Responding to your main story, “Faith and free schools ‘breed social and racial segregation’, ” (1 January) is always likely to be a tricky one, but several hard facts need to be discussed if the situation is ever to be resolved.
First, Muslim schools (singled out for comment) are always likely to be monocultural, since Muslims in the UK tend to run their lives in the same manner, using, wherever possible, companies run by Muslims, be it a petrol station, a car wash or a solicitor. Why are they going to want anything less for their children?
Free schools (it should be obvious) exist on the basis of segregation, being nothing more than a school paid for by the taxpayer to allow a bunch of middle- and upper-class chums to set up a school for their own kids (witness: your recent report of a free school opening with 17 pupils at a cost of £1m a pupil.)
Of wider concern is the comment that even with a good mix of pupils, staff still fail to “attend to the need to bring them together”. The reason for this latter point is obvious: league tables. Schools these days are almost solely obsessed with league table results and their relative standards. Standards which often ignore the social mix and situation of the school, a one size fits all “solution” which ignores every aspect of social issues and pupil capability.
The Tories of course have fostered much of this segregation, but scrapping league tables, free schools and academies and removing charitable status from private schools until they actually prove they are socially cohesive, will free up vast amounts of money which will enable greater investment in state schools, and develop a more consistent approach to education free of the need to push buttons and jump through governmental hoops.
It is hardly surprising that faith schools hinder integration; but was it not the Blair government, which Matthew Taylor served as an adviser, which began the promotion of faith schools, which has been continued by the Coalition?
Surely what is wanted is a secular state education system which treats all pupils equally; why is no major political party, nor for that matter The Independent, arguing for this?
Country in need of a change
The letter from Dr Emma Fox Wilson (31 December) was superb (apart from the ridiculous headline “Culture clash: Emin v Michelangelo”). Could she be our, the little people’s, leader?
Like her, and I guess many, many others I see no possibility of anyone else in the current bunch of fools in charge of us, wanting to or be able to lead us out of the mess the country is in financially, politically and artistically.
We desperately need change which none of our political parties including Ukip can even offer never mind implement.
I hope Dr Emma Fox Wilson’s excellent letter will be followed by others which will give me some ideas about what I can do. I feel that I “woke up” quite some time ago, thanks, but I feel powerless. “Get involved”? In what, how, and to what end?
Gun law in America
I am a retired lawyer and have frequently reflected upon the American Supreme Court’s interpretation of the constitutional right to bear arms.
At the time that the constitution was drawn up the only firearms which a person could bear were muzzle-loaded pistols and muskets. It follows that this is what the founding fathers meant, because there was nothing else that they could mean. I like to think that if they had realised that modern weaponry lay not very far in the future there would have been a fairly tight definition of the arms which people could bear.
To extend the right to bear arms to automatic pistols and, even worse, assault rifles is something I have never been able to understand, and one can only suppose that the justices of the Supreme Court have been put under intense pressure by American commercial and political interests to make this sort of illogical decision.
The consequences, as we all know, are completely appalling, and it is a dreadful indictment of American society that, as revealed by this week’s fatal shooting in Idaho, a young mother thinks that she has to keep a loaded automatic pistol in her handbag when going to the shops.
Maresfield, East Sussex
The establishment judges itself
Lady Butler-Sloss’s remark, “You need someone who knows how to run things and if you get someone from an obscure background, with no background of establishment, they’ll find it very difficult and may not be able actually to produce the goods,” is somewhat disingenuous.
There is no problem with the chair of the inquiry into historic child sexual abuse having an “establishment background”, indeed, as the Baroness suggests, anyone without that background is unlikely to be equipped to chair such an inquiry.
The problem is with anyone from “the establishment” who has any personal links to anyone else in the establishment who may have had any involvement in the previous handling of child abuse cases.
This inevitably includes, as in her own case, the sister of the person who was the Attorney-General at the time of some of the accusations. In the case of Dame Fiona Woolf, it was her personal friendship, however limited, with a Home Secretary who was given a dossier of evidence on child abuse cases, which subsequently disappeared.
Baroness Butler-Sloss’s remarks must be seen in this context and treated accordingly.
It is surely no coincidence that on the day that Baroness Butler-Sloss was invited to act as guest-editor of the Today programme on Radio 4 her fellow inquiry rejectee Fiona Woolf was anointed a Dame. Let no one cross the Establishment!
Among other nonsenses of our honours system it is interesting to note that running a bat-hospital merits an MBE, but doing the same for hedgehogs only gets you a BEM. The nuances of our class system are beyond simple comprehension.
The Independent is usually refreshingly objective and fair-minded, and does not engage in personal attack in the way other newspapers do.
So why single out Fiona Woolf in your leader column (31 December) and make a subtle personal attack. You ignore the triumph of her brave and different mayoralty of the City of London; the undisputed fact that she chose four small charities that represent diversity, compassion, reform and welfare, and her public commitment and actions to promote women at all levels in the City.
I think The Independent’s judgment on this occasion is unfounded and not based on why Fiona Woolf deserved the honour bestowed on her.
Sky’s legal dispute with Ofcom
After eight years running Ofcom, Ed Richards could be forgiven for being a little demob happy as he reflects on his time as chief executive (29 January). However, his memory is mistaken if he feels “vindicated” in relation to the long-running legal case over Ofcom’s decision to force Sky to supply certain sports channels at prices set by the regulator.
At this time, the final outcome is yet to be determined and Ofcom’s core argument in favour of intervention has been found in court to be without foundation, the regulator having misinterpreted evidence to a significant extent. Contrary to what Mr Richards appears to suggest, that ruling has not been overturned in subsequent hearings.
While it may be “unhelpful” in his eyes for Ofcom decisions to be subject to appeal, it is hardly surprising that companies should seek independent judicial scrutiny when they believe, as Sky does in this case and as the court has confirmed, that the regulator has made serious mistakes.
Group Director, Corporate Affairs, Sky
Fatal impact of mobile phones
This year brings the 30th anniversary of the UK’s first mobile phone. Does anyone know how many fatal crashes there have been due to drivers using them while driving?
According to the Transport Research Laboratory, your reaction time is slowed by some 35 per cent; akin to that of a driver at twice the drink drive limit.