Letters: Pep talks from soldiers won’t rescue education

These letters appear in the 9 December issue of The Independent

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The Education Secretary’s idea of placing more ex-soldiers in schools to instil values such as character, resilience and determination are a risible, cheap gimmick.

There is no evidence that having some sort of “pep talk” from an ex-soldier can result in the desired outcomes. Children are influenced by a multitude of factors inside and outside school. These might include sport, youth clubs, secure housing, attentive parents, household income, and access to early intervention services focused on their emotional well-being.

But when you are living on a deprived estate, in poverty, with parents trying to cope on minimum wages, using a food bank and suffering drug and alcohol abuse due to mental illness, then the odds are stacked against you.

Using Army veterans is at best tokenism, at worst an abuse of soldiers who have served their country, and report that they feel discarded, unsupported and left to cope with mental health problems.

Steven Walker

Retired Psychotherapist

Walton on Naze, Essex


Richard Garner contends that “the CBI first drew attention to the need [for schools] to produce more ‘rounded and grounded’ human beings” (“Former soldiers will be drafted into schools to help build pupils’ character”, 8 December).

Colleagues I worked with during my career from 1980 onwards complained bitterly about the attempts by successive governments to turn state schools into exam factories. In 1985 we saw the introduction of the directed time initiative (I ran out of my directed hours for the academic year by April and went on strike for the first and only time).

The National Curriculum followed in 1988 and although a sensible attempt to rationalise what was taught, it quickly became a straitjacket and a bar to anything not considered by ministers to be “important” subjects. 

The sell-off of sports grounds in the 1990s further damaged the “rounding” curriculum in many schools and colleges, and league tables put the final nail in the coffin. 

My own state school education in the 1960s and 1970s, allegedly a time of incompetent teachers and hours wasted on wishy-washy pupil-centred education, was a rich experience of music, art, cookery, nature trails and sport, in addition to Latin, modern languages and three separate sciences. 

Successive leaders of industry, in cahoots with a variety of governments, helped to do for the liberal arts type of education I was lucky enough to receive, through their demands for “better qualified” drones. Teachers of my generation have fought long and bitterly to retain the “rounding and grounding” activities that existed when we first began work, and have been told times without number that they were an excuse to avoid the hard work required to “raise  standards”, and that we are an obstacle to providing pupils “equipped for the modern world”. 

We should be grateful that the CBI has seen the light, but it is galling in the extreme that for 30 years the voices of people who know what it is like to educate young people have been ignored.

Kathy Moyse

Cobham, Surrey


Labour, be radical, edgy and bold

John Pinkerton asks why Labour does not adopt more radical policies (letter, 8 December). I am equally baffled, and now despairing. I am beginning to think that a vote for Labour is a wasted vote: the say-nothing, do-nothing, mean-nothing party.

As a Labour Party member since 1983 I wonder why it is that, in 2014, Labour has not found an authentic voice that chimes with ordinary people’s life experiences. For Labour the next general election should be a walk in the park, with the right-wing vote split and the Lib Dems disappearing: but it is Labour that struggles to be heard.

So Labour, abandon the soft clichés, the feeble, fragile attempts at tinkering at the edges of society’s ills. Be radical, be edgy, be bold, wake up, and wake up the population of Britain by putting ordinary people first. Then the voters will take notice. They may not agree but at least they would have noticed you.

Frank Jacobs

London E3


Osborne ducks fuel price challenge

I despair. The Chancellor has once again actively taken the step of not applying the fuel escalator, even though the price  of  petrol is in decline and is likely to remain much reduced for the foreseeable future.

What will be the result of this? An increase in the likelihood of disastrous consequences for the future of the world’s climate, and a failure to collect much-needed revenue. 

And what would have been the consequences had he not taken this step: merely short-term unpopularity, soon forgotten as the motorist fails to see a persistent rise in price.

What does this say about the Chancellor’s values, even given the degree of self-interest to which we have become accustomed in many of our  politicians.

Richard Wilton

Kilspindie, Perthshire


Holocaust  in Africa

In his interesting reflection on the Armenian Holocaust (1 December), Robert Fisk notes the involvement of members of the Kaiser’s army who later turned up in Hitler’s Wehrmacht “helping to organise the mass killing of Jews”, thus illustrating an instructive German involvement in the two holocausts.

However, he overlooks the first holocaust of the 20th century – which was not in Armenia but German South West Africa (now Namibia), where the indigenous Herero people were systematically rounded up into concentration camps and massacred to make way for the Kaiser’s “place in the sun”. The Reichskommissar in charge of creating this German Lebensraum (living space) was Heinrich Goering, whose son, Hermann, would become Hitler’s Reichsmarschall.

Nor was it a coincidence that many Nazi functionaries who learnt their trade in the German colonies would – in the words of Viktor Bottcher, Governor of Posen in 1939 (and a former civil servant in the German Cameroon) – go on “to perform in the east of the Reich the constructive work they had once carried out in Africa”.

Thus the holocausts of the 20th century reveal a sinister link in the mentality of colonial contempt for supposedly “inferior” people.

Dominic Kirkham



Rank-and-file bankers share the guilt

Simone Stanbrook (letter, 5 December) asks that we treat the rank and file of the banking system differently from the “fat cats” of the higher echelons.

Yet it was these ordinary bankers in my local branch who caused me to be crippled with outgoings of nearly £200 a month for payment protection insurance while trying to build a modest business in a difficult climate down here in the South-west.

It was a rank-and-file man who instructed me to take out an expensive life policy to support a business overdraft because “we don’t like to have to go after your relatives should anything unfortunate happen to you”.

There’s something about the defence of “We were only following orders” that doesn’t quite hit the spot for me.

John Hade

Totnes, Devon


Party with the guts to confront Trident

Allan Williams (letter, 6 December) is right about the vile nature of the awful Trident renewal programme, but not quite right in asserting that no political party has the guts to confront that obscenity.

The Green Party’s policy on peace and defence explicitly states that the party “rejects any reliance on nuclear weapons. This rejection means that we will decommission UK’s own nuclear weapons and insist on the removal of US nuclear bases.” Now there’s something to cheer for.

Richard Carter

London SW15


Your article (3 December) on the massive growth in Green Party membership is welcome. But please note that actually our figures are even better than you have said.

Our party membership totals 36,000 once one includes Scottish and Northern Ireland Green Party members too. For they number 8,000, taking us very close to Ukip’s membership total.

The Scottish and Northern Irish Greens have separate parties because we practice what we preach, genuinely believing in independence and devolution.

Dr Rupert Read

Green Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge. 

School of Philosophy, Politics and Languages, University of East Anglia

Ban this bullying of suppliers

“The news that Premier Foods could be forcing its suppliers into controversial ‘pay to stay’ arrangements is deeply disturbing,” said the director general of the Institute of Directors (“Premier is shot down for ‘pointing gun’ at suppliers”, 6 December). It is more than that, it is reverse bribery under duress and there should be a law against it.

Geoff Naylor