Letters: Pre-school funding

Changes in funding for pre-schools will have disastrous effect


Sir: The pre-school attended by my three-year-old son in Sevenoaks, Kent, is under threat from intended changes to the way that such schools are funded, as are many similar educational establishments.

Springboard Pre-School, where my son is very happy, has a higher number of staff than legally necessary to look after the children. It also has high-quality resources. This means that the children are very well cared for, but that Springboard's costs are high. Parents therefore currently fund the difference between the Government funding of £8.22 per playgroup session and what Springboard needs to cover its costs. This is a system that has worked to everyone's satisfaction for years.

From September, the Government will no longer allow pre-schools to charge this difference to parents, and Springboard, and countless other pre-schools, will no longer be able to cover their costs. They will have three choices: the first is to cut their costs by reducing staff numbers and therefore dramatically reducing the quality of care and the resources offered.

Second, pre-schools can opt out of state funding altogether and insist that parents pay for the full cost of care. This is not an option that everyone can afford and goes against the Government's current mantra of "parental choice", "free child care for all" and "family friendly policies".

Finally, the pre-schools could just close altogether. In Sevenoaks, most of the playgroups require a "top-up" from parents and a mass closure will mean very few pre-school places left for a large number of children. Does the Government seriously want all pre-school children at home with their parents until they are old enough to start school? They will lose out enormously both intellectually and socially.

Not allowing pre-schools to top-up the Government's funding by charging parents will be a disaster for the children who attend them and is an ill-thought through scheme.



Tragic lack of vision in Israel's actions

Sir: I write from a suburb overlooking Beirut, from which my family and I can see Israeli war planes and gun boats systematically implementing Ehud Olmert's orders to destroy everything that the Lebanese have achieved since the end of the civil war: airport, bridges and infrastructure, tourism and prosperity.

It seems clear to us that the Israeli military and its government has one, and only one, major objective; to reduce their neighbours, whether south in Gaza, east in the West Bank, or now north in Lebanon, to the most abject possible poverty. It beggars belief that Israel's government could possibly be so shortsighted as to believe that a great mass of poor and desperate Arabs clustered around their borders can possibly be to their benefit, yet this seems to be the case.



Sir: Robert Fisk ("What I am watching in Lebanon each day is an outrage", 14 July) did not find any outrage in the Hizbollah attack on Israeli sovereign territory, the killing of eight soldiers and the abduction of two. He is not outraged by the existence of an armed private militia in Lebanon, in violation of the UN decision that all armed militias have to be disbanded. He is not outraged by the presence of more than 10,000 Katyusha and other rockets, sent by Iran through Syria and stockpiled by Hizbollah. But he is very outraged by Israel's response to the attack. He forgets that, by bombing the airport and the road to Damascus, Israel is trying to prevent Iran and Syria from sending help to Hizbollah. The violence will end as soon as Hizbollah is removed from the border, its infrastructure is destroyed and the Lebanese army is deployed on the border.



Sir: If the world leaders assembled at the G8 summit consider two of their subjects together - Lebanon and Iran - they may come to some interesting conclusions. If I were an Iranian, looking at the lawless and barbaric Israeli war planes flying freely over the defenceless people and land of Lebanon, I would support my government to the utmost in its search (if search it be) for nuclear weapons. Relatively small or weak countries must now know that they can never defend themselves adequately with conventional weapons against more powerful enemies who have virtually unlimited American weaponry and support. Many of these countries will draw the obvious conclusion; that they need nuclear weapons to protect themselves. Is that what the world leaders want? If not, they would be well advised to restrain this Israeli assault on the people and country of Lebanon.



Sir: Paul Timperley talks of Israel "constructing fantasies around an Iranian threat" (Letters, 15 July). If only this were the case. Iran, in the form of its Hizbollah proxy, is already in southern Lebanon and right on Israel's northern border causing loss of life. Should just one of the Iran-supplied Hizbollah rockets carry chemical or biological weapons Israeli citizens would consider 4.5 minutes a luxury, let alone 45.



Sir: The true outrage in Lebanon is the continued presence there of Hizbollah, six years after the Israeli withdrawal, free to violate international frontiers with missiles and kidnapping gangs, in defiance of UN resolution 1559 that requires it to disarm. No doubt Israel overreacts. Would it not help if there were less to overreact to?




Sir: Why is it that when Hizbollah fires a rocket into Israel it gets mentioned continuously that "it was definitely Syrian", thus implicating that country in the aggression, but when Israel bombs Lebanon nobody mentions that the planes and the bombs "are definitely British and American"?



Sir: Israel demanding implementation of UN resolutions? Best joke I have heard in a long time!



Blair and the 'cash for peerages' scandal

Sir: I am sure that, like me, millions of lapsed and disappointed "pegs on noses" Labour voters are glad to learn that the police have taken their investigations into the "cash for peerages" scandal so seriously ("Levy arrest lays trail that leads all the way to Blair", 13 July).

On his election in 1997, Tony Blair said "We must be whiter than white", but he has turned out to be a rather grubby grey. Let's hope this potential cleansing of Augean stables includes the top man himself.

My only regret is that Blair's career might come to grief on the rocks of a sleazy financial scandal rather than being held to account for the lies and deceptions he foisted upon Parliament and the nation in pursuance of the illegal invasion of Iraq.



