Letters: Teaching strike

Gove gambles with children’s welfare
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The Independent Online

Michael Gove has overstepped the mark in writing to headteachers to try to persuade them to keep their schools open under any circumstances on the teachers' day of industrial action this week.

Since when have the "best school leaders" herded hundreds of pupils from different year groups, all in one place and supervised them completely on their own for lesson after lesson? This may well "minimise the impact on ... parents" but it will hardly minimise the impact on pupils.

He is showing disregard for their safety and welfare. What if a child is taken ill, there is a fight, the headteacher is taken ill or there is a fire? Mr Gove's behaviour is shocking. He should be ashamed of himself.

Members of the ATL, the NUT and the UCU intending to strike on Thursday are not militants; they are ordinary voters who happen to be passionate about education. We joined the profession because we believe in giving every child the best education possible so that they may fulfil their potential and contribute to society. Children's welfare is of paramount importance to us all; it is sadly obviously not the case for Mr Gove.

Teachers are desperate to avoid industrial action. If the Government allowed the overdue valuation of our pension scheme to take place and if it proved to be unsustainable financially, we should be the first to wish to put that right, but without this we cannot stand by and allow the Government to pursue the proposed changes to our pensions. As extremely concerned as we are about our own livelihoods, we are still more concerned about the future supply of good teachers and lecturers. No graduate with a good degree would even consider joining the profession if the proposed changes went ahead.

Sarah Duverne

Groton, Suffolk

Although aspects of Michael Gove's speech to headteachers in Birmingham are to be welcomed (abandoning the ludicrously elaborate pre-Ofsted inspection form for example), much of what he said could have been written for education secretaries of every government since 1979.

The pattern is so familiar. It starts with "Things aren't good enough", then makes international comparisons, goes on to threaten the closure of failing schools and promises headteachers "freedom from bureaucratic control".

In a long career in education I never once met a headteacher who was controlled by anyone; heads are their own people. Closing schools, re-badging them and linking them to others sometimes works and sometimes it does not.

The factors that contribute to pupil underachievement are complex; far more complex than Gove asserts. And the solutions require resources and co-ordinated action like that of the London Challenge, which helped to raise standards in the capital.

It would have been refreshing to hear a secretary of state taking on those who undermine schools, who peddle the obsession with celebrity, do nothing much to stop young people drinking, commission puerile and mind-numbing television programmes and make money from the sexualisation of children. But presumably vested interest and big business are harder nuts to crack.

Joe Connolly

Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire

Clegg's bank share handout

Nick Clegg is proposing that the shares held by the Government in LloydsTSB and RBS should be given to individual taxpayers, with a mechanism to ensure that the Government retrieves what it paid for the shares. The new shareholders would receive amounts in excess of that sum.

Since the Government's purchase of the shares added to the national debt, which is funded by all taxpayers, any eventual profit on the sale of the shares should surely go towards reducing the national debt and the burden on taxpayers collectively. Under Nick Clegg's proposal, the profit would go to individual taxpayers and not for the benefit of the nation as a whole.

Furthermore, small shareholders receiving shares under the plan might not be as patient as the Treasury would have been, and might sell as soon as the market took the value a little above the Government's purchase price. In that case any ensuing profit arising from a continuing increase in share price would accrue to large investors and institutions, who would no doubt sweep up shares that were sold early.

Sydney Norris

London SW14

Nick Clegg's proposed distribution of bank shares is ingenious, practical, economical and to be praised. Why does David Prosser (24 June) think that prisoners present any problem? Many prisoners come out, their legal penalty fully paid but in most cases vulnerable, insecure and with no clear immediate future. What could be better for them than to receive a "future in an envelope", one that they cannot spend on a coming-out spree, but which will help to show at least one generation of prisoners that there is a life for them outside?

The rabid right in Parliament keep stirring up the punishment factor in imprisonment. This does not make people into good citizens, even if it may discourage future crime. We seem to have a load of parliamentary bar-loungers who, instead of leading and educating the electorate, are committed to encouraging the least responsible elements of the press.

