Letters: Perspectives on child education

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Not enough done for poor readers

We read with interest the report (11 July) that the "majority of deprived 11-year-olds cannot read or write". During 2008 and 2009, we administered reading assessments to a large representative sample of UK schoolchildren. Our research also shows that reading difficulties are more prevalent among children from homes with a high level of social deprivation.

In Years 3-6 of primary school, 53 per cent of the children we identified with reading difficulties came from homes with a high level of social deprivation. This compares with just 10 per cent of poor readers who had a home background with the lowest level of social deprivation.

A similar pattern is observed in secondary school, with 39 per cent of poor readers coming from home backgrounds with a high level of social deprivation (compared with just 4 per cent from backgrounds with the lowest level of deprivation). We need a systematic approach to identify and support these children.

Our research indicates that many poor readers have needs that are not being met. At the start of Year 7, 51 per cent of the children we identified with reading difficulty were not on the school register of special education needs and presumably not therefore in receipt of additional support to address their difficulties.

This picture of under-identification continues through the secondary schools years; 58 per cent of poor readers in years 10 and 11 were not on the school SEN register.

This high rate of under-identification is a major concern. There is a wealth of research evidence indicating which factors place children at risk of literacy difficulties and identifying effective interventions to support these children.

It is essential that children with reading difficulties are identified during Key Stage 1 and effective interventions put in place long before secondary school.

Unless poor readers are identified and appropriate support put in place, their weak literacy skills will impact across the curriculum, impairing educational success, reducing occupational opportunities and thereby perpetuating the cycle of poor socio-economic outcome.

Dr Sue Stothard, Professor Maggie Snowling, Professor Charles Hulme, Centre for Reading and Language, University of York

Deprived by budget cuts

Poor white children are doing worst not just because of their parents (letters, 12 July), but also because the present economic climate makes money even tighter for these families. Hence less is spent on books, trips away and other educational resources.

Bangladeshi children do better because even though they live in families with similar financial conditions, they have an extensive community to draw upon. This, I suspect, is at the heart of the decline in poor white children's achievement.

Now many of them will lose their libraries, their community centres and many other meeting places.

Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands

A key player in the NI scandal

Amid all the furore and calls for inquiries into the withdrawn Murdoch bid for 100 per cent of BSkyB one key player seems to have been overlooked: the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell.

When Vince Cable was unsurprisingly removed from the task of conducting the review into News Corp's suitability for his naive comments to undercover journalists last December, the Prime Minister appointed the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to undertake that role.

Doubtless mindful of potential criticism, he asked Sir Gus to look into Jeremy Hunt's suitability. Sir Gus took 24 hours to investigate and give his approval.

Objections from Labour's John Denham were rejected, in spite of substantial evidence of Mr Hunt's former pro-Murdoch bias.

What inquiries were made by the Cabinet Secretary, who was interviewed, what input was invited and how can the decision on this vital appointment have been made so speedily, unless Sir Gus was keen to provide the only answer that the PM wanted to hear?

Terry Cartwright, Farnham, Surrey

Murdoch may be many things, but one thing he has not been accused of is incorrectly overestimating the tastes of the public. The public want bums'n'tits on page 3? The public gets them. The public wants celebrity tittle-tattle? That's what they get. The public wants to vicariously listen into the grief of the bereaved and the families of the missing? Then the public will get that too.

Every one of their regular readers and buyers has a personal, individual responsibility for their choices, choices which have encouraged Murdoch to pander to them.

Aidan Karley, Aberdeen

It is, of course, reassuring that plus ça change plus c'est la même chose, so that I won't yet need to adjust my understanding of how the world works. In closing the News of the World, News International has rendered most of its employees unemployed, most of whom were as unaware as its victims of the phone hacking it was engaged in, while the senior executives survive.

Dennis Leachman, Reading, Berkshire

Your front page of 5 July says that the News of the World deleted messages on Milly Dowler's phone, and I quote, "This led Surrey Police and the Dowler family to believe that she may be alive".

"Might" rather than "may", surely? "May" gives entirely the wrong impression.

