Letters: Meddling with schools

Stand by for another round of political meddling with schools


Sir: With a little help from his Tory friends Tony Blair has got his way and teachers up and down the country can brace themselves in anticipation of yet another round of political meddling. I'm approaching the end of my teaching career so thankfully it is unlikely to affect me, though I do feel sorry for my younger colleagues.

When I started teaching I taught metal work, wood work and technical drawing. The kids enjoyed it because it was something different from sitting at a desk. I enjoyed it because I felt I was teaching some useful skills that could help people, particularly the less academically gifted, earn a living. The school had got the curriculum balance about right, with the kids spending roughly half their time doing academic work and the other half doing sport or practical subjects like mine.

Then the politicians brought in the national curriculum. I ended up with a mountain of paperwork and the kids instead of making stuff spent most of the time sitting at a desk writing about it. Our school always struggled to attract brighter pupils because of our proximity to a couple of ex-grammar schools in the leafy suburbs. We did manage however to keep our heads above water in terms of GCSEs. That is until the politicians interfered again and made our nearest neighbour a grant-maintained school. Our intake of pupils with special education needs rose to typically 40 per cent. Not surprisingly our GCSE grades plummeted.

I had some brilliant colleagues working with the kids not doing GCSEs; they worked wonders in improving their basic numeracy and literacy skills. Then the politicians interfered yet again, saying every kid must take GCSEs. Kids started voting with their feet because they couldn't cope with the coursework and truancy became for the first time a real issue.

Opponents of the new education bill are concerned that it will create a two-tier education system. They need not fret; we've had one for years.



Ruling forces doctors to cause suffering

Sir: When a decision about the life or death of a child becomes a matter for the High Court, we know that there has been a breakdown of the doctor-patient (or parent in this case) relationship and that whatever the outcome it will be unsatisfactory for someone ("Disabled baby must be kept alive, judge rules", 16 March).

The BBC in their reporting employed trembling-voiced actors to portray the parents' response to the judgment, where predictably they criticised the doctors who "never spent more than five minutes" looking at their child. The general tone of reporting has been that this is a victory again for the public against the medical profession. What the outcome might be for the child does not seem so important.

I am appalled by this ruling and deeply concerned that with such precedents I and my colleagues will no longer be able to practice good (or human) medicine. The judge has stated that this should not be seen as a precedent, but rather as a unique case. This surely is naive, as the case has been trumpeted in the media as a landmark case, which indeed it is.

My view may not be any more valid than Mr Justice Holman's. It is based on my medical training, meeting many children with spinal muscular atrophy, and being a parent. Nonetheless my whole fibre rebels against this decision. I did not train as a doctor to be forced to cause suffering to children with lethal conditions. It is not just futile, it is an abuse. When I go to work tomorrow, I will no longer feel that I can do my best in good faith for my patients.



Sir: Where exactly did the idea come from that doctors should decide whose life is or is not "worth living"?

That is a moral and philosophical judgment, not a medical one. The doctors may, of course, give medical judgements about whether a patient (unable to communicate directly) is in pain or not, but whether such pain or other problem renders life "not worth living" rests with the patient or, as this patient is an infant, with the parents or guardians. The doctors involved are of course entitled to give advice to those making the decision, but as far as I can see have no claim to make the decision themselves.

I have every respect for the medical profession, in their own field, and I don't doubt they acted from the best of intentions, but it seems to me that in this case they were stepping well beyond their field, and the court was entirely right to slap then down. .



England's cause left to the far right

Sir: The Lord Chancellor, who opposes the idea of an English parliament, should start going to the pub and other meeting places. I have heard time and time again from people that they can't see why England can't have its own parliament to decide England-only issues. There is a lot of resentment about MPs from Scotland being used to force through agendas that will not apply to their constituencies.

The most worrying aspect of this is that in some cases it seems to be making the far-right nationalist parties more attractive as they are seen to be fighting England's corner. For this reason alone I feel that this issue should be treated far more seriously.



Sir: Peter Arnold (letter, 16 March) exemplifies the muddled, self-loathing mentality that instils a sense of worthlessness in young English people about themselves and England.

