Letters: Keep talking across the education divide

These articles appear in the November 26 edition of The Independent

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Tristram Hunt is trying to fix the wrong thing (“Head of Hunt’s old school accuses him of ‘offensive bigotry’ ”, 26 November). The needs of the 93 per cent of the children in England whose parents do not pay for their schooling are not best served by going after the 7 per cent in independent schools whose parents do. 

While he is right to urge more and more partnership working, he is wrong to underplay how much good cross-sector work is already going on. In adopting this combative mode, he is in danger of repeating the mistakes of so many before him, and turning the conversation on improving education into a slanging match. The best way to encourage independent schools to share is to engage them in positive dialogue, rather than issuing threats and ultimatums.

Leo Winkley
Head Master, St Peter’s School, York


Two recent news items have coincided which raise the issue of the ongoing charitable status of private schools. 

The head of an expensive establishment commented that the soaring fees being charged are being driven by the popularity of what they offer to the offspring of “oligarchs”. It is difficult to see why taxpayers are allowing charitable status to be extended to the education of ultra-rich foreign students.

Simultaneously, Ed Miliband has stated that if returned to power he will seek ways of forcing the private sector into increasing its support for state schools.

Both issues could be addressed more simply by requiring these schools to charge VAT on the fees paid for non-British students. If the headteacher is right, then this would have little effect on the demand for places.

Such a plan might also require that these enterprises, since they are in fact businesses, should forgo any VAT relief due on the costs they incur in buying goods and services.

Monies so raised could be applied to any purpose, including the improvement of the state sector of education.

Tim Brook


The argument by the head of King’s College School in Wimbledon that an “endless queue” of rich families from outside Britain is pushing up fees is puzzling: do these rich parents refuse to send their children here unless the schools charge high fees? Pity the poor headteachers that have to accept such blackmail.

Paul Burall
Drayton, Norfolk


If the Labour Party was serious about bridging the gap between state and independent schools, they could advocate a simple policy of “state before private” in any publicly funded employment. Why should privately educated citizens take positions in the Civil Service, armed forces, judiciary and the BBC?

I cannot understand why these people wish to detach themselves from “normal” citizens until they are almost adults and then assume their right to govern us. Those who support the public services should be ruled by their peers.

I S Maclean


Perhaps if we referred to them as “charity schools” instead of “public schools” we might get somewhere – especially if we could rely on broadcasters to then use the same disdainful tone when referring to them that they adopt when referring to other state benefits and their recipients.

Sue Holder
Aberaeron, Ceredigion


Reasonable man driving a cab

What a shame that Brian the Cabbie has to mix with “bullies and braggarts” like David Mellor. Brian sounds like a reasonable and temperate man, who seems to have conducted himself with dignity and great restraint; David Mellor sounds like a waste of space who, despite his education and power, did not. 

Well done to Brian: I doubt very much whether I would have behaved nearly as well as he did under the circumstances.

Susan Bittker


My uncle was better off in an institution

The proposal to close all units caring for people with learning difficulties and transfer their residents to community care is being made for the best of intentions, but a “one-size-fits-all” solution may not be the best for all people with learning difficulties (“NHS report: the ‘evils’ of institutional care must end”, 26 November).

Following a severe brain infection as an infant (this was before MRIs were invented so no one is sure whether it was meningitis or encephalitis), my uncle was left with severe and profound learning difficulties. By his teens his behaviour was violent to the point of being unmanageable, and his family was left with no option but to place him in an institution.

It is true that some of the places he lived over the years were grim, and I am sure there was neglect. But finally he ended up in an institution (long since closed) with caring staff, where all residents had their own bedrooms and sitting rooms to call home, a shop and lots of activities for them to do, and where the residents, all of whom had severe learning difficulties, could have as much independence as they were capable of, but where carers could help them with all those tasks that they were unable to do (in some cases washing and dressing), and where those with challenging behaviour were safe and protected. When my uncle passed away a few years ago, it was in an institution he called home, living with residents and carers he called friends.

Far too often we see stories in the press of elderly people, relying on home carers, being left unattended, of not receiving the care they need, and even dying because home carers don’t visit. Yet it is being proposed to add more vulnerable people into this same system, and leave them to the mercies of underfunded home carers out in the community, or relying on families for care, at a time when government cuts have decimated welfare provision and disabled services. For some (such as my uncle), community care would be utterly inappropriate, and would leave them at greater risk.

Rather than blanket closing of all institutional facilities, surely it would be better to adopt the best practices of the good homes, and strictly and ruthlessly enforce them, so that whose who cannot be cared for in the community still have a haven they can call home.

Name and address supplied


Windfarms leave a concrete legacy

I completely agree with Alistair Wood’s letter of 22 November, but I would like to add a comment regarding the term “temporary turbines”.

One existing large wind farm in mid-Wales is to be upgraded by replacing the existing turbines with much bigger turbines. The developer has said that he will construct new concrete pads for the new turbines and that while the old turbines will be removed the old concrete pads and associated roadways will not. Presumably this process could continue until the whole of Wales is covered in concrete.

When a windfarm is built in an important and beautiful area such as mid-Wales the developer should be forced to deposit a sufficient sum to “make good” once the life of the “temporary” windfarm has come to an end.

Steve Elliott


Blokish salutation to start the weekend

Please, please can the editor stop opening his Saturday letters to readers with “Morning all”? It sounds either unnecessarily blokish or as if he is parodying Dixon of Dock Green (a sort of early soap opera only remembered by your more mature readers). I cringe when I read it.

I really can’t think what it is intended to convey. Anyway, I would be very happy for him to leave out this curious salutation.

Robert Hobbs
Richmond, Surrey


No jihad for Quakers

John Phillips’ statement that there is no need to rebut the charge of “malevolence” against Quakers (letter, 26 November) is no doubt true, for the very good reason that Quakers refuse military service.

However, his implied comparison of Quakers with Muslims must not go unchallenged: he is comparing a sect within Christianity with the whole of Islam, itself divided into various sects. This is not a just comparison.

John Dakin
Toddington, Bedfordshire


Museums for the workers

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (24 November) writes: “Only two British museums [both in Manchester] are dedicated to working-class stories.” Perhaps the next time Ms Alibhai-Brown is in Scotland she may find time to visit the People’s Palace in Glasgow, which was opened in 1898.

M J Morris
Hamilton, Lanarkshire


Save children, not Blair

I am astonished and horrified to learn that Save the Children have given an award to Tony Blair. Unless they rescind it they can expect no more donations from me.

Barry Tighe
Woodford Green, Essex