Letters: PE lessons

Non-sporty children are not discriminated against in PE lessons
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Sir: As one of the "least qualified and least intelligent teachers", I humbly beg the right to reply to Johann Hari's article (22 May) regarding the way PE is taught in schools.

If you were to go into the majority of secondary schools in this country, you would find a physical education department staffed by well trained men and women whose primary concern is to bring the enjoyment of sport to as many young people as they can. The lessons are planned around principles of inclusion and differentiation so that the activities appeal and educate everyone to the level they are capable of reaching.

The majority of PE teachers are caring individuals who get as much pleasure from a completely non-sporty person beaming at the end of a lesson as they do from the appearance of trophy silverware.

The best example I can give is from my own department. I teach in a girls' school where we focus on two strands of PE teaching. During the lesson the emphasis is upon skill development, health and exercise and understanding of the sports. The pupils will learn how to play a sport, how to improve their general health and well-being and how to work as part of a team, pair or in a co-operative situation. And our school is not unique. Across the country there are government initiatives involving partnerships of schools sharing good practice, there are specialists helping out the teachers in primary schools to provide a good PE experience, and the immensely popular Sports Awards schemes help young people develop self -confidence and leadership qualities.

I am sorry that Johann Hari had such a bad experience as a child, but the picture he paints of sport in schools should be sepia-tinged, as it is so out of date.



Sir: Thank you Johann Hari ("A new kind of PE could cure childhood obesity", 22 May) for your brilliantly accurate and honest article on school PE lessons.

I am a mother of two attractive, intelligent teenage (and plus) children, neither of whom were skinny nor fat as youngsters, yet still suffered the humiliations of those which you describe during PE lessons.

The idea of treating pupils in English lessons in the same discriminatory way as they are in PE lessons is so ridiculous that it completely highlights the trauma regularly experienced by the less competitive pupils and it is a form of psychological abuse.

This, like Jamie Oliver's school dinners campaign should be a front page headliner, backed up by a determined campaign for change.



'Gestapo' raid on Brian Haw

Sir: The truncation of Brian Haw's Parliament Square "display" to within the legally permitted length, could have been achieved by two Environmental Health operatives and a small van from Westminster City Council, accompanied by two police officers, at 6 o'clock in the morning. That would have been the sensible, practical, minimum-cost strategy.

The excessive, expensive and ostentatious exercise mounted by the Metropolitan Police appears to demonstrate official frustration that Mr Haw has retained his basic civil right (thankfully, but only through incompetent drafting of legislation). Through such oppression, the force's politicisation becomes daily more overt. Sir Ian Blair must be held to account for this, and for the excessive expenditure ("Police criticised for £7,200 cost of removing anti-war placards", 26 May).



Sir: Again we witness the underhand behaviour of this state in the whittling away of our civil liberties. First, we see the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 rushed through Parliament without proper debate and to the surprise of this nation free protest around Whitehall is outlawed.

The media and population revelled in shock when I was prosecuted in December last year for peacefully reading out the names of British soldiers killed in Iraq.

Now, a symbol of democracy and freedom of speech, Brian Haw has had his display removed in the middle of the night, 2.45am to be precise.

Can we still claim to live in a free country when 50 police officers turn up in the early hours to remove placards, banners and personal possessions of one man whose constant demonstration of the illegal war and mistreatment of Iraqis has proven to be too much of an embarrassment for the Government. This is a very sad and significant day for this country.



Sir: Why did the raid on Brian Haw have to be in the early hours? It is common for secret police in dictatorial states to act at the "Gestapo hour" to terrify their victims. It looks a lot as if the police were being vindictive. No doubt, they also hoped they would avoid too much publicity.

We admire and wholeheartedly thank our security forces and the police when they stop potential terrorist attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice. I really do not want my desire to trust the state destroyed by its folly in persecuting innocent protesters.



Sir: As somebody who was against the Iraq war and other issues, I went down to London a few times and was appalled at the mess Brian Haw and possibly others had made outside the Houses of Parliament. There was really no need for it.

