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Wednesday 8 July 2009
Letters: School admissions
Mother's ruse exposes school admissions 'market'
Harrow council's unsuccessful attempt to have Mrinal Patel prosecuted for fraud over her application for a school place for her child (report, 4 July) is merely the logical conclusion of the education reforms foisted upon us by both the Conservatives and New Labour over the past 20 or so years.
School inspection regimes, league tables, foundation schools and now city academies have served to pit child against child, parent against parent, school against school and now, sadly, a local education authority against a parent who, however misguidedly, tried to use whatever ruse she thought necessary to obtain the most desirable school place for her child. And who really could blame her when successive governments have created a dog-eat-dog market in school admissions?
The rampant consumerisation of our public institutions must be reversed. There must be a return to the values of citizenship on the one side and public service on the other, with public partnership and user involvement in the running of services seen as central, not quasi-managerial customer-care smoke- screens being used as a substitute for true involvement in our schools, hospitals and other services.
Pudsey, West Yorkshire
Ed Balls has ordered an inquiry into how many parents are "playing the system" to get their children into a school of their choice. Wouldn't he be doing something more useful if he ordered an inquiry into removing the need for caring parents to play the system to get their children a decent education. All praise to Mrs Patel.
MPs to vote on ID snoopers' charter
Do not been fooled by Alan Johnson's announcement last week on ID cards "not being compulsory". It is still very much business as usual: your life will not be worth living without a card and your data is the Government's to lose and abuse at your expense, albeit by the back door.
To prove it, there are three ID-related Statutory Instruments to be voted on in the House of Commons this Wednesday.
The "Provision of Information without Consent" regulation would give powers to the Identity and Passport Service to pass on information it holds on you to a host of other agencies without your knowledge or consent.
This information would include not only official document numbers, and personal details such as your name, addresses and signature (more than enough to facilitate massive identity fraud) but also your fingerprints and even – to the police, intelligence services, taxman and anyone else they authorise – details of every time you had had your ID checked, such as when you register with a GP, open a bank account, or travel abroad. Your medical and financial dealings will be thus conveniently tagged and indexed for further snooping.
Records of what information has been given to whom and why may be destroyed after 12 months or less. They would track you for life, but prefer to leave no trail of their activities.
Blocking these three Statutory Instruments would not only stall the scheme; it provides an opportunity for ID opponents to show how committed they are to killing it off completely. It is important that as many MPs of all parties as possible vote against them on Wednesday.
No passport, no fee. Is this a common experience?
In early March, as experienced freelance theatre directors, a colleague and I were invited by the Central School of Speech and Drama to facilitate a workshop for 18 mature students at a small student arts festival in London. The festival was good, our work was successful and we all enjoyed it. I had imagined that we were offered the work because of our reputation, as we had for over three decades conducted many similar master classes around the world.
But no. Despite being booked by their agent, with contractual email, the work experience section of human resources in the Central School of Speech and Drama are still refusing to pay us our modest fees unless we give them copies of our passports, to prove we are who we say we are. They also wish to file these passport copies in their database.
None of this was mentioned until after the work was completed. We have refused to give copies of our passports on the grounds of civil liberties, invasion of privacy and because we are not convinced that our confidential information will be secure.
I understand the collection and storing of such information is becoming a common procedure in all educational institutions. It does rather look like identity cards by the back door.
This week I was outraged by a announcement over the public address system at my local supermarket that as from late July their checkout operators would demand ID from any member of the public wishing to purchase age-restricted products (fags and alcohol), to prove they were over 25.
Whatever happened to 18? Images of fresh-faced squaddies just back from Iraq flashed before my eyes, vainly trying to buy the odd bottle of cider and being rebuffed. This has got the greasy fingers of the Government's ID cards scheme all over it.
The truth about spending cuts
Our Prime Minister assures us that he does not tell lies. He insists that if we vote in a Conservative government at the next general election there will be massive cuts in public spending, leading to thousands of job losses within the ranks of the armed forces, police, fire service, schoolteachers and other public services in order to facilitate favourable changes to inheritance tax for a small number of very wealthy people, and to address the current public borrowing debt.
But if we vote in a Labour government for another five years, under his stewardship, there will be no tax increases, no reduction in public spending, nor job losses in the public services, and the public debt will be addressed by departmental efficiency savings, a sell-off of government assets, and natural tax increases when the current recession ends and the economy returns to healthy growth again.
Who would be stupid enough to vote Tory with a promise like that from a Prime Minister who tells us no lies?
