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Wednesday 7 July 2010
Letters: Schools, staff and asylum seekers
Special schools belong in past
We were disappointed to read a long eulogy on special schools, within the very article that clearly exposes shortcomings of segregated education (28 June).
It is intensely intriguing that a man who has, since the age of five, enjoyed a mainstream education should be "dismayed" by the drive towards inclusive education. The reader is informed that Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, received Speech and Language Therapy and Physiotherapy for two years before starting at his local mainstream school. Surely in the 21st century young people should not be deprived of the opportunity to learn and develop alongside their peers in order to receive the support of adult specialists?
Mr Maynard referred to the widespread ignorance about cerebral palsy which he constantly has to endure; for example, he described how he was confronted with derogatory comments, including an accusation that he was drunk, after a television interview. And this simply because cerebral palsy has affected the muscles which control speech, so his way of talking differs to that of most people. If children with unusual bodies or minds are consistently separated from their peers, is it surprising that ignorance, prejudice and discrimination prevail?
Dr Artemi Sakellariadis
Director, Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, Bristol
Paul Maynard MP writes about how important his special school was for him up to the age of five, when he then transferred to a mainstream school. Unfortunately as a parent of a young disabled person (my 28-year-old has learning difficulties), I know too well how restricting the curriculum can be in a special school, and the effect of very low expectations. Luckily my daughter did go to a mainstream school for her primary education, but in the early 1990s she was forced into a special school miles away from her home, her friends and her community.
We must not go back to such dark ages. Perhaps if we truly had universal inclusive mainstream schools, no one would mistake an impairment with thinking someone was drunk as Paul Maynard describes. Let's not separate and segregate young people. Every child has the right to an excellent education in their neighbourhood school.
I work in a special school. For at least the last 15 years our school has been trying to move to new premises. The current buildings are hopelessly inadequate for our students, many of whom have severe learning difficulties and autism: more than a third of the classrooms are temporary structures; corridors are not wide enough for wheelchairs; there is no medical room; staff have nowhere to prepare or meet; the hall, dining room and other essential areas are used for storage; there is a chronic lack of parking. No matter how good the teaching and learning is (and it is very good), we can never get the highest grades from Ofsted in our current buildings.
The Building Schools for the Future programme (BSF) gave us real hope. The head, governors and local authority have been working tirelessly towards a new build through BSF, and delegations of pupils have worked with architects on design specifications. We finally thought we would get what our students deserved: a state-of-the-art new-build which would provide first-class education and facilities for all.
But now Michael Gove is cutting the BSF programme, while at the same time giving money to small groups of well-heeled parents for "free" schools, and it looks like the building will not go ahead. Our whole school community is devastated. Michael Gove has drastically increased the gap between those entitled to receive the glittering prizes, and those who will never even get close to them.
Guantanamo Inquiry overdue
It is high time for the new government's Inquiry into the role of our security services in the abduction, rendition and torture of UK citizens at Guantanamo Bay. Former prisoners have shown extraordinary courage and humanity, as have their brave and steadfast families. These innocent British men lost the best years of their lives to illegal and horrendous interrogations in the notorious prison camp. How did this happen?
There is a vital and unique precedent that I hope will be followed. In late 2003 the Canadian government appointed the widely respected Judge Dennis O'Connor to head an inquiry into the role of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the seizure and rendition to a Syrian military prison for interrogation, of Canadian citizen Maher Arar.
Judge O'Connor's report, published in September 2006, established that a special section of the RCMP had indeed been involved in Mr Arar's nightmare of rendition and torture. Mr Arar's name was cleared. No names of the RCMP intelligence officers or agents were published. The CIA refused to give testimony. Judge O'Connor stated that a portion of his report had been withheld on grounds of national security, and that he believed this should also be published. His meticulous and critical narrative made for a shocking story.
Our British citizens and residents deserve no less than this. The remit of our new government's Inquiry must include the years in Guantanamo, where pre-fabricated and false confession statements were presented to our prisoners under duress, and conditions that any civilised mind would designate as torture, as well as brutal and inhumane treatment of the sort prohibited by international and domestic human-rights law.
