Ministers ignore school policies that would actually work
Sir: Busing is one of the most highlighted failures in American public policy of the latter half of the 20th century ("Kelly to 'bus' poor children to schools in wealthy areas", 18 October). This is what happens:
In theory, the students in deprived areas are bussed in to middle-class schools to provide aspiration and break down the class barrier. In response, the middle classes mover further into suburbia and increasingly look away from the state sector to low-cost specialist schools (often partially state funded) or when further from the inner city, middle-class state schools that are too far to bus to. Inner cities are therefore split into two areas, urban quasi-slums where the children are stuck at under-resourced schools or highly wealthy gentrified areas where children are at high quality private schools.
Are the researchers being employed by the Department of Education poorly trained or naive? I can understand their desire to model on success - why not Australia?
Sydney has state-funded sports high schools, performing arts high schools and grammar schools (called selective high schools). The top grammar school is a match for any top independent school in the world (Sydney Boys High School). Free bus / train / ferry passes are provided for the children to go to and from the schools. The passes are only valid on the route between the school and home for a set period before and after school hours.
What is it that prevents the Government coming up with sensible policy that will actually work?
Sir: Ruth Kelly's idea for bussing children from poor areas to middle-class enclaves is already underway here in Buckinghamshire. It is called the selective system.
Children, from whatever background, are allocated to the school which best fits their academic needs on the basis of the 11-plus exam. This results in Buckinghamshire LEA having overall GCSE (A*-C) results 10 per cent higher than the national average, and the Upper School which my children attend (the old secondary modern) has results less than 1 per cent lower than the national average. This is on 2004 figures; I believe the 2005 figures are even better.
Time and again the parents of Buckinghamshire have been asked if we want to get rid of the selective system, and time and again we have refused. We know what works.
Sir: Populist, evasive and foolish - that's my reaction to plans to bus children from council estates to schools in wealthier areas. More vehicles on the roads, more pollution. And what about the schools on the estates? Are they to remain as "sink" schools? How much more sensible to raise them up to the level of those in wealthier areas - by disproportionate funding if need be!
China can learn from our mistakes
Sir: Having recently returned from China as part of a four-person UK delegation attending workshops on the theme of carbon dioxide and "green cities", I can concur that the situation in China is serious ("The China crisis", 19 October).
On the bright side are the large numbers of solar hot water heaters visible on almost every new residential development along the route in from Shanghai Pudong airport. Equally the high proportion of electric bikes in the city of Xi'an demonstrate that individuals are trying to improve their lifestyle.
However, currently around 25 per cent of the population is urbanised and there is a move to increase this to over 50 per cent in the next 20 years. Countries which have urbanised in the past have seen increased wealth, but the model of implementation being adopted by planners in China is to build ever bigger mega-cities with populations approaching 10 million or more with limited consideration of transport issues.
Many in China think such cities are the only way with their large population, but in fact the population density in China is only 56 per cent of that in the UK. Even if one excludes the western deserts, the density is comparable to that in the UK. In the UK we talk of urbanisation as towns and cities of 100,000 plus; at such a size it is easier to conceive of a sustainable future than if the norm is 100 times bigger.
Furthermore, the continual building in the mega-cities of energy inefficient high-rise glass-clad buildings with single glazing is very worrying. Many people we spoke to did not appreciate that double glazing is equally important in hot climates to reduce air-conditioning demand as it is for us to reduce heating demand.
The British Council through their Sino-UK Partnership Link did an excellent job in enabling the British delegation to outline the technologies and ideas that we have developed and learnt from our mistakes. It is important that such a partnership is enhanced if the worst effects of climate change arising from China's economic transition are to be avoided.
DR N KEITH TOVEY
READER IN ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES, UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA, NORWICH
Sir: While Michael McCarthy's article makes an important point about China's increasingly detrimental environmental impact, this disheartening vision of newly industrialised countries is ultimately unhelpful. Tales of doom and gloom in the developing world act as an excuse for ordinary people in the West to deny responsibility or, worse, view environmentally sustainable development as a hopeless task.
Now is the time to act creatively. China's population is stabilising and China is becoming a world leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy production. As an industrialised nation, the UK can be accused of hypocrisy if we continue to behave irresponsibly on climate change and pollution while condemning developing nations. Industries need to incorporate environmentally sustainable practices. The role of the individual in effecting this change, via methods such as purchasing power, should not be underestimated.
China's accelerated industrial growth is part of a bid to compete in the modern, capitalist world system. A radical overhaul of this economic system in terms of a move away from private accumulation towards sustainable development is vital in the long term.
GREEN PARTY ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS SPOKESPERSON LONDON N19
Sir: China's spectacular growth is as much a threat to the Communist Party as to the environment. The government's determination to maintain an iron grip on the lives of its citizens is increasingly incompatible with their growing prosperity.
Two Chinese defectors - a former diplomat and an ex-intelligence officer - visited the European Parliament this week to lift the lid further on the country's suppression of freedoms we take for granted. Their testimony was a stark reminder of the true nature of China's one-party dictatorship and our moral imperative to expose the government's many oppressive policies.
Economic prosperity and political liberty go hand in hand. Whether China grudgingly accepts this lesson from history or ignores it remains to be seen. But I fear many millions of Chinese, both those within the country and those who have fled abroad, will have to suffer more before they see their resistance vindicated.