Sir: Regarding political funding, think not just of the scandals in acquiring the cash, but also of the waste of that cash; in puerile gimmicks, misleading spin and pointless hairdos, contrived photo opportunities and stage-managed conferences.

Why not save lots of unnecessary expense for all involved by setting an extremely low limit on total allowable election expenses? That might, just possibly, concentrate our politicians' minds on delivering some clear speeches, justifying their policies and even taking note of what is happening around them.



Communication with the deaf

Sir: The letter from Katherine Phipps of the RNID (14 July) obscures the fact that there is a divergence of views about how best to increase the number of hearing people able to communicate with deaf people.

I found Soundproof to be unwatchable. It appeared that the character of the non-hearing male suspect had been sanitised so as to appear more "normal" to a hearing audience. There was an almost complete absence of facial expression and body language, both of which I would have expected to see but which might be perceived to be outside the range of actions usually employed by hearing persons.

British Sign Language is difficult to master and the pass rate in examinations is low. This is why some hearing people prefer to learn Sign Supported English in order to communicate with those who are deaf. SSE emphasises "total communication" by means of signs, facial expression and body language.



The veil denies women's humanity

Sir: Islamic correspondents have made a direct comparison between the wearing of "provocative" clothes such as diminutive mini-skirts and the "modesty" of the hijab (letters, 12 July). But raunchy clothing is not obligatory or a customary requirement in western societies. (In any case, most women, most of the time, do not dress "provocatively"; it is just one of many permitted options.) Women who do not dress this way are not assaulted or even killed for not doing so, unlike those who do not wear hijab in some Islamic societies. The wearing of hijab on a western high street, even if entirely voluntary, cannot be dissociated from its being worn where it is compulsory and commanded by men.

Second, although it is not offensive to cover most of the body with outline-concealing loose garments, the covering of the face is a different matter. This is because the face, and its expressions, are the in-built primary source of inter-human recognition and communication, from the earliest moments of infancy. To require the covering of the face is to deny humanity. This, no less, is what men in some Islamic societies do to women.



Environmental costs of dishwashers

Sir: I read with shock your report of 15 July stating that washing dishes by hand uses up to 63 litres of water compared to nine litres using a dishwasher. Astounded that my twice-weekly wash could use so much water, I measured the capacity of my dish-washing basin and found to my relief that it used an average of 8 litres for my twice-weekly dish-washing routine. This water is then recycled into my garden.

I then re-read the article and realised the survey supposedly produced by Waterwise was in fact paid for by a dishwasher firm and a dish-washing rinse manufacturer. The article made no reference to the environmental costs of the electricity used by the machine, the resources used in its manufacture or the chemicals and packaging used in dishwashing detergents and chemical-based shining rinses. Dishes washed by hand dry naturally, with no need for electricity.

While manufacturers are to be praised for improving the efficiency of their products, it would be better if Waterwise, instead of further fuelling consumerism, promoted far cheaper and more effective means of reducing water wastage, such as using organic-based washing-up liquid to eliminate the need to rinse dishes, and installing variable controls on WCs, water-butts and aerating shower heads.



Energy matters

Sir: David King's mention of commercial fusion being 35 years in the future (Opinion, 16 July) brings to mind the joke that has been going around the fission industry for the last 50 years: the 35 years until we have fusion is a universal physics constant, like the speed of light. Anyway, 35 years will be too late. Atmospheric CO 2 will double by 2050. Only fission can stop it.



Sir: Why is it that nuclear power stations are referred to as power stations, but wind-turbine power stations are referred to as wind "farms". Should quarries now be referred to as "stone farms", coal and tin mines as coal and tin "farms"?




Sir: In a report on a cable car accident on 14 July, you gave the height of Aonach Mor, Britain's eighth highest mountain, as 2,150ft; that wouldn't even make it a munro! It is in fact 1,221m high, just over 4,000ft.



Efficacy of bike helmets

Sir: Your correspondents are wrong to judge the efficacy of bicycle helmets by asking A&E doctors (letters, 13 July). As a professional statistician, I suggest that cyclists who end up in A&E are almost certainly over-represented by helmet wearers convinced of their own immortality. My observations of fellow cyclists suggest that helmet wearers find it more difficult to turn their heads to look for oncoming traffic, and are more inclined to trust to fate when crossing busy junctions. While helmets might offer some protection, the best way to avoid serious injury is to avoid the accident in the first place.



Asbos for infants

Sir: Looking for T-shirts for my grandsons, aged one month and almost three, I went into my local Marks and Spencer. One offering for newborn babies carries the word "Troublemaker" on back and front, and another, for boys from three to 12, is decorated with the sentence "I'm bad and getting worse". I can only suppose that the marketing experts have discovered that parents actually want their sons to develop an anti-social attitude from infancy. No wonder society at large has difficulty with boys' behaviour when they are labelled in this way by their own parents.



Cooper is not alone

Sir: Robin Plackett (Letters, 15 July) says that we as a country dislike people who degrade women, brag about their clubs, venerate celebrities and so on. If only that were true. Cooper Brown may be a complete arse, but unfortunately he's not alone.



Sir: Presumably the fact that Cooper Brown is giving away his "exclusive T-shirts" disproves his claim that "you can sell any old shit over here".



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