burqas should not be worn in class" (9 July).
Burqa-wearing is not enjoined by the Koran and students could be prohibited from wearing them without upsetting Muslim susceptibilities in general. The Koran says that women should cover their hair; covering faces came in as a means for men to hide their women from other men. This could backfire. In Sana'a no man could be sure that his wife or sister was not having an affair because he couldn't see who the women going about in the evening were.
But there is a more important reason why burqa-wearing should be banned in the classroom and that is identity. Teachers have to know who they are teaching. Also, burqas worn in exams could enable paid substitutes to take the test in place of the real candidates.
A male Yemeni friend of mine once attended a women-only night at a cinema dressed in a burqa; it was the last night the film was being shown and he couldn't have seen it otherwise.
Before I am allowed in a bank or building society, or to be served in a petrol station I am required to remove my crash helmet so my face can be seen by the CCTV for security. How can it be permitted for a fully veiled person to be allowed in to such places?
Green challenge is no sideshow
Andy McSmith ended in his analysis of the Norwich North by-election (2 July) with a rather snide comment about the "interesting sideshow" that the Green Party promised to provide while the two "major" parties slugged it out.
Although in the 2005 general election the Green vote was a mere 2.7 per cent in Norwich North, in the most recent test of party strength in the constituency – the elections for the county council and the Euro-elections – the Greens received more votes than any of the other parties, including the Tories, securing 35 per cent and 25 per cent of the vote respectively. The Greens gained five new councillors at county level (two of them representing constituencies in Norwich North), at the expense of the Labour Party.
Rupert Read, the lead Green Party candidate for the European elections was selected as the Green parliamentary candidate, and started work at once. A recent poll shows the Tories clearly ahead, but suggests Labour, the Lib-Dems and the Green Party about equal, with around 15-16 per cent each. The progress of the Greens is likely to prove more than a "sideshow".
Professor David Seddon
Ivor Morgan's letter of 9 July decries "the main minority parties". I have news for him: all British political parties are minority ones and have been since the 1930s. Since then none of them has managed to win as much as half of the national vote.
Indeed in 2005 we reached the point where the Labour Party may have obtained power, but did so with the support of only a little over a fifth of the electorate. In the circumstances an agreement between two or more parties who could together claim majority support would at least be less absurd.
B J Fearnley
Swine flu threat to the climate
You report (13 July) that Michael Jacobs, a senior policy adviser to Gordon Brown, was banned from attending the G8 summit because he had swine flu. Yet he still travelled to Rome, 125 miles from the summit, and communicated via phone and email.
Mr Jacobs is an adviser on climate change and the environment. He's obviously a climate change sceptic, then! It would appear the Mr Cameron has plenty of room for manoeuvre if he intends to cut out waste in the civil service.
Your report (15 July) on the Somerset country house orgy informs us that "exclusive swinging parties have long been a staple for the debauched doyens of Mayfair". Damn: I surmised there was a lacuna in my Mayfair life!
Cuts for some
Mandy is telling us (report, 15 July) that we face "a decade of cuts". Meanwhile, bankers are already paying themselves gross salaries and bonuses that could significantly reduce our cuts if paid to the Government in taxes. Why can't this government do its control-freak stuff where it is really needed?
Dr Tim Lawson
Not quite last
Surprisingly, for a career built on unswerving failure, "Eddie the Eagle" Edwards did not, as is repeatedly claimed ("Five other great winter sport moments", 15 July), finish last in the 1988 Winter Olympics. In fact, he finished 56th out of 57, as another competitor was disqualified and officially placed last. And British skiing has been downhill ever since.
Richard O Smith
If Hardeep Singh Kohli had committed a crime the evidence and his defence would be out in open court and the public could have an opinion on the rights and wrongs of the case. As it is he has been privately tried and publicly punished by the BBC with, presumably, six months' loss of earnings, and the public has no idea why, except that it was for "inappropriate behaviour" which fell short of sexual harassment.
My nine-month-old grand-daughter has just received her first library fine. Is this a record?
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