Whenever I had campaigned there, I never made the place look so unkempt. The police and Tony Blair are right to clean the place up. By all means protest but don't make it into a tip in the process. It is a beautiful building and deserves a bit of respect.



Compromise over Darfur peace talks

Sir: Julie Flint is an authoritative commentator on Darfur, so I was slightly surprised by her article "A peace plan not worth the paper it's written on", (26 May).

I attended the last days of the Darfur Peace Talks earlier this month to try to help both sides find a solution, not to tell them what to do. The agreement is a good one, but not perfect. All sides have compromised more than they wanted to. But such is the nature of negotiation, and I know she would agree that the only viable political solution for Darfur is through a negotiated settlement.

The most important thing about this agreement is that it gives the people of Darfur the right to vote for regional government - which was the rebel movements' main demand - in a referendum. The only alternative is yet more violence and suffering, which is unacceptable.

Only the Sudanese government and the people of Darfur can make peace, and make it work. Outsiders cannot do it for them. But we can, and will, help anybody who is serious about trying.



Support for the civil service

Sir: Mary Dejevsky's depiction (23 May) of the civil service as "the last great vested interest in this country" that has been left largely untouched by Labour since 1997 will bemuse all those who work within it.

Much to the disappointment and dismay of the members of my union, the present government has continued the Tory policy of privatisation and job cuts. For example, over 15,000 jobs have gone from the Department of Work and Pensions in recent years. Ministers are intent on thousands more. Core services have been hived off to private sector companies.

And what has this policy achieved? Not the hyper-efficient public service we were told to expect. The Work and Pensions Select Committee recently concluded there had been a "catastrophic failure" of services because of the Government's so-called "efficiency" programme.

In truth, high quality public services require public servants to deliver them. We are not only ones who think so. A YouGov survey in 2005 found that 89 per cent of the public want public services delivered by government - not the private sector. Should we abolish the civil service? Those who depend on the vital services and the support they offer appear to think not.



Everest death

Sir: The news that a man was left to die under a rock on Everest was truly awful (24 May). That approximately 40 people went past this young man is unconscionable. Even if nothing could be done to save his life, surely some effort could have been made to bring him down and sit with him in his last hours? The fact that a summit attempt is worth more than an attempt to save a man's life beggars belief. The people who passed David Sharp should be held accountable for their actions. My deepest sympathies go to David Sharp's family and friends.



Missing newts

Sir: Has anyone else noticed a disappearance of newts in their garden ponds? We have been in our north London house for 24 years and until recently our pond was full of breeding newts every spring. For the last two years there have been no newts. The pond and garden have not been changed in any marked way.

There is said to be a worldwide reduction in the population of amphibians. Is this further evidence of the same trend?



Brunel's ships

Sir: The painting you show (26 May) purporting to be the SS Great Britain is in fact, an earlier ship designed by the great man - SS Great Western. SS Great Britain was the first iron-hulled, screw driven, ocean going ship in the world which is why its preservation is so important; Mr Brunel must be spinning in his grave!



Sir: Thank you Independent. For years now I've wanted to write a letter using the phrase, "this is political correctness, gone mad" and now you've provided the perfect opportunity ("Brunel's 'Great Britain' turned from corroded wreck into prize-winner", 26 May). Where in your photograph is Isambard's cigar?



Cycling habits

Sir: Mark Ormiston thinks that "If Government and councils put in proper cycle routes the cyclists would stay in them, the pavements would be for pedestrians and the this petty name-calling would stop" (Letters, 26 May).

You'd think so, but sadly, this turns out not to be the case. Certain roads around Cambridge, for example, have very nice cycle lanes adjacent, and yet numerous cyclists persist in riding on the road, amongst the hated cars.

I don't know why they do this, unless it involves some kind of macho self-righteousness, but the obvious consequence is that motorists who are sympathetic to cyclists suffer added stress, and those who aren't have their prejudices confirmed.



Cricket moves

Sir: Angus Fraser ("Plunkett puts England on top", 26 May) reckons one reason for the Sri Lankans' "paltry total" in the second test match is their "vulnerability against the moving ball": does he advise them to stick to golf?