Hugh Hollinghurst, Liverpool

In the mid-1990s, I had three articles published in the Times Educational Supplement, owned by News International. Payment arrived promptly and was three or four times more than I had been expecting. In a flash, I realised that those who described Rupert Murdoch as a great motivator who could inspire deep loyalty were on to something.

Ivor Morgan, Lincoln

As revelations of illegality, corruption and complicity spill beyond Wapping's razor-wire fences to Scotland Yard, Downing Street and beyond, perhaps George Osborne's well-worn phrase could be requisitioned by the likes of Murdoch and Brooks, Cameron and Blair, Yates and Hayman, "We're all in this together".

Stefan Simanowitz, London NW3

"We got the phone hacking we wanted" (Dominic Lawson, 12 July)? Then why do we read The Independent?

Mark Elf, Dagenham, Essex

At last! Irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing; welcome indeed to the galumphing forces of justice represented by the hapless Scotland Yard. In your photograph (11 July), Rupert Murdoch is caught bang to rights, riding in a car without a seatbelt.

Richard Jeffcoat, Birmingham

Opening eyes to private eyes

Perhaps I can refer to the cure-all term of private investigator and its misuse by the press. The "journeyman" private investigator in 2011 spends his day undertaking investigatory work that will, inevitably, end up in some court or other.

To obtain information illegally would negate the obtaining of that evidence and would lead to many PIs being prosecuted for breaching the Data Protection Act. This doesn't happen so it is obvious that members of the profession follow the law. It is simple; we have to. It's a matter of record that most fines issued to PIs by the ICO are for the failure to register with them and not for breaches of Section 55.

Of those who regularly breach Section 55 of the Data Protection Act they are blaggers pure and simple and have little or no connection to this industry. The fact that the media tags them with the term "Private Investigator" doesn't make it so.

There are some 10,000 private investigators in the UK, most of whom have neither the intention or the moral turpitude to behave as you suggest. At present, anyone can set up and call themselves a private investigator, be they a convicted criminal or anything else. The licensing of private investigators would go a long way to weeding out the unsavoury, and we will continue to lobby for its inception, because we want rid of them too.

Tony Smith, General & Membership secretary, World Association of Private Investigators, London W1

Appalling way to deliver 'care'

I was appalled to read the case of Ms Elaine McDonald (7 July). My reaction was further fuelled by hearing council spokesmen during the day (on radio and television) calmly describe as acceptable the provision of pads to this (continent) lady to use in her bed, as she will no longer have help to get out at night, and for her to lie in this state until help appears in the morning.

Could any of those involved in this decision accept this for themselves ? Would they approve this for their own mothers or grandmothers ? Will this be the future standard of "care" and concern for dignity, and where will it go from here ?

I would also question the long-term implications for deliberately leaving an immobile person on soiled incontinence pads. The results could be far more costly to resolve (for a different sector of the services no doubt), and diminish further this person's quality of life through the painful and potentially irreversible effects on her skin.

Fran Oates, Waltham St Lawrence, Berkshire

How much less "affordable" does care have to be when 16 per cent of England's population is aged over 65 and the cost of long term care is projected at 0.25 per cent of total public expenditure? Perhaps those who resist Dilnot's recommendations have no notion that one day they too will be old and possibly very frail. I just hope they don't live to regret their failure of imagination along with the rest of us.

Paula Jones, London SW20

Unjust slur on public sector

When Steve Richards (28 June) delivered a lecture on a cruise ship, why was he surprised to find that his audience appeared to comprise mostly retired public-sector employees?

It is surely no surprise to him that cruises are a popular form of holiday among the retired, so why should public servants not enjoy a similar lifestyle to people who have worked in the private sector?

It's also perfectly possible that the subject matter of his lecture drew a disproportionate number of retired public servants compared with cruise-goers of other ages and backgrounds

He then asserts that many of them had been drawing "a generous pension" (how does he know this? And "generous" by whose standards?) since their mid-fifties. Really? Did he conduct a survey? Most public servants cannot access their pensions before the age of 60, and those who can do so have to accept a permanently lower level of pension than those who wait until 60 or later. The maximum pension of half of final salary is (for most public-sector employees) available only to those who have paid into the pension scheme for 40 years of full-time employment; most pensions fall far short of this.

