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Monday 9 March 2009
Letters: Sex education
Let's return to responsible sex education in our schools
Back in the Seventies, in an inner-city state primary school, I taught sex education to children aged eight and nine, supported by an excellent BBC TV series. Children brought in their baby photos, hospital bracelets and baby clothes. We wrote poems based on Louis MacNeice's "I Am Not Yet Born", and discussed the fears expressed (war, poverty and safety of immediate and wider environment). If there was a pregnant mother or a newish baby around, they were invited into class. We discussed the parenting care children need to grow up safely.
It was the school policy both to introduce sex education to Year 4 (eight- and nine-year-olds) and to follow up with an age-appropriate unit in Year 6 (aged 10 and 11) on the body-changes and emotional confusions of puberty, concentrating on responsible choices, withstanding peer pressure and underling the long-term responsibilities of parenting a baby from birth to early adulthood. Very few parents opted to withdraw their child from these lessons.
Later, as leader of two further inner-city primary schools, I introduced the same policy. In the school I headed in the mid-Eighties, the (mainly Muslim) parents were, on the whole, pleased that their children had opportunity to be guided in responsible sex and relationship education. They were, naturally, invited to pre-view video resources and gain an overview of what and how their children would be taught. Again, few opted to withdraw their children.
In the Nineties and as we entered the new century, in my final school, the climate noticeably changed. More parents had concerns about "protecting the innocence" of their children and, mainly for cultural/religious reasons, felt unable to consent to their children accessing responsible sex education within school.
It grieves me that, 40 years on, we seem to be no further forward. If parents really do want to protect their children's innocence, they should want them to be educated and informed, from an early age, about how a human life comes to be, and about what each new life needs to grow, well-formed, well-parented and well-supported, into adulthood.
How UK academia aids the military
Professor Steven Rose is correct to link Israeli science to the bombardment of bridges and civilian targets in Gaza (Letters, 7 March). However, his support for boycotting Israel has the same strong whiff of hypocrisy he accuses others of. The British military sector subcontracts research to universities across the UK, and together they develop and refine the technologies responsible for the sustained bombardment of civilian targets over the past 10 years, from Belgrade to Baghdad.
As a British academic, Professor Rose is well aware of the soldiers in his sector's laboratories, yet boycotting UK or US academe appears to be unthinkable, even though the scale of the carnage caused by Anglo-American military aggression dwarfs that of Israel, which is in any case a proxy for British and American interests.
Bookies work to keep sport clean
Your report on gambling and sport (6 March) might have benefited from the input of the UK's bookmakers, who have been dealing with this problem for many decades in close co-operation with sporting bodies.
As a reading of your piece shows, while there have been a few high-profile cases of British sport being manipulated for betting purposes, there is no evidence whatever that this is either widespread or increasing. And, believe me, we would be the first people to raise the issue if we thought there was a growing problem because it is our businesses that are directly hit.
The ABB and its members are vigilant and from time to time identify suspicious betting patterns. We co-ordinate intelligence activity and work closely with sport governing bodies and the Gambling Commission to ensure that matters are promptly reported and properly investigated. There are formal agreements in place with the biggest sporting bodies to make co-operation possible.
From time to time we hear proposals that UK-based gambling companies should give funds to sporting bodies to deal with suspicious gambling that takes place outside the UK. That is effectively a proposal for a tax on UK punters to deal with matters that they – and we – have no control over.
We welcome the fact that most sports have effective regulatory structures, funded from their commercial income, to deal with breaches of their own rules (such as participants being prevented from placing bets on their own sport or passing inside information). That arrangement is clear, transparent and fair.
We will continue to blow the whistle whenever we suspect anything underhand, but your readers should take confidence from the fact that bookmakers and sporting administrators are working well together to keep UK sport clean.
The Association of British Bookmakers
Soldiers' families need help too
Your exposure of the inadequacies of the Government's support for those members of our services who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (report, 7 March) further emphasises the points raised by the Royal British Legion in their Honour the Covenant campaign.
One of the main thrusts of this campaign was to give due recognition and treatment for all injuries to our servicemen and women, both physical and mental, but it went further than this to highlight the need of their families. What has not been discussed openly has been the anguish suffered by those left at home. Our services are made up of professional volunteers who are highly trained and when on operations they are with their friends doing a job they understand. All this time, though, their families are dreading switching on the news, answering the phone or front door – any one of these could bring bad news. Even once the military person is safely home, the family may be living with someone who has undergone a change as a result of their operational experiences.
The other issue raised by the Royal British Legion was just compensation for injuries sustained. The scheme introduced in 2005 has a time bar on claims and as post-traumatic stress disorder often does not manifest itself for many years, 14 being the norm, it is probable that many will not be able to get any compensation for their suffering.
Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire
Army veterans suffering from psychological trauma should, of course, get prompt and effective treatment, but additional resources must be found for this purpose.
Problems that ex-soldiers encounter getting the care they need have at last highlighted a long-standing scandal in the National Health Service. Mental care facilities have been persistently neglected, and patients, their families and society generally suffer grave consequences. There is no spare capacity in civilian mental-health provision available for diversion to military needs.
Proper mental-health services are a humanitarian imperative. In addition, the lack of such facilities is bad for the United Kingdom economy, in relation, for instance, to the costs of crime and unemployment.
At present, only a tiny proportion of the thousands of psychology students graduating from university each year can progress further by qualifying as chartered psychologists. It need not take long for the Government to introduce an emergency programme giving professional training to more psychology graduates. This would provide additional people able to help both veterans and civilians who desperately need mental-health care.
Rights and wrongs of custard-thrower
Leila Deen is right to lambast the Government over the issue of democracy ("Why I threw custard over the Business Secretary", 7 March). Democracy is being undermined and side-stepped throughout Europe, for the most part due to the decline in the power of the nation state and the growth in influence of supranational authorities with weak democratic foundations.
The European Union and the European Central Bank are examples. The result is that member states are becoming little more than local authorities, subject to the wishes of an unelected politburo (the European Commission) over which both the European Parliament and national parliaments have little real influence. The Commission is firmly in the pocket of big business and committed to the free market to the exclusion of alternative options. Peter Mandelson is well aware of this and, as a politburo man, is unlikely to be too concerned about democracy.
To a large extent multi-party democracy is no longer essential for the operation of global capitalism, in much the same way as it was superfluous under global communism.
It is unacceptable to physically assault anyone on our streets, whatever the grievance. What is worse, however, is for The Independent to give the perpetrator the platform to use violence to gain publicity. To give up democracy and take direct action is tantamount to terrorism. Where does Leila Deen stop? And how many others will use her precedent to commit other acts of violence?
I disagree with Peter Mandelson on many issues, but no one will change his mind by aggression. The Independent has campaigned for years to ban the smacking of children, and has always promoted the rights of individuals to walk the streets without having green custard thrown over them or being physically assaulted in any way. You should uphold this principle.
R J Alliott
Even more nauseating than the green custard thrown over Peter Mandelson is the self-promoting hypocrisy of Leila Deen, who seems to have partly justified her action on the grounds that he is "unelected". Who elected her to engage in such an action?
It's to be hoped that Lord Mandelson runs the risk of being considered petty and vindictive and reports the incident as a crime. This lady is no martyr. Her poor judgement is matched by your newspaper's in publishing her views.
Take off your watch
Both Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay are pictured wearing watches ("Double helping of chefs in trouble", 7 March). It is a rule in medical hygiene circles that this prevents adequate cleansing of hands and wrists. It would be ironic if the problem at the Fat Duck was due to bugs hiding in Mr Blumenthal's watch strap.
Reduce alcohol content
While I applaud the Scottish government's proposals to reduce binge-drinking (report, 3 March), I believe that increasing the price per unit of alcohol would only address one part of the overall problem. When I started drinking more than 30 years ago, the average strength of a bottle of wine was somewhere between 9 and 11 per cent. Today the average is more like 13 to 14 per cent. We need to look the problem of binge-drinking in a joined-up manner and reduce the alcoholic content as well as the price and availability.
I am saddened to be accused of using "unfortunate language" when I referred to such congenital conditions as a missing hand as "deformities" (letter, 4 March). The word was intended to mean no more than – literally – removal of shape and to have no implications of diminished character or personality of the person involved. If dark meanings or innuendos are perceived in commonly used words where none is intended, then language itself will become deformed and diminished and fear of offence will constitute a barrier to communication.
Sidney Alford (old, short and rather bald but not fat)
When George Osborne says that the Tories will end the "money-for-nothing" society (report, 6 March), does he mean he will cut unemployment benefits and state pensions? Or will he cut the tax-free pleasures that are not available to most, barely available to many? Tax relief on pension fund contributions is worth £360pa to the £30,000pa earner, £90,000pa to those who can contribute £225,000pa. Anyone can put money into National Savings tax-free investments, but not all of us can put in as much as some others. Some of us don't pay any income tax at all – we are too poor.
I am bemused by your report ( 6 March) about the man who tried to kill himself and was rushed into hospital, where his life was saved, but who was then awarded £90,000 in an agreed settlement because the treatment he was given damaged the tissues of one arm. Surely the agreement should have included him paying the NHS £270,000 for saving his other three limbs.
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