Letters: The cost of Gove’s ideological crusade

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 25 September, 2013


I am astonished at your ecstatic response to the school league tables and Michael Gove’s “reforms” (editorial, 24 January). Surely you are aware of the cost of these results?

Borderline English and maths pupils are targeted and subjected to intensive tutoring to obtain the desired C grade, often withdrawn from other subjects. Weaker candidates pursue easier options to achieve the desired 5 “C” grades. It is known for these subjects to be taught by teachers’ assistants in small groups.

In your bog-standard comprehensive the C grade is the focus for everyone, regardless of ability. The real meaning of education is lost. There is no time for it.

Carole Lewis, Solihull, West Midlands

It is unfortunate that in your editorial you placed such a strong emphasis on comparing the improvement in the number of students who achieved the English Baccalaureate in 2013 as against 2012.

It was not until September 2010 that the current Secretary of State introduced, as a measure of a school’s success, the notion of the English Baccalaureate. He did this with little or no prior warning and at a point when curriculum planning, staffing decisions and option choices for the 2012 examination cohort had already been made. Indeed, the 2012 GCSE cohort had already started their courses. 

It is therefore no surprise that more students achieved the English Baccalaureate in 2013. For the 2013 GCSE examination cohort schools knew this was one of the minister’s chosen measures and they had the time to adjust their curriculum, option choices and staffing structures to reflect this. As a result more students, totally unsurprisingly, achieved this new measure.

Pete Crockett , Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire

Your editorial praising Michael Gove left me highly bemused. I notice nothing in my daughter’s school of his work.

However, could recent success be due to the long hard work of the last Labour government on “education, education, education”? The pupils who took GCSEs in 2013 were born in 1997 and started school in 2001, two Labour landslide years. Concentration on early years, literacy and class sizes may now be paying off.

The fantastic equipment I see in my daughter’s school and investment in school buildings all came from the Labour government. My own school career coincided with Thatcher’s reign, during which my schools were never refurbished.

Success must be welcomed, but your analysis is unfortunately shallow. The reasons may be more complex.

James Dawson, London N11

Before your adulation of Michael Gove reaches ridiculous heights, there are some serious concerns, not the least of which is his profligacy with public money.

In 2011 he announced with due modesty his “Troops for Teachers” scheme. After much probing by me, and nefarious evasive tactics by the DfE, I have at last managed to find out the true cost of this venture. In all 135 service personnel are in training to become teachers at an expense of some £10m, an average of £75,000 per trainee.

In addition, a Wolverhampton free school with 20 pupils – yes, that’s right, 20 – is in line for a £1.6m extension.

Doubtless Mr Gove would label me as a “Marxist enemy of promise” but there are real concerns that ordinary schools are losing out in his ideological crusade for the few and damn the rest.

Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh,  Essex

After Rennard, bring in some rules

Of course any woman with any gumption, when faced with sexual harassment, can cope by bringing a “shoe heel smartly down on a male foot” (letter, 22 January). But why should a woman need to?

The Lib Dem lords have much better things to argue about than sexual behaviour. However a short search through the annals of political history will show that sexual behaviour has led to more political scandals and downfalls than any more useful behaviour.

So hasn’t the time come for all politicians of all parties to co-operate in developing a code of behaviour, backed by a punitive system that does not tolerate any abuse of positions of power?

April Beynon , Mumbles, