Letters: Students turn into consumers

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You are right to blame the pressures of the league table culture for the debacle over the English GCSE examinations. Yet league tables are but a manifestation of the free-market, competitive, “consumer”- oriented ethos which has slowly subverted the integrity of our education system.

Three moments during my last bout of marking university exams before I retired a decade ago still remain with me. The first was the comment by a colleague that he could not afford to mark to the standard I felt was appropriate because poor student feedback would adversely effect the numbers he could attract, his status and his progress.

The second, which suggested that such anxieties were not entirely fanciful, was a statement by an undergraduate that he was put off doing my course because of the low exam mark received by a friend of his (a form of student pressure I had hitherto only experienced in the United States).

The third was the critical observation of an external examiner that the proportion of upper seconds compared unfavourably with his own department – and this when, as in many similar departments, it had risen from roughly 25 per cent to 75 per cent over the course of my career.

At every level of secondary and higher education, departments, schools and teachers are under the pressure of an utterly inappropriate competitive regime.

This also has the effect of inhibiting criticism by those who have to make their careers in it.

David Parker, Professor Emeritus

University of Leeds

I was amazed at the self-righteous froth from teachers’ leaders over the Ofqual findings on grade inflation. In my teaching career I have never experienced any wilful cheating, and in my experience much care goes into the moderation process. But the inflationary pressures on grades are undeniably present.

I regularly confront the dilemma between my professional conscience and an educational system pushing me to maximise pupils’ grades at any cost, and where the consequences for failing to do so are potentially both serious and rapid.

While the expectation persists among parents, governors, employers and politicians that providing guaranteed educational “outcomes” is no less predictable than selling Big Macs – and while harsh penalties exist for those who don’t add quite enough mayonnaise – then the fear of failure will push teachers in this direction. It is particularly a risk in “high-performing” schools where the pressure to deliver exam results can be overwhelming.

Teachers’ leaders should have seized this opportunity to point out that in real educational terms, the current system does not work and is in dire need of change.

I J Stock

Coggeshall, Essex

Be positive, and spoil your ballot paper

I add my support to the pleas by your correspondents to spoil the ballot paper in the election for Police and Crime Commissioners.

I have just received mine, for a postal vote. Of the 10 candidates, I have heard of only one and I have seen no statement of position from any of them. Who are these people who are willing to stake a substantial deposit, and what are their motives? I know more about the policies of the American presidential candidates.

John Owen-Jones

Exeter

Here in Dyfed Powys the setup for electing a police commissioner is a farce. The two aspirants to the £65,000-a-year post live over 100 miles from me. The website is inexcusably uninformative, neither candidate revealing age, family status, qualifications, achievements or employment record.

The Conservative favours “cutting bureaucracy”, while the Labour candidate undertakes to “fight the cuts”. Neither candidate claims any knowledge of policing.

I have always voted; this time I intend to write on the ballot paper, “Neither up to the job.”

David Smith

Clyro, Powys

Barrie Spooner asks (letter, 31 October) how one spoils a voting slip. Since living in France I have noted the subtle difference between the British way of calling election results and that of the French.

The British present the spoiled slips as a sort of aberration, as if those people who did this were too stupid to do it properly. The French recognise them as a form of protest, and present them as such: “X per cent voted blank.”

A spoiled slip is simply one which is either blank or from which it is impossible to establish a choice.

Terence Hollingworth

Blagnac, France

In response to Paul Gyseman and in support of Roger Chapman (letters, 5 November), I would like to say that by abstaining from voting one sends a message of apathy to politicians which permits them to continue as usual.

By going out and voting but spoiling the ballot paper, if enough disillusioned voters did this, a clear message is sent that change is required.

Patrick Cleary

Honiton Devon

Too much hassle to switch supplier

I worked in the energy industry for eight years, first as a sales representative and later as area sales manager for one of the big six energy companies. The evidence that about 70 per cent of customers have remained with the initial electricity supplier from before deregulation has come as no surprise to me. The industry was full of horror stories that convinced customers that it was too much hassle to switch.

For the Government now to be urging consumers to switch companies to find better deals is I believe the right thing to do, but only if the companies that oversee these simple switches could do it correctly, and save the customer from the hassle that follows. It seems now that all the companies have accepted their market share and priced themselves accordingly.

Energy companies will cap the amount of customers they can take on, because they would not have the staff or resources to be able to cope with a surge in new customers. The industry needs a complete overhaul. The process of switching takes six to eight weeks. It needs to be done in under a month. We need to be billing customers monthly so when they do change they see the difference straight away.

Richard Woolerton

Leicester

Child brides and rape victims

An Indian community’s call to lower the age of marriage, as a response to violent rape, is an all too common reaction (Andrew Buncombe, 5 November). Worldwide, millions of parents view child marriage as a way to preserve their daughter’s honour in the face of threats from men. In reality, it often facilitates rape, within the boundaries of wedlock.

In India, nearly half of girls become child brides. The UN predicts that worldwide by 2030 there could be more than 100 million girls married by the age of 15. The UK government must act now to stop this disturbing escalation, by using its international influence to help make ending child marriage and keeping girls in school global priorities.

Marie Staunton, Chief Executive, Plan UK,

London EC1

This is Scrabble? My dowp it is!

I was brought up on the traditional game, and the glimpse of Scrabble champion Paul Gallen’s board left me with an overwhelming sense of confusion (5 November).

A couple of words like “Qin” and “Qaid” were familiar as historical titles or names , but “zari”’ ,”dowp”, “kows” and “pulli” elicited no entry in my fairly fat Penguin English Dictionary . The internet was my next recourse, and “dowp” is apparently dialect for “buttocks”, but no definition could I find for “kows” or “pulli”, although “zari” is an Indian thread or necklace.

Has scrabble succumbed to grade inflation? If almost any language, dialect, slang or proper name is permitted, the chances are that any odd combination will work, placing chance and nonsense ahead of knowledge and skill.

Christopher Dawes

London W11

War is easier than peace

What is it about prime ministers? Just as it becomes apparent that David Cameron is seriously losing it on the home front, we’re told he’s considering a military adventure in Iran. When will they ever learn?

David Penn

Kendal, Cumbria

Too many children

Gillian Spencer (letter, 2 November) asks “Iain Duncan Smith what should be done if the second child turns out to be twins”. The pagan Greco-Roman world would have solved this problem by “exposing” unwanted children, as was done with Romulus and Remus.

The only unusual aspect of that story is that usually it was sickly or female infants who were abandoned to die. This is still done in China to avoid the “problem” caused by exceeding the official “one-child” family. Is this practice something we wish to resurrect?

Martin D Stern

Salford, Greater Manchester

Red light

The television coverage of cookery in just one week makes me think the “traffic light”’ food labelling system to indicate the healthiness of foods in supermarkets will not have much effect until the likes of Nigella, Delia, Jamie, Hugh, Nigel, Clarissa, Valentine, Greg, Matt, Giorgio, and Antonio display it during their recipes. Fat chance!

Peter Slessenger

Reading

Black power

David Lister is right (3 November). We can no more justify continuing the Mobo Awards (Music of Black Origin) than we could justify initiating the Fobo Awards (Football of Black Origin). In both fields black people punch well above their weight without assistance – and good luck to them.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor

Makes you weep

Texts released into the public domain between disgraced former News International chief Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron show she admits to having “cried twice” during his 2009 party conference speech.

I’m with the fragrant Rebekah on this one. It really was that bad.

Sasha Simic

London N16

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