Letters: Pupils face years of disruption

These letters appear in the Friday 14th June edition of The Independent

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I spent many years working as a further education lecturer in business and computing. The staff at my college noted that one year’s intake of students was more awkward and disillusioned and had less ability than the previous intakes.

We worked out that this was the group that were the most adversely affected by the introduction of the National Curriculum. Further cohorts also had problems and we reckoned that it took about four or five years for this situation to stabilise. 

By completely overhauling the GCSE structure in such a short time Mr Gove is setting up a five- to ten-year disruption to education. The new GCSEs will require a completely different approach. It will take quite a few years for teaching materials, textbooks and training for teachers to be properly implemented. 

The rigorous structure will penalise a significant percentage of students: those with hay fever, those who get nervous, those with dyslexia, the student with a broken arm or in hospital – all  are likely to do less well.

Can we therefore register the fact that from 2017 and the 10 years afterwards all credit for the falling numbers of students getting good grades at GCSE be attributed to the person responsible – that is Mr Gove?

Paul Mason

Teddington, Middlesex

Mr Gove’s new GCSE proposals (“Easy GCSEs are ancient history”, 12 June) will be strangely familiar to anyone like me who did their O-levels in 1955.

English literature: one play by Shakespeare (check). English language: spelling, punctuation and grammar important (check). Speaking skills not tested (check). Digital texts not included (obviously). Maths: problem-solving questions on algebra and geometry (check). Modern languages to include oral examination (check).

Has the world really changed so little in the past 58 years?

David Hewitt

London N1 

Can Michael Gove really believe that schoolteachers – educated, intelligent people – will be able to teach his politically skewed history curriculum with a straight face, or that their pupils, many of them the descendants of slaves or of those who suffered under British colonialism on the Indian sub-continent, will swallow it without question? 

Either Gove is himself a radical left-winger, promoting his doctrines through a cunningly subversive plan, or he is as stupid as he seems.

Professor Michael Rosenthal

Banbury, Oxfordshire


Frankenstein still stalks  the GM fields

You make the case for GM crops (“Time for a rethink on GM crops”, 11 June) but how can you believe that the “dire prophecies” that you mention have not come to pass? There are several factors which make GM very “Frankenstein” indeed.

Many GM crops are not set to resist pests but rather to resist a particular pesticide so (a) the company profits from sales of that pesticide and (b) fields become “dead zones” for everything but the selected crop; the need to buy seeds, fertilizer and pesticides (often sold as a “package”) creates financial obligation and sometimes debt which can lead to farmer suicide in the developing world.

Add to this, GM farming is by nature “mono-culture”, often linked to the use of fertilisers and “designer pesticides”, which is a threat to wild life and to biodiversity (with the prime example being bee-death), it puts enormous strain on the soil and causes run-off leading to further death in rivers and in the sea (such as dead zones around estuaries).

GM crops can start off giving high yields but, as resistance increases, this tails off, leaving farmers in debt, with tired soil and with no non-GM seed-stock which might allow them to return to old (sustainable) practices.

If this is not “Frankenstein” then please tell me what is.

Alan Mitcham

Cologne, Germany

Could it perhaps be that “the dire prophecies of Frankenstein foods have not come to pass” because, as you say earlier in your leading article, growing them is illegal in Europe?

We are still safe because we have avoided the risk; something I pray that common sense will ensure we continue to do. Sadly, common sense is in very short supply in this Government.

Sara Neill

Tunbridge Wells,  Kent


RBS: public cost, private profit

The Royal Bank of Scotland was rescued by the taxpayer at vast expense when private- sector management failed. Now conventional wisdom seems to be that it should be re-privatised, incidentally no doubt generating fat fees for the usual suspects in the City. Why?

If RBS is attractive to the private sector it must be because it is judged to be a going concern with a potential to generate a profit. As the taxpayer took the risk to rescue the bank, so the future profits should accrue to the public via the Treasury, rather than to City institutions and shareholders whose managements proved  so incompetent or negligent  in the past.