On the one hand he bemoans how "the independent kingdoms of England and Scotland played havoc" with his beloved Northumberland and claims no loyalty to England, suggesting that because of its brutal past it be broken up into unwanted regions. On the other hand, he perversely believes Scotland should remain whole as a recognisable country despite its own brutal past (no Highland and Lowland regions there then).

The nastiest bigot is the one prejudiced against his own people, and it is this kind of hypocrisy which turns more and more English people away from Europe and Gordon Brown's notion of the "nations [bonnie Scotland first and foremost, then Wales and Northern Ireland] and regions [formerly known as England] of Britain".

There is a very simple solution to the question of English governance: a referendum held across the whole of England offering all options, including an English Parliament, would provide the answer. I'm willing to stand by the result. Are Mr Arnold and Messrs Blair, Brown and Prescott?



Sir: Peter Arnold says that England is a mongrel nation. Does he know of one which is not? Certainly not Scotland, where the population is descended from the Picts, the Scots, the British (Welsh, if you prefer), the Angles, the Vikings and the Normans, not to mention more recent immigrants from England, Ireland, Poland and other nations.



Sir: While I entirely agree with Mary Dejevsky (Opinion, 14 March) that England needs - and should have - its own parliament, I could not help being rather amused at her righteous indignation about the English having unpopular measures which they did not want being forced on them by Scottish and Welsh MPs. This is something which Scotland and Wales have had to live with for years. Privatisation and the poll tax are just two measures that the Scots did not want, that were opposed by almost all the Scottish MPs, but were forced on them through the votes of English MPs and, furthermore, by MPs of a party that had no credibility north of the Tweed.

One thing devolution has done for the English is to remind them that Britain is not an alternative word for England and to reassess and take pride in their own nationhood. This is evidenced by, among other things, the increased number of English national flags one now sees displayed.



Sir: England needs no parliament because it already has one, at Westminster. We very kindly let in members from England's "satellite states" of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but essentially it is our English parliament. To achieve true democracy once more all we need do it exclude those other members when we want to deal with our own business.



Put limits on the supermarkets

Sir: Susie Mesure (10 March) highlighted a number of questionable supermarket activities, but why were the "possible remedies" so unchallenging?

The Competition Commission should look at the whole food retailing structure, and should consider possible remedies, such as:

Limiting the percentage of the market that any one company can supply. A figure of 10 per cent has merit;

Limiting the floor space of any one store;

Including in planning approvals a Section 106 requirement that food retailers with more than half the maximum store floor space make available part of their car park for a weekly farmers' market;

Including in planning approvals a requirement that a given percentage of the produce sold must be locally produced in order to minimise the impact on the local community.

If adopted, these four proposals might have some effect in reducing the current dominance of the four giants.



Life, death and soup

Sir: So Gwyneth Paltrow "would rather die" than feed her child instant soup? ("The joy of being vegan", 15 March.) How many millions of mothers throughout the world would rather have instant soup to feed their children than watch their children starve to death?



Peerage deals

Sir: The idea of renting a peerage (letter, 16 March) sounds a bit expensive to me. Perhaps the Government should subcontract them to a timeshare company, like holiday apartments. I would be in the market for the right to call myself, say Baroness Amanda Earlam, for one month of the year, even a slack one like February.



Scientific inquiry

Sir: I hope, for the sake of the female subject of the experiment, in Michael Baldwin's method for measuring the weight of a breast (Letters, 14 March), that the water in which the breast is to be dipped is warm. I do not know, scientifically, if the temperature will make a difference to the result, but I do know that the boys at the back of the science lab are having too much fun.



Lazy existence

Sir: As I leave for work at 06:45 and return 12 hours later (on a good day) I am very grateful to be able to put my dirty crockery into a dishwasher, which frees me up to indulge in my lazy pastimes of ironing clothes, ordering groceries, paying bills and - oops - putting my dirty clothes in the washing machine. Perhaps T Honeybone (letter, 16 March) thinks I should be taking these down to the Thames with my washboard, the good old-fashioned way.



Celebrity vegetables

Sir: Like Alex Palmer (letter, 16 March), I too was somewhat surprised at the "celebrity status" carrots I purchased at Sainsbury's some time ago, though I expected them to be longer in real life.



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