Letters: Primary children’s ‘good marks’ prove nothing

These letters appear in the Saturday 20th July edition of the Independent

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Based on the recently published government findings that half of the children who gain a “good mark” in the English and mathematics tests at 11 do not “gain decent GCSE grades”, a punitive ranking system of future primary pupils is to be introduced.

Would it not have been more sensible if those advising the government on these matters had suggested an investigation into the means and practices by which those 11-year-old pupils had garnered the “good mark”?

Data collected by my research team from Manchester University  (paid for and ignored by the Department for Education!) from the mid-1990s until  2008 evidenced that test preparation was excessive  and teaching in those tested subjects was concentrating solely on tested items to the detriment of the depth of teaching and consequently learning.

In short, a misrepresentative profile of primary “success” to meet government targets was being painted with the inevitable “falling away” during secondary education.

If the government, in response to the messages from the 10-year data survey, had introduced either light-touch sampling or, even better, a rigorous continuous-assessment programme across the majority (rather than a core minority) of subjects, this debate would be in more positive mode by now. 

Professor Bill Boyle, Chair of Educational Assessment, University of Manchester

Where crime and celebrity meet

The Rolling Stone cover of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a spot-on piece of cultural analysis (report, 17 July). Those calling for a boycott of the magazine are exactly those who have been treating people like the Boston bomber as celebrities for years – drooling over the blow-by-blow coverage of their trials on television and the breathless analysis of every minute facet of their lives. If they don’t like criminals being treated as celebrities, then they should start treating them as criminals instead. Kudos to Rolling Stone.

Paul Harper, London E15

The Naughtie questions

You report that James Naughtie is to leave the Today programme on Radio 4 temporarily to take a central role in the BBC’s coverage of next year’s referendum on Scottish independence. So James Naughtie, like myself an enthusiastic University of Aberdeen graduate, also like myself and all other England-resident expat Scots, will not have a vote, although we are almost certain to have a strong opinion.

J Russell, Fleet, Hampshire

Your tongue-in-cheek exhortation to Mishal Husain to “Try to keep it short, Ms Husain” (16 July) was one way of asking how on earth the profusely informed Jim Naughtie has lasted so long as an interviewer on a key R4 programme. I’m just looking forward to hearing her put the questions – and then letting the interviewee answer them.

Bob Knowles, London SW15

Hemery hurdled

You rightly mark the great David Hemery, first president of UK Athletics, entering his 70th year (Birthdays, 18 July), which is an alarming thought for his near contemporaries, but you are quite wrong to call him an Olympic sprinter. He won the 400m hurdles final in Mexico City in 1968 gloriously stylishly, by the biggest margin for decades, in a new world record. Very fast, wonderful hurdling, but not sprinting!

Roderick Cooper, Robertsbridge, East Sussex

Cigarette sorrow

The Government’s decision not to legislate for plain packaging of cigarettes must come as a severe disappointment to those who like to work things out on the back of a fag packet.

John Boaler, Calne, Wiltshire

The £12bn arms trade shames  our nation

Britain’s £12bn arms sales to tyrants is scandalous (report, 18 July), and unfortunately more of the same is to be expected at the massive arms fair in London 8-13 September.

Next year is the centenary of the start of the First World War. Already special commemorative events are being planned. But are we then going to carry on as usual for another 100 years? Will we continue to flood the world with weapons, causing enormous suffering to millions, or can Mr Cameron and the ministers who advise him be persuaded to cease this frantic militarism? Wouldn’t this be a fitting way to honour  the sacrifices made in the  Great War?

I believe there is a shortage of engineers. Anyone who lost their job in this deadly business would have the opportunity to do more positive work elsewhere. Many alternative-energy jobs require similar skills, for example. In addition, the Government would save several hundred million pounds per year, which it currently spends on subsidising the arms trade – using taxpayers’ money.   

Sheila Muirhead, Macclesfield, Cheshire

The delights of continental coffee

My wife and I have just returned from a motoring holiday in Italy and Austria. We did not see a single Starbucks, Costa Coffee or shop of any other coffee chain we recognised. It is hardly surprising. Ordinary Europeans know how to make far better coffee without all the fuss. In restaurants, B&B hotels and “mum & dad” cafés we had some lovely coffee. We never paid more than €2.50 a cup (about £2.14).

In Austria one relatively modest hotel simply put a large pot on every table as part of the all-inclusive breakfast. In one Italian motorway services good coffee cost the princely sum of one euro! If you wanted Americano they gave you an espresso with a jug of hot water for you to dilute to taste. If you wanted milk (unusual for Italians) they did not throw you a sachet, or point to the condiments counter; they politely put some in a little jug, put it on a saucer and handed it to you, most often with a smile.

Even when the coffee came out of one of their machines it tasted nice. And the equipment looked from the outside less sophisticated than some of the behemoths that the coffee chains have installed over here, which deliver foul-tasting and overpriced brown liquid by the near-pint mug.

Why are the British such ignoramuses about coffee? Perhaps the clue is in the size of the cup. Could it be that the British are looking for a substitute for beer? 

Chris Sexton, Crowthorne, Berkshire

A population Ponzi scheme

The Office of Budget Responsibility’s report saying that Britain needs to have a sustained immigration rate of 150,000 a year is effectively a call for us to run the country as a giant Ponzi scheme (report, 18 July).

Its argument is that immigrants tend to be of working age and therefore contribute more in taxes. But they grow old, retire and dev-elop illnesses. By the OBR’s logic, ever increasing immigration will be necessary, year on year, to support this additional population of pensioners, and so on ad infinitum.

Just as in a Ponzi or pyramid-selling scheme, such attempts to rob the future to pay for the present quickly break down from their sheer unsustainability – and the longer it takes, the worse the resulting collapse.

It is difficult to imagine a proposal less compatible with the words “budget responsibility”. How much more logical it would be to find work for the large pool of unemployed, of all ages, we already have. 

Chris Padley, Lincoln

What are TV  critics made of?

What is it about TV critics? I believe that the job they do dulls their sensitivity. Grace Dent (13 July) describes Luther as “glorious, horrific stuff”. She denigrates the lovely gentle Flog It people, and “silly, vulnerable women who are foolish enough to live alone”. All, no doubt, tongue in cheek. But the bulk of her piece leads me to think that the sheer blackness of the subject matter being dealt with in Luther was quite OK for her.

Television rightly covers all things, but we have more than enough horror, and precious little gentleness being portrayed on our screens. I think Grace Dent needs to take a step back.

Marilyn Sweet, Cricklade, Wiltshire

The qualities  of a hero

David Walden writes admirably (Letters, 18 July) about the overuse of “hero” status. Being an exceptionally unfortunate victim of a terrible crime does not automatically make someone a hero. I was however touched by Mr Rigby’s son’s shirt in recent press photographs. If I am a hero to nobody but my own son, then that will do for me.

Malcolm Reilly