Letters: Little government help for Churches

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The Independent Online

Churches serve the nation with little government help

Sir: Your correspondents question why parish churches are locked during the day. Churchwardens and their insurers now take a more enlightened attitude than 10 years ago, when thefts from churches were rife.

In fact, an increasing number of parish churches are open all day and much of this progress is due to the initiative of Andrew Lloyd Webber and his Open Churches Initiative. In North Yorkshire alone an additional 285 churches were opened up for daytime visiting in a three-year period. The costs of meeting repair bills and disability access fall on the worshipping community, with little encouragement from the Government.

The cost of fabric repairs to parish churches exceeds £120m annually, while the contribution from English Heritage has been at about £10m for several years, creating a backlog of work which will almost certainly not be reduced. Cathedrals spend £11m and receive £1m towards repairs.

If the contribution to social work, education and culture by the churches is costed, then the nation receives more than £3.9bn in benefit, a situation which is recognised by several European countries by their more generous attitude to costs of church buildings and pastoral care.

Many cathedral cities benefit through tourism, with the bulk of the financial benefit going into the secular economy and in most cases no assistance going to the maintenance of the church buildings.

The Government should encourage those who care for this aspect of the heritage in the same way it has encouraged museums, art galleries, sport and secular heritage buildings.



Schools undermined by bad behaviour

Sir: The biggest single factor in schools failing to deliver education ("From maths to music, how schools fail pupils", 22 December) has been caused by the Government's failure to enable teachers to deal with the continuing upsurge of disruptive classroom behaviour.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, needs to spend a week shadowing a state school teacher in one of the more demanding disciplines (mathematics, say), as they try to "deliver education" to large classes with foul-mouthed, aggressive 12-16 year olds with "behavioural difficulties", who do not want to learn, and will not do as they are told.

She could then learn what it is actually like in the real world of teaching, as opposed to the cosy and privileged existence of, say, the London Oratory School.



Sir: Your dogged support for the Prime Minister's educational "reforms" (what a misuse of the word, suggesting correcting recalcitrant behaviour) is based, like his reasoning, on a basic scientific error. That is, when two things often occur together, one must be the cause of the other.

Like the PM you conclude that, because independent schools have high academic standards, the independence must be the cause of the high standards. How else does one explain the remark in the leading article on 15 December that ending local education authority control "should raise academic standards". Why should it? You don't provide any coherent argument for this crucial opinion, nor even a single anecdotal example of where an LEA's policies or actions have prevented improvements in a school.

One suspects that the educational policies of the LEA or even the ethos the school have only a marginal effect on student performance compared with the overwhelming impact of expenditure per pupil and the educational level of parents

The PM often makes the same mistake of reasoning. Observing that sensible public drinking is often found in countries with unrestricted sale of alcohol, he concludes that derestricting the sale will produce the desired improvement in behaviour. The same kind of non-sequitur, as applied to education, must be challenged. Well done, John Prescott!



Sir: The idea of allowing secondary schools to decide their own admissions policy may have some merit and support, but I question its practical application.

One cannot select any group of students without deselecting another, and it will be difficult to justify to parents why their child cannot attend their local school because another child from a different catchment area was allowed to attend because they fit selection criteria based possibly on social class, ethnicity or some other ideal. How do you address the situation where a child changing schools because a family moves from, say, London to Leicester cannot transfer to another school with a similar specialist area of curriculum because their selection criteria are different?

This would be even worse in rural areas, where the next available school is some considerable distance away, with no suitable public transport, or it is not viable to provide a school bus service to small fragmented groups of pupils all over a county.

Such a system will leave a group of "failure" deselected students with nowhere else to go other than designated sink schools. As these schools will be taking students deemed not good enough for the top schools the expectations of both student and staff will be lower. They will not attract high-quality staff or offer a wide range of subjects at an advanced level. This can only lead to the return of a two-tier system by default.



Sir: The problem posed by D J Taylor (Opinion, 28 December) of the incompatibility of much teen culture with any sort of decent education is probably the key question for the future.

Because of the sheer scale of media intrusion teachers with the best minds and skills are in constant and losing competition with the more overwhelming (to young people) destructive rubbish which assaults their senses and attention for the far greater part of their lives.

D J Taylor is so right: if the Government and the education minister do not confront this crisis the adults of tomorrow will measure the value of their lives by the same crass standards as are being forced on us today.



Welcome back to the shy wild boar

Sir: I write to question the sensationalist and alarmist reporting in The Independent (23 December) of the escape by 100 wild boar near Exmoor, Devon. Here in Kent wild boar populations have been long restored to our native fauna by such accidental reintroduction and have become a beneficial addition to our woodland ecosystems, returning a long lost romance and wildness to our heavily modified countryside.

Your description of these animals, which conjures up a beast more reminiscent of a rhino, does not do justice to the intelligent and shy animals I have observed in the field. Indeed, wild boar flourish right across continental Europe, even within urban areas such as Berlin and Bucharest, and co-exist peaceably with man (if not football pitches!). I for one look forward to the re-establishment of wild boar at Exmoor and beyond and would ask that your future coverage is more balanced (especially as it coincides with a Defra inquiry into the future of feral wild boar populations and when powerful agri-industry and the "men from the ministry" have shown themselves impatient to destroy any vestige of wildness left within our countryside).