Steve Richards seems to have made the assumption that if former public servants can afford a cruise in their retirement, this shows that their pensions are unsustainably high. Does he apply this to everyone over 60 who goes on a cruise, or just the ex-public servants? Does he consider that people may have saved money while they were working, or inherited money, to put towards a special holiday?

Later in the article he acknowledges that some public-sector pension funds are in fact fully self-funding and have as yet made no demands on the taxpayer. He should understand that the people who pay into these schemes may feel aggrieved and anxious that the proposed cuts to their pensions are to be used to pay off immediate government debts rather than to secure their futures.

For the government to increase the contribution rates, reduce the pension levels, and increase the age of pension eligibility all at once, and during a pay freeze, is a panic-driven measure, and too much to expect workers to bear.

Marjorie Clarke, Totnes, Devon

Inspector defeats local plan ban

That local authorities are unable to oppose the arrival of a large supermarket ("MPs battle to save the nation's high streets", 5 July) is spectacularly in evidence in Darlington.

Last year, Darlington Borough Council refused a planning application from Sainsbury's to double in size their existing store, saying the development would not be good for the vitality and viability of the town centre. They based their decision on a detailed retail study and on widespread opposition from the local community.

Sainsbury's appealed the decision, and a planning inspector from the central Planning Inspectorate gave his verdict, that the proposal will be of benefit to Darlington and is to be allowed. How undermining for both local democracy and for sustainable food networks and the economic, social and environmental benefits they bring to local communities.

What does our government honestly think is more important: shareholder profits and consumer rights to buy ever greater quantities of cheap tat, or healthy town centres and sustainable local economies?

Lara Marsh, Ninebanks, Northumberland

Being sensitive to suicides

While suicide rates rose sharply across Europe (report, 8 July) they fell in one country, Austria, where the media are very conscious of their responsibility in describing self-harm. Sensationalised and repetitive accounts of individual cases, especially violent deaths, are known to trigger copycat suicides, the so-called Werther effect.

Happily, the opposite phenomenon can also occur. Sensitive reporting of people coping with a crisis by adopting constructive, not self-destructive, strategies is linked to lower suicide rates.

This preventive outcome has recently been described by researchers from the University of Vienna, in the British Journal of Psychiatry, as the "Papageno effect", to honour the eponymous character who was persuaded not to take his own life in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute. The role of the media, particularly newspapers, in reporting suicides should not be underestimated.

Dr John Doherty, Vienna, Austria.

You'll get a kick out of this

Lesley Milne (letters, 8 July) wonders in which sport we kick into the long grass. At first, this was "kick into touch", as in rugby, a good thing to do when you want breathing space. But this became confused with golf where you hit the ball into the long grass, a bad thing.

A similar confusion exists with "drawing a line in the sand". This means you really do not intend to draw a line: the sand soon shifts and the line disappears.

George Gordon, Wantage, Oxfordshire

Clichés save valuable thinking-time. What's not to like?

Roger Sawyer, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

More backing for independence

I have no reason to doubt that Andrew Hawkins, chairman of the polling firm ComRes, is trying honestly to interpret the statistic that just more than a third of Scots and English people support Scottish independence.

But to say that "Scottishness itself is specious, that Scots are simply those who live in the northernmost part of Great Britain" (as reported by Dominic Lawson, 5 July), is a staggeringly inept analysis.

Indeed, few interventions could be more precisely calculated to encourage us Scots to believe that our distinctiveness could be appreciated only within a distinct sovereign state, disrupting the coincidence of view he has identified.

Derek Young, Edinburgh

Number's up

Congratulations are due to David and Victoria Beckham. A propos of nothing, the idea of using numbers as names was entertainingly highlighted by Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker in their Channel 4 comedy, Nathan Barley. 15Peter20,any1?

Angelo Micciche, St Erth, Cornwall

To the hilt

Terence Blacker (Viewspaper, 8 July) suggests the BBC should thunder against people who reply "Absolutely" in interviews rather than "Yes" when they agree with something. Do I agree with him? Indeed, very much so.

Max Double, Amesbury, Wiltshire

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