Kenneth J Moss


Yippee, there is a proposal to give everyone on the electoral roll some shares in the banks that were bailed out by the taxpayer. So to sugar the pill the millionaires in the Government think that we should be given free shares in banks. Surely we have been here before.

The Thatcher regime organised the demutualisation of building societies that then turned into banks, and as a little persuader we were given shares in the new banks. I had some Halifax shares and some TSB shares. At one point the Halifax shares were valued at over £11 each and the Lloyds-TSB at over £5 each. Then the bankers wrecked their companies and the country. Those shares are now worth under 50p each.

So if and when I get these new shares I doubt that I will be lighting any cigars with £5 notes.

J W Wright

Calne, Wiltshire

Presidential ambitions

What on earth is M A Timms (letter, 24 June) thinking of in suggesting that the alternative to a constitutional monarchy might be President Prescott?

Monarchists who keep using this tiresome argument simply do not get the point, which is that we would only have a President Prescott, Thatcher, Blair, Branson or Milligan if the electorate wanted them. Then if they behaved as badly as some of our current royals have we could get rid of them.

My supposition is that they use this argument because there really is no other way to defend the undemocratic anachronism that is the Windsor circus.

Keith Barlow


Why does M A Timms assume that the only alternative to a monarch is a political president?

Immediately after the Second World War, we Brits invented the existing German system of having a figurehead president, leaving the politics to his/her chancellor, and that system has worked very well for the past 65 years. It reduces cronyism, sycophancy, excessive public expenditure, primogeniture and associated evils.

What is best is that the citizens (not subjects) can get rid of the incumbent at regular intervals. What's not to like?

Steve Manning

Nantwich, Cheshire

Kept alive only to suffer

I echo Mike Stroud's question (letter, 17 June): "Why do doctors believe that they must save patients regardless?" His account of the resuscitation of the old man was so familiar.

Last year, my mother-in-law, in her nineties, frail and with dementia, was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Pumped with antibiotics, she developed Claustridium difficile; after another bout of pneumonia and another of C.diff, she was unable to swallow, so vain attempts were made to feed her through a nasal tube. The family was not informed of this until afterwards. Witnessing the reduction of a human being to an inanimate object over a number of weeks was horrible; what she felt we never knew because she could not tell us.

The treatment of my own parents, in their final days, was also distressing. Obtaining access to information was extremely difficult, and there seemed to be no way to intervene. In the case of my father, I was actually prevented from doing so by him: "Don't make a fuss – they'll take it out on me." That a retired headmaster and JP, a man of immense authority and dignity, could be so cowed!

How can I prevent what has happened in the last few years to my elderly relatives happening to anyone else I love, or to me?

Christina Jones


Taking up the points raised in Mike Stroud's letter, perhaps the time has come for Sir Terry Pratchett and friends, as part of the campaign for assisted dying, to spend time as anonymous observers in a communal room in any care home and witness the plight of what must be thousands of elderly persons suffering from dementia, strokes, diabetes etc who do not have the "mental capacity" to indicate they do not want life-prolonging treatment.

Doctors should realise that palliative care may be more in these patients' interests than inappropriate life-prolonging procedures carried out by them because they can and because they fear litigation instigated by often guilt-ridden relatives. Should not everyone as we get older consider making a "living will" so that our wishes are known should we wind up in a similar situation?

J Sandford

Epping, Essex

I have often thought it would be a good thing if euthanasia were to be available on the NHS by the time I reach old age. However, my fear is that, if it were, I might be told: "There's a nine-month waiting list, though you could go tomorrow if you went privately."

Christopher Pearce

London W5

Special rules for our friends

You report the continued razing of Palestinian homes in the Jordan valley by Israel's occupation forces (23 June). House demolition is an instrument of control against an occupied people. It is a war crime.

So how is it that our own government, which has not hesitated to condemn domestic tyrants in Syria and Libya, is so silent regarding the foreign tyranny of Israel over the Palestinian Arabs? Could it possibly be that as a "friend of the West", like Saudi Arabia and like Bahrain, Israel can more or less do as it likes without accountability?

David McDowall

Richmond, Surrey

Catarina Stewart ("Apple under fire for pulling intifada app", 24 June) is right to point out that the second intifada "particularly hurt the Palestinian cause". After all, civilised human beings never support the mass murder of innocent people.

However, those who were really hurt by the second intifada were Israeli diners in restaurants, Israeli kids in clubs and Israeli passengers on buses, along with the hundreds of others killed by Palestinian suicide bombers, while they went about their everyday business.

Amir Ofek

Counsellor for Media Affairs

Embassy of Israel

London W8

Get to know your dictators

Johann Hari describes Antonio Salazar as a "little-known Portuguese dictator" ("How to survive in the age of distraction", 24 June). Perhaps he should read at least a few pages of his copy of Salazar's 1,000 page biography, and he might be better informed. Salazar could be accused of many things during his 36 years in power, but he can't be accused of not making himself well known during that time (or at least notorious).

Ken Westmoreland

Croydon, Surrey

When it comes to clichés

I have so enjoyed the correspondence about the modern usage of language and can only say that it has been like...you know?

Ian Kavanagh


Can we please stop all this moaning about clichés? It's so last week.

James Ingram

London SE1

Perspectives on the Dowler trial

Tactics in defence of a monster

As the legal eagles pick over the bones of the Levi Bellfield trial, it seems to me pointless to bandy about the finer points of the law. Common sense and human decency surely suggest that it is wrong, in defence of someone who is clearly a monster, to attempt his defence by attacking the victim's family, piling on further agonies for them for no good reason. The judge must have been asleep to have allowed this to happen, and in the eyes of ordinary mortals the law has descended, not for the first time, into travesty.

I doubt the value of "changing the law" to attempt to remedy this if the individuals administering it can't or won't make a distinction between legal tactics and plain right and wrong.

Ian Bartlett

East Molesey, Surrey

While I sympathise with Bob Dowler in the distress which he and his family have suffered during the recent trial, we should be careful not to over-react in response.

His statement "We despair of a justice system that is so loaded in favour of the perpetrator of the crime" reads a little differently if you substitute for "the perpetrator of the crime" the phrase "the innocent accused" – always bearing mind that until he was convicted that is what Levi Bellfield was.

Dick Russell

Beenham, Berkshire

While it is impossible not to be horrified by the suffering of victims of all crime, and especially those of violent murder, we do have to be wary of the tabloid screams that nobody has any regard for the victim.

Thankfully our society has a system, funded by the tax payer, whereby those who suffer from crimes, or those who survive them, can immediately report the matter to the police; a successful conviction results in punishment, often incarceration for a number of years, again funded from the public purse.

While you'd have to be made of stone not to feel for the victim, as a community we should feel no guilt and should rather be proud of the way in which we proceed against criminals, and our willingness to finance the process, on behalf of the victim.

Colin Burke


Denied justice by the media

Yet another prosecution case in the courts has been thwarted by the printed and broadcast media overstepping the mark on coverage and prejudicing a fair trial.

Yes in this case Levi Bellfield has already been convicted of other murders and so is already destined to remain behind bars for the rest of his life, but, as the media has so rightly commented in the past, each of these convictions also brings that vital closure for the families of his victims.

So now, courtesy of the media, not only will the family of Rachel Cowles be denied that opportunity, but the perverse knock-on effect will also be that the media now have even more headlines to publish about this entire horrible affair – this time created by themselves.

I'm not surprised that the presiding judge has called on the Attorney General to consider contempt of court proceedings. I think all TV and newspaper editors need to take a long hard look in the mirror and tell themselves to act more professionally, in the interest of their customers, the general public, fair justice and the families of victims.

Laurence Williams

Thetford, Norfolk

Too soft on crime

Milly Dowler was murdered when she was only 13 years old. Her killer will now spend the rest of his life in luxury jail. This will cost the taxpayers about a thousand pounds a week, and his every need will be cared for. This is not justice. The punishment does not fit the crime. Britain is soft on crime.

Steve Halden