North Shields, Tyne & Wear
Has there ever been a time when a government was so out of step with voters' wishes, and did not appear to care? The voters want services and sound financial management, but the leaders of the Labour governments of the past 12 years only want to flatter US presidents, and get to Brussels and run the EU, a well-paid swan-song.
The costs of loans to sort out the economy will fall on future generations. As long as some rich people in London contribute to party funds, all is well.
Science journalists not always wrong
Drs Bell, Boynton and Goldacre (letter, 6 July) claim that "science journalists are often lazy and inaccurate", citing MMR among the issues about which "the public have been misled by journalists".
While there are occasional examples of poor reporting, I think the authors are guilty of extrapolating a few data about a small number of individuals to make an inaccurate inference about an entire profession. The MMR debacle was initiated by a researcher rather than by a journalist.
They might be surprised to discover just how many misleading media reports, for which they apparently hold journalists solely responsible, actually arise from exaggerated claims by researchers and their colleagues: a recent study found that just 42 per cent of press releases issued by US academic medical centres provided relevant caveats about the research they described, and 29 per cent exaggerated the importance of their findings.
Policy and Communications Director, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics
End the stigma of mental illness
We congratulate The Independent for putting "Unlocked: the secrets of schizophrenia" (2 July) on the front page and giving research into severe mental illness the importance it deserves.
The search for the causes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder is vital if we are to find more effective treatments. This is the best way to reduce the stigma associated with these conditions and the trauma that often comes with diagnosis. After all, it was only when we started to identify different cancers and find treatments and cures that we began to overcome the taboo of the "C word".
Research carried out at the Prince of Wales International Centre for SANE Research is looking at whether schizophrenia may be the price humans pay for the development of higher functions of the brain such as language. The elusive answer to the question as to why one in 100 people worldwide continue to develop these debilitating conditions goes well beyond the hunt for specific genes.
Chief Executive, SANE, London E1
A nation of fruit-pickers?
Roger Nobbs (letter, 2 July) cites the fact of people leaving this country in large numbers as reason to deny that we also have mass immigration. By taking only the net figure to be significant Mr Nobbs is suggesting that a change in ethnic composition of a population should be of no interest to the natives.
Mr Nobbs is far from being the first to defend immigration on the basis of a dearth of British applicants for fruit-picking vacancies. But surely Mr Nobbs is aware that the wages of fruit gathering do not cover such through-life costs as raising a family or saving for a comfortable retirement. Importing pickers means more welfare dependants to add to the many we already support. If the latter cannot be induced or cajoled to take up their baskets and pick, then some less labour-intensive crop is needed.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Roger Nobbs states that there's been no "mass immigration to this country for quite some time". A perusal of the internet reveals many sources, including the Office of National Statistics, which state that this country has seen net inward migration for about 20 years and that this has substantially increased in the last 12 years, leading to an increase of about 2.3 million people by immigration alone.
Agency for quangos
The debate over quangos reminds me of an occasion when I was entering a United Nations building in Geneva. Among the brass plates on the wall was one that proclaimed that the building housed the "UN Agency for the Protection of Newly Developed Plants". I never did discover why juvenile flora required an agency all of their own.
West Wittering, West Sussex
Birds and bats
Further to the letters concerning the apparent reduction in the swift population recently, I suspect that many people make sure that birds can't get into their roof-space now because if birds can get in, then bats can as well. And if bats set up home there, then, as they're protected species, your roof-space is no longer your own.
The dawn of Blair
Andreas Whittam Smith (3 July) repeats the story that Labour supporters were bussed into Downing Street on the morrow of the 1997 election. My friend and I, Labour supporters but part of no group, were allowed to walk along Downing Street and await the arrival of the new Prime Minister and his wife. We were not bussed in and we knew none of the people around us. It was a lovely occasion. In spite of the Iraq war, which we marched against, we went on supporting Tony Blair and would do so again.
Richard Ingrams ("I'm only too aware of dementia", 4 July) shows lamentable ignorance by repeating the most common errors made about the disease – that it is a normal part of ageing and that it is about temporarily forgetting names of familiar people or places. My husband was diagnosed five years ago at the age of 56 – even then he did not know the names of everyday foodstuffs and could not look after himself.
Further to the letter from Michael Cook (6 July) on "medalled" and "medallist", if I am merely awarded a medal would that mean that I become an "awardist"?
Burley in Wharfedale, West Yorkshire
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