It may well be that RBS will only be profitable once many thousands of staff have been paid off and placed on the unemployment register at further public expense.

It is of course no coincidence that the “give-away” privatisation circus will reach its climax just before the next general election.

Roger Blassberg

St Albans,



Little to learn from China

Contrary to what Hamish McRae says in “When – not if – China overtakes the US, normality will have returned” (4 June), I believe that there is little the West can learn from China despite China’s apparent economic strength.

It is ironic that such an article in praise of China’s economic performance should appear in close proximity to the sensitive date of 4 June. Commemorating the massacre which happened 24 years ago reminds us that the Chinese Communist Party, both then and now, has recklessly pursued economic growth, sacrificing freedom, democracy and the environment along the way. Every year, the CCP spends more money on “maintaining harmony” at home than on national security, because economic development takes precedence over everything else. On top of that, the Chinese economy runs on familial ties, bribery and corruption. If “ideas of Chinese economic management” ever affected other parts of the world, it certainly would be for the worse.

McRae also claims that the West has much to learn from China’s healthcare system. He rests his argument on Hong Kong’s infant mortality rate and Macau’s life expectancy, but these examples are at best tenuously linked to the state of China’s healthcare system. The excellence of Hong Kong and Macau’s healthcare can only be explained by their colonial history and the preservation of a Western healthcare system thanks to the policy of “one country, two systems”.

If anything, citing Hong Kong and Macau as success stories shows the triumph of Western managerial ideals.

Christopher Cheung

Exeter College,



Generals in  the front line

Regarding the subject of whether officers in the First World War sent working-class soldiers to their deaths (letter, 12 June): Richard Holmes in his meticulously researched book Tommy recorded that 58 major-generals and brigadier generals in the British Army were killed or died of wounds on the Western Front, and probably more than 300 were wounded.  

A higher proportion of generals were killed by small-arms fire (such as snipers) than of men under their command, suggesting that they were killed very close to the front line. 

It should also be pointed out that, because so many officers in their own uniforms with swords were being picked off by enemy fire, orders were issued that officers taking part in attacks should wear the same uniforms as ordinary soldiers and carry rifles.

Gordon  Elliot

Burford,  Oxfordshire

I read that Mr Cameron wants all schoolchildren to see the battlefields of the First World War. They would learn more about the futility of war if they visited Iraq instead.

Gyles Cooper

London N10


Stay out of the war in Syria

Britain and France want to set up a no-fly-zone over Syria to help the rebels, although Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander has pointed out that this would be an act of war.

President Hollande has said any action against Syria must be “within the framework of international law”. But international law bans “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.

British and French aid to the rebels is just like President Reagan’s aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, which the International Court of Justice condemned in 1986 as a violation of international law.

Will Podmore

London E12

Syria and many of the other Middle Eastern countries look exactly like England in Tudor times – two sects of a major religion fighting to the death. To interfere would be disastrous. Spain tried to support the rebels by sending the Armada and lost most of its fleet and ultimately its empire. Do we intend to do the same?

John Day

Port Solent, Hampshire


Private data

It seems strange that the news about Prism and the acquisition of private data by intelligence agencies has caused such a furore while no one appears to be worried that most, if not all, of the relevant information is already in the hands of the various private operators such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. Do we know what the Googles of this world do with the data and to whom they are answerable?

Geoff Baguley

Wellingborough, Northamptonshire


Late night

David Warner punches Joe Root. Alastair Cook then says: “Our players did nothing wrong.”  So is it now perfectly acceptable for international sportsmen to be drinking in a bar at 2am In the middle of an important tournament? I think we should be told.

Derek Watts

Lewes, East Sussex


Thinner divas

Your headline asks: “So why do all female classical musicians have to be thin and sexy?”(11 June). It looks as though it’s not over now till the thin lady sings.

Robert Pallister

Punchbowl, New South Wales, Australia