DR CHARLES TANNOCK MEP
CONSERVATIVE FOREIGN AFFAIRS SPOKESMAN, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, BRUSSELS
Tory MPs vote for the wilderness
Sir: Tony and Gordon must be dancing for joy all round Downing Street. Once more the narrow-minded, stupid, self-interested Tories have rejected the one man capable of rescuing their party from the wilderness in which they now seemed destined to stay for ever.
LONG MELFORD, SUFFOLK
Sir: Now that the Tories have proved they are not interested in returning to government by refusing to elect the one man, Ken Clarke, who stood a chance of beating Labour at the next election, there has never been a better moment for the Lib Dems to become the official Opposition if they have the initiative to seize it.
Sir: Just for a moment, there was a glimmer of hope that the Tory MPs might give us the chance to elect Ken Clarke prime minister. Instead, they seem hell-bent on giving us Brown vs Another Blair Clone. Have they any idea how excruciatingly unappealing that is?
ID cards give 'audit trail' of holders' lives
Sir: Ben Russell and Nigel Morris write (18 October) that the Home Secretary "will offer a guarantee that the planned national identity database will hold no more personal details than contained on a passport". Charles Clarke has made no such guarantee, and the Home Office has always intended that the National Identity Register would hold much more, and much more intrusive, information than does a passport.
Specifically, under Schedule 1 of the Bill, the register will store, "particulars of every occasion on which information contained in the individual's entry has been provided to a person". That "audit trail" will record the details of every occasion on which a person presents their card to be checked; according to the Home Office, that will be whenever they consult a doctor, or visit a hospital or a public library or even go to the shops. So the register will build up a detailed picture of every card-holder's life - vastly more than the simple personal details shown on even the planned biometric passports. And under clause 22 of the Bill, this highly confidential information can be disclosed by the Government to anyone at any time for any purpose connected with a public service.
Troops undaunted by tough task in Iraq
Sir: I was disappointed by your story "Are British troops at breaking point in Iraq?" (18 October) which strung together a number of unrelated facts to make an unsubstantiated overall assertion.
I don't know when your reporter, Ian Herbert, was last in that country, but I visited Iraq last week and saw for myself the tremendous work being carried out by Armed Forces personnel. The state of morale was not an issue I came away with. We ask a lot of our military personnel: yes, it is tough; yes, it is dangerous; and yes, these tours are hard. But their professionalism, humour and commitment - when confronted by the very real difficulties they face in supporting the Iraqi people in building a new and better Iraq - shine through.
I never cease to be amazed by the operational appetite of our soldiers - there is a real hunger to deploy on operations.
GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON
CHIEF OF THE GENERAL STAFF MINISTRY OF DEFENCE LONDON SW1
New law needed for rail safety
Sir: The ruling out of criminal charges by the Crown Prosecution Services in relation to the Potters Bar rail crash highlights the inadequacy of existing legislation, and the urgent need for the new corporate manslaughter law, to provide a sense of justice for victims and their families.
The new corporate manslaughter law would remove the need to prove a "directing mind" in large corporate bodies for avoidable deaths arising from work. We believe the stigma from being prosecuted for manslaughter, coupled with fines such as those imposed on National Grid Transco, Network Rail and Balfour Beatty, will be an effective deterrent.
PRESIDENT, INSTITUTION OF OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH, WIGSTON, LEICESTERSHIRE
Novel titles for popular fiction
Sir: Miles Kington's thoughts on writing books with second-hand titles (18 October) were anticipated by P G Wodehouse in 1929.
He was delighted to have come up with Summer Lightning, but added, "My exuberance has been a little diminished since by the discovery that I am not the only one who thinks highly of it. Already I have been informed that two novels with the same name have been published in England, and my agent in America cables to say that three have recently been placed on the market in the United States ... I can only express the modest hope that this story will be considered worthy of inclusion in the list of the Hundred Best Books Called Summer Lightning."
Sir: The Independent is to be congratulated on the "Disappearing World" magazine (17 October). I am sure that the citizens of Hampstead are extremely high-minded, but I doubt the assertion of Dr James Lovelock that "A lot of London is fairly high - Hampstead is 300 feet above ground".
DR ALAN MOORE
Sir: Just for the record, as it were, Jonathan Brown ("So what have the Welsh ever done for us", 17 October) could equally have cited along with the mathematician Sir William Jones (of the
symbol) the Pembrokeshire-born Robert Recorde (c 1510-1558), who in his 1557 treatise on algebra, The Whetstone of Witte coined the mathematical symbol of equality (=) which remains in use to this day.
TIMOTHY P REES
Sir: Not all conservationists have expressed dismay at the approval of the windfarm on Romney Marsh, Kent, as you reported on 19 October. Shepway Friends of the Earth, along with our national office, Kent Green Party and local Greenpeace activists have all supported this scheme almost from its inception. We are thus all very pleased that it has been given the go-ahead and look forward to seeing it up and running in 2007.
SHEPWAY FRIENDS OF THE EARTH FOLKESTONE, KENT
Bird flu in Europe
Sir: Typically, we are now being told that the European Union "comes into its own" over a problem like bird flu. Exactly the opposite is true. Faced with the threat of a global pandemic, we find that effective international co-operation does not, and indeed cannot, depend upon all the participants making a prior commitment to merge their countries in "ever closer union".
DR D R COOPER
Sir: Will the Government take the opportunity presented by the threat of bird flu to announce an immediate ban on hen nights?
TITCHFIELD, HAMPSHIREReuse content