Let your baby set the agenda

Sir: In response to Liz Orford's letter (24 December) regarding Gina Ford's methods of baby training, I am also the first-time mum of a beautiful, content and sociable babe, but in contrast to Liz Orford, I attribute my daughter's development and contentment to letting her own innate and natural agenda set her pace, rather than relying on a written methodology.

The most important part of Liz Orford's letter is contained in one word: bottle. A baby fed formula from a bottle is one whose instincts have been interrupted. Thereafter any professional's method may be imposed, and good luck to those who choose to programme their babes thus. Gina Ford babies may well all sleep at noon for two hours and sleep through the night, but they wouldn't choose it themselves, if their instincts were trusted and respected.

My daughter is breastfed on demand, which includes her feeding through the night. As she shares our bed, this is not a problem - neither of us (or her dad) really wakes. We too awake refreshed. My daughter, too, has "consistency, routine and structure" - her dad and I are always there, and there is always love, and I think they're the only real constants that she needs.

We all find our own ways. I don't judge any individual (although I am critical of our corporate culture, whereby profit-making companies manage to persuade that their manufactured "milk" is superior to that made exclusively for each child). But I would urge any woman who can to follow a mother's instincts, and trust those of her child.



Great villains of British history

Sir: Is there no place on the list of the "ten worst Britons" (27 December) for the man who made this country a client state of the US?

No place for the man who bungled Gallipoli in 1915?

No place for the man who was planning to invade Norway, only for Hitler to beat him to it?

No place for the man who initiated a cynical deal with Stalin over "spheres of influence in eastern and south-east Europe"?

No place for the man who told the House of Commons on 8 September 1941: "It is very fortunate for Russia in her agony to have this great rugged war chief at her head. He is a man of massive outstanding personality, suited to the sombre and stormy times in which his life has been cast; a man of inexhaustible courage and will-power and a man direct and even blunt in speech ... Above all, he is a man with that saving sense of humour which is of high importance to all men and all nations ... Stalin also left upon me the impression of a deep, cool wisdom, and a complete absence of illusions of any kind."



Sir: My nominee would be the tyrant Edward I.

He started the ghastly English punishment of hanging, drawing, and quartering, first inflicting it in 1283 on the last Welsh Prince, David III. He then suppressed the culture of Wales, held it down with a ring of fortresses, carried off its sacred relics, and stole the title "Prince of Wales" for his son.

Relations with the Scots had been friendly for a century, so Edward used a flimsy pretext to start the savage wars that ravaged Scotland for two and a half centuries. He refused to accept the surrender of Stirling Castle so that he could try out a new huge catapult, which pulverised the castle and the men inside it. To finance his wars he systematically robbed the Jews, then in 1290 expelled them all.



Sir: I am sorry to see in your feature "Are these the 10 worst Britons?" a portrait of one of my heroes, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (1586-1646), instead of that of Thomas Arundel, 13th -14th century Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the ten. The correct picture can be found illustrating chapter 18 in Who Murdered Chaucer by Terry Jones et al, which you cite.

I should also like to point out that the ten men nominated are all English - just another example of calling people English (often erroneously) when reporting something creditable and British (often equally erroneously, as here) when reporting something discreditable.



Miracle pills

Sir. Why is it that although Vitamin D is the consequence of living a naturally balanced life we can only flaunt misleading headlines about miracle "pills" (28 December), as if this is a new scientific cure? Living naturally is the point here -not some scientific hype converting the bleeding obvious into a marketable product for a pill-popping culture?



Plot gone west

Sir: As interesting as it was to read about how TV writers cope with the untimely death an actor, was it really necessary to give away the ending to one of the main plotlines of the sixth series of The West Wing ("West Wing and a prayer, 23 December)?



Israel and Hamas

Sir: In answer to Judith Rose's letter (28 December), we all know that Johann Hari opposes Hamas; however he claims that further successes against Hamas will be dependent on Sharon's policies, including withdrawing totally from the West Bank. As if this will really stop the suicide attacks which continue unabated since the Gaza withdrawal. Hamas is an organisation with a central charter still calling for the destruction of Israel.



Sir: Perhaps the "moral plane" used to attack Spielberg's new movie (report, 24 December) is the same that allows Israel to fly in the face of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty.



Energy from the sun

Sir: John Rentoul knocks the green lobby (Opinion, 13 December), but we have recently had solar panels installed at our home and have already produced 600 kWh of energy, free, from the sun. We get a rebate for this production which goes into the national grid. Perhaps personal green action is better than hoping for much from the Government.




Forbidden laughter

Sir: Miles Kington's Christmas crackers (28 December) are probably made in China and so the non-jokes they contain are surely the object of censorship. That's why you never get the one about Mao Zedong and the Tibetan monk.