UK resident Shaker Aamer is still in the hellhole of Guantanamo, as he has been for more than eight years. In spite of the fact that our previous Labour government stated their willingness for him to be returned to Britain, they never followed the example of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who shortly after her election declared in a press conference that she was going to the White House to request the return of German resident Murat Kurnaz, and did so. Mr Kurnaz was returned in August 2006 having lost five years of his life in Guantanamo.
We can be proud that so many of our British judges, human-rights counsel and lawyers have a rigorous and passionate conviction of the irreplaceable value to society under all circumstances of the rule of law. We must all hope that our new coalition government will prove they share this conviction.
Electoral reform: AV is no solution
Many advocates of electoral reform are unhappy with the proposed Bill for a referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote. AV is the minimum that Liberal Democrats could accept and the maximum that Conservatives were prepared to consider. But as far as the electorate is concerned, it is no more than Hobson's choice.
Surely it would be better to have a referendum asking the simple question: "Do you think the electoral system should be changed?" If the answer were "no", then we could all go home, but if it were "yes", a second consultation would be needed to select the preferred system from several serious contenders.
As any change would be long-lasting, it must be for the voters to make the decision rather than being asked to endorse a proposal which happens to suit two political parties.
Plan to save Saltdean Lido
Mr Strawbridge, from the lofty heights of Nottingham, appears to be working with inaccurate information when he claims (letters, 3 July) that Saltdean Lido, on the Sussex coast, has been used by "fewer than a dozen swimmers in total" during three weeks in June. Had he checked the Facebook group mentioned, he would have seen posts by independent visitors detailing user numbers in excess of 400 over the period he specifies.
But many more people would be inclined to use the lido were it not for lack of marketing and erratic opening hours. More often than not, the pool is closed by 4pm, so that when children are out of school and workers have wended their way home, they can't swim even if they want to.
It seems visibly obvious that since Mr Audley took over the site, little has been spent on maintaining this building of great national architectural importance. I am sure our campaign supporters, including those on Facebook to whom Mr Strawbridge refers, would love to know why they should buy a season ticket in advance, with no guarantee that a penny of the price would ever go on maintaining the building and with little confidence that the pool will be open when they want to swim.
Regarding Mr Strawbridge's allegations that we are trying to "wrest the lease from the legitimate owner"; the community is unfortunately not in a position to make any such attempt. However, at the last public meeting, attended by Mr Audley, local Councillors confirmed that a Section 146 notice had been served upon him, based upon some 48 pages of Breaches of Covenant and Wants of Repair, a copy of which the Campaign has acquired under the Freedom of Information Act.
Our business plan will demonstrate how the local community could operate the site successfully at profit, without the need for the 102 flats that Mr Audley claims are required as an Enabling Development.
Saltdean Lido is an architectural gem, a piece of our nation's history and a community amenity. We will fight tooth and claw to preserve its integrity.
Save Saltdean Lido Campaign, Brighton
Sad state of UK manufacturing
The news that the UK is now ranked 17th in Deloitte's global manufacturing competitiveness index, and is predicted to fall to 20th by 2015 (28 June), is a huge disappointment for this vital but undervalued sector.
It is the government's lack of investment in UK manufacturing, in favour of the City, that has created a perception that careers in business sectors such as financial services are "sexier" than those where people actually get their hands dirty. If anything, this self-defeating snobbishness became even more pronounced under the previous Labour government.
Whereas Germany takes great pride in the strength and quality of its manufacturing output, we are guilty of collectively turning our noses up at the sector. Not enough talented and skilled people are choosing it as a career option. Maybe we need government help in order to better illustrate the opportunities for career building and the high levels of job satisfaction that being in this sector can bring.
My own, admittedly biased, view of the manufacturing sector is that it offers people huge rewards for producing something tangible. There is a great deal of job satisfaction in being able to go home at the end of the day and be able to point at a product in your local high-street shop or supermarket and say "I did that" or "I had a hand in making that". Compare that to a job moving numbers across a screen.
Environmental Business Products Ltd, London EC3
Is quango chiefs' pay reasonable?
In your report on pay for quango chiefs (2 July), you state: "Their large remuneration packages reflect the fact that senior figures were recruited from the private sector". To support such a statement surely one would need to see evidence of what post such figures held in the private sector and how long ago such a post was held. Concerning the ODA personnel, I believe that some were recruited from an existing quango and had passed into that quango from a previous one, thus they had not been recruited from the private sector. I would not question their appropriateness for their posts, but would question how the new salaries were established.
The Olympic development is certainly a prestige project requiring the ability to meet tight time and financial targets, requiring experienced individuals with proven track records, but the benchmarks for salaries ought to be more evident than have been the case to date.
Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 6 July) believes that those seeking to know the pay of BBC staff are guilty of "vicarious ogling".
As a senior academic working in the United States, my salary, too, was paid by the taxpayers and consequently was published as a line item in the State budget for anyone interested to see. I never saw any reason to object; as far as I know none of my colleagues did either, and I see no reason why those at the BBC should. A cultural difference indeed.
So good to know that Lord Goldsmith had severe doubts about the legitimacy of the Iraq war because the hundreds of thousands dead cannot talk. I will say it for them: "Why didn't he say so at the time?"
Today I posted a bill payment to Thames Water in the envelope provided. The familiar, elegant wording "Please affix correct postage" had been replaced by "Stick stamp here". Where will it all end?
Perspectives on asylum seekers
Inhumanity is never justifiable
"Mistreated, humiliated and abandoned. What really happens when the UK deports failed asylum-seekers" (5 July), occupying all of pages 1, 2 and 3, is an example of the sort of article and journalistic priority that makes me pleased to be a reader of The Independent.
I am deeply ashamed that such things are done on my behalf. This issue looms for me more importantly than inflation, terrorism, pensions, and all the other material issues that politicians wrongly believe I measure them by, because it embodies the quality of our humanity.
Most British people suppose, whatever their spiritual beliefs, that the UK subscribes to the Christian code of ethics. The UK is somewhere around the 12th most prosperous country in the world, and we are certainly not poor or desperate enough to justify this behaviour towards people who come to us for help and refuge. We have choices and there is no excuse that justifies our inhumanity.
If their claim fails, send them home
Your headline about asylum seekers contains the essential point. These are failed asylum-seekers – in other words people who are not entitled to be here. If they will not leave peacefully then they must take the consequences. After they leave the UK they are not our problem.
This country cannot take all-comers. What happened to seeking asylum in the nearest country to your own? Are Kenya and Cameroon next to Wales?
For too long we have been too soft and the time has come to put a total block on useless migrants before we become too overloaded to help the very few genuine refugees we might consider taking.
Young Afghani returned to war
We tried and failed to stop the deportation of Mr A, a 19-year-old asylum-seeker, to Afghanistan last month. His brother is a commander in the Taliban. Many other family members were killed by US/ Afghan forces looking for Taliban sympathisers. This man has never been involved with either side, but is clearly at risk from both the Taliban and the government forces.
He was deported to Kabul on the regular BMI charter flights taking asylum seekers back to Afghanistan. Each asylum seeker was accompanied by five police officers.
He arrived with no home, no work and no knowledge of the city. If asked, he said he was from Kabul: he did not dare risk them knowing the danger he had escaped in Kandahar. He was too scared to go out to change the little money he had with him, too scared to go anywhere where he might be asked anything about himself.
Meanwhile Mr A's friends in the UK were busy making contacts with organisations in Afghanistan who might be able to help him find work or accommodation. On 30 June, he was found a job in Kunduz, in the north. On his first night there he awoke at 3am to the sound of fighting. He sent a text message: "20 people of Taliban dropping in the city. The Taliban are stopping the American army now they are fighting, it is very scary, it is very close to us".
Then a few hours later: "Now fighting has stopped. Taliban are dead. I not sure who else died but lots of people injured. All the city is closed, it is very scary".
A few days later: "Can I ask one question? Can I go back to UK or another country? Here is so horrible, every day is fighting, bombs exploding. Thanks, bye bye."
All around him is fighting. This is the safe country he has been sent back to.
Rebecca Yeo & Caroline Beatty
Bristol Refugee Rights
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