Letters: Perspectives on academy schools

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Whole process is unacceptable

The timetable provided for the committee stage of the Academies Bill in the Commons is four hours, totally inadequate for proper debate about such a controversial Bill which will change completely the state education system in this country.

There has been no proper scrutiny of the academies model and there are many questions to be asked about the proposals in the Bill itself. The coalition Government programme is prefaced by the words "Freedom, Fairness and Responsibility" but this Bill is neither fair nor responsible.

Giving "freedom" to some schools rather than others is unfair, and with "freedom" comes even greater responsibility. There is no requirement to consult with parents if a school is considering becoming an academy and yet parents are being encouraged to open their own schools.

Schools which become academies as a result of this Bill will be depriving others of essential support and services by taking funding from local authorities. If the Department for Education has to make 25 per cent cuts where will be the capacity and expertise to provide support to the academies?

Insufficient thought has been given to the provision for children with special educational needs and very young children. There has been no Green or White Paper preceding the Bill to enable full discussion with stakeholders and the public.

The whole process is undemocratic and totally unacceptable.

Melian Mansfield, Campaign for State Education, London N8

This smacks of amateurism

As a governor of a community school rated outstanding by Ofsted, I am astounded at the indecent haste demonstrated by Michael Gove in promoting a movement to academy status.

As a school, we already have the freedoms from local authority control that are touted as a benefit. Some of those freedoms, such as admissions criteria, we choose not to exercise in the interests of co-operation with other local schools. Any additional freedoms we deem as unlikely to provide a superior education to our students. Second, overall control by our LA is laissez-faire and certainly doesn't align with the picture of heavy-handed state intervention painted by the Minister.

Finally, the main incentive to changeover lies in potentially increased funds for the school. These have to be offset against the cost of LA services that we would now have to procure commercially, and the business case is far from certain, notwithstanding the effect upon those residual LA services that would be left to local partner schools that remain LA-funded.

But the precise amount of increased funding available to us will be revealed by the Minister only after we have completed all stakeholder consultations and set up the necessary legal framework. So we have to convert to academy status before understanding whether this is financially viable.

As with so much of the new Conservative approach to policy, the whole thing smacks of rank amateurism.

M D Pickering, Braintree, Essex

Cameron idea is half-baked

Steve Richards is over-generous in ascribing honourable intentions to David Cameron's belief in the Big Society (20 July). As with the NHS reform proposals, these inchoate, half-baked ideas are little developed from their back-of-the-envelope origins. In truth, they represent a cack-handed attempt at misdirection as the coalition seeks to force through its cuts agenda.

As the 20th-century intellectual Karl Polanyi argued, the growth of government from the late 19th century was not a deliberate endeavour by power-hungry bureaucrats; instead, the state was drawn into the vacuum as an increasingly complex capitalist society threatened to disintegrate, and the inadequacy of voluntarism and self-help was laid bare.

In that light, the welfare state has become a victim of its own success by masking the havoc that undiluted market forces wreak on social cohesion. Fear of medical bills, the prohibitive cost of a university education, worry about what happens in old age, and the prospect of destitution through illness or disability had all faded from the collective memory only after the collapse of laissez-faire.

The idea that a resurgent voluntary sector could reverse this process is either disingenuous or deranged. Charities and communities will only ever be able to operate around the margins of social provision. There is no such thing as Big Society.

Charles Hopkins, Norwich, Norfolk

What's the point of having a democratic system in this country if unelected "community organisers" are to be foisted upon us as part of David Cameron's vacuous Big Society?

The basis of our voting system gives every one of us a chance to elect a representative, in central government and at local level, to take responsibility to govern on our behalf and we pay taxes to give them the resources to do this job for us. This is a necessary process which evolved in the first place because of the obvious conflict that will arise if you encourage groups of people to believe that they can make decisions on behalf of an area when they have not been given a mandate to do so by the majority in that area.

We should not allow our democratic system to be treated with contempt in this way, or else our society will pay a high price.

G E Purser, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

The Prime Minister wants a Big Society, local people meeting local needs. The most basic need is housing. Big government abolishes at a stroke regional housing targets. Local people universally resist housing developments on their patch for the 4.5 million people on housing waiting-lists. Jobless builders increase the cost of benefits and decrease income tax revenue. How many cheers for the Big Society?

Canon Christopher Hall, Banbury, Oxfordshire

We have high youth and graduate unemployment and yet Mr Cameron is calling for volunteers to organise and run services. His Big Society will enable the employed and the well-off to continue to enjoy libraries, museums, parks, theatres and other services without paying for them through taxes.

The young will be trapped in unpaid, or temporary, work with no prospect of saving for the future. There is a role for the "state" to provide public "goods" to be enjoyed by all and funded from taxes levied according to means.

Stuart Bennett, Sheffield

It is remarkable and welcome that our Prime Minister wants to strengthen local voluntary action and has made this a priority for his government.

Success will mean in five years' time that many more people are volunteering in their communities, there are many more neighbourhood groups, most people are donating regularly to local charities and most local companies are supporting local causes.

This will not happen because the government says so. It needs patient, long-term development work by support charities such as Councils for Voluntary Service and Volunteer Centres.

It is precisely these organisations which are now being hit by deep cuts in local authority grants. There is a serious disconnect between the aspiration to build a Big Society and cuts in funding to local charities.

Kevin Curley, Chief Executive, National Association for Voluntary and Community Action, Sheffield

I challenge anyone to come up with a worse sick joke than David Cameron's, "We're all in this together". Could he explain – as a multi-millionaire – what on earth he has in common with the rest of us and our worries about losing our jobs, losing our homes, feeding and clothing ourselves and our children and paying our bills?

Stanley Knill, London N15

Lawson correct on taxing cows

Of course, Dominic Lawson is quite correct ("If we tax cars, then why not cattle", 20 July) when he spots the confusion about taxing cars but not cattle. We at the Environmental Transport Association, the world's only carbon-offset motoring organisation, have consistently told government to introduce a carbon tax that showed no bias in the source of the carbon, whether it be from heating homes, driving cars, making cement or keeping cows.

Climate change does not care about the source of the climate-changing gases and nor should we. Any significant source of climate-change gas which can be independently measured and taxed in a cost-effective manner should be included. We are then left to make our purchasing choices accordingly.

Where Mr Lawson is incorrect is that, for the ETA at least, dealing with climate change is not seen as a costly or a hair-shirt experience if undertaken carefully. Dealing with climate change is small beer compared to fixing the government's deficit or correcting the impending pension provision problem.

Once cows become taxed for their climate-change effects then farmers will quickly rear cows on the best possible diet and that might, or might not, include curry spices.

Andrew Davis, Director, Environmental Transport Association, Weybridge, Surrey

So, Dominic Lawson takes climate change seriously and advocates vegetarianism. Well, not quite, but he suggests the abolition of subsidies for livestock farming and a tax on meat consumption.

Alas, he still insists on caricaturing environmentalists as hair-shirted puritans who see the imposition of global suffering and poverty as essential to their cause. Such nonsense aside, Mr Lawson is on the right track, but persuading the public of the need to eat less meat will not be easy.

Since the environmental impact of different types of livestock production varies from relatively sustainable to grossly damaging, perhaps it would be best to strongly discourage the latter, rather than treating all meat as equally sinful?

Andrew Clifton, Edgware, Middlesex

Is Kellogg's the right choice?

When Kellogg's started urging children to eat its Coco Pops (sugar content: one third) not just for breakfast but as an after-school snack, campaigners questioned whether this undermined key messages of the Change4Life campaign, of which Kellogg's is a partner, which urges consumers to switch to healthier snacks and reduce their sugar consumption.

Surely the new Government's plans to hand its anti-obesity campaign over to corporate partners ("Food firms take over anti-obesity campaign", 8 July) represent an even greater conflict of interest?

In leaving the nation's health to "personal responsibility" and the interests of companies whose profits are primarily derived from sales of precisely the products we should be consuming less of, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley fails to acknowledge the responsibility of food businesses to reformulate their products to reduce high levels of fat, sugar and salt, adopt the clear traffic-light labelling system recommended by the Food Standards Agency, and stop marketing their unhealthiest products to children, as the Children's Food Campaign – supported by more than 150 national organisations – has long highlighted.

Christine Haigh, Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, London N1

NFU baffled by drop in kestrels

With reference to your article "Kestrel population plunges by a third" (19 July), the NFU is also baffled by the recent decline in kestrel numbers. But the differing responses by different bird species clearly demonstrate that the reasons for the decline in some species are likely to be far more complex than solely due to agricultural influences.

Agriculture has moved a long way since the early 1970s and farmers are working hard to maintain and enhance rural habitats through their participation in agri-environment schemes and the NFU-supported Campaign for the Farmed Environment.

Recent figures show that some 6.5million hectares are now in some sort of managed agreement, and the NFU, in partnership with government and wildlife organisations including the RSPB, is working hard to protect and enhance the countryside by encouraging farmers to make the right environmental choices.

Dr Diane Mitchell, NFU chief environment adviser, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire

Moat aside was a hoot

I much enjoyed your correspondent Christina Patterson's piece on Raoul Moat (17 July). Her witty aside in the second paragraph referring to him as a "bastard" for lumping journalists in with police officers was a hoot.

As a murder-squad officer and member of a team which has recently had two successful prosecutions for two separate double murders in London, I could not believe the temerity of the man for comparing our professions and dragging journalism down to the level of policing.

Ms Patterson was quite right to point this out as wrong. As she sits to write her column on the important matters of the week, commenting on what others do or say, it must be hellish to come up with such insightful and amusing copy.

Keep up the good work, Ms Patterson.

John Shrimpton, London SE9

How will banks replace cheques?

I recently received a leaflet from my bank concerning changes in their terms and conditions, including no longer being able to use bank cards to guarantee cheques from 30 June 2011 "to reflect the Payment Council's decision to make an industry-wide withdrawal of the cheque guarantee facility".

There was no explanation beyond that, but a visit to my bank confirmed that this was indeed part of a policy to do away with cheques by 2018. The official I spoke to admitted that there was at present no practical alternative method of settling payment (other than cash) when dealing with small tradesmen and craftsmen or for local organisations.

It is common knowledge that the banks do not like the expense involved in handling cheques, but this does not justify setting a date for abolition without any viable system to replace them. The panjandrums of the banking world must put the needs of customers before their own convenience.

John Whitton, Exeter

Veil is a way to control women

Those who have leapt to the defence of the burka in recent days have yet, I feel, to come up with a persuasive line of reasoning (letters, 21 July). On the face of it, they seem to be doing the right thing. In reality, they end up defending a woman's right to have her rights taken away from her. This is illogical and absurd.

As others have pointed out, wearing the burka is not a requirement of Islam. If it were, Syria would not have been able to ban the garment from university campuses this week. The veil is about controlling women. Anything that conceals a woman's face makes it nigh on impossible for her to enter into a loving relationship with someone of her own choosing.

Philip Edwards, Godalming, Surrey

Hardly science

It seems obvious to me that filling a tick-box questionnaire on the advantages and disadvantages of CCTV and mobile phones (Education, 15 July) has as much to do with science as filling a similar questionnaire on whether Disney should run Pompeii has to do with learning Latin. Is this the "science" whose protected status in the National Curriculum is causing history and languages to be sidelined?

Carolyn Beckingham, Lewes, East Sussex

No equation

Contrary to the views of Mary Ann Sieghart (Comment, 19 July), the Catholic Church has not elevated the ordination of women and the sexual abuse of children to the same level of offence. The Vatican has made it clear that the inclusion of child sex-abuse by clerics and the irregular ordination of women in the same document was not intended to imply an equation between the two, the former being a moral crime and the latter a sacramental offence.

C D C Armstrong, Belfast

Think again

Could it be that the view expressed by the vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, that "deep thoughts" are an unnecessary aspect of student life ("Cable initiates the age of the two-year degree", 14 July), helps explain the culture of commanding shallowness by which we are surrounded?

David Punter, Professor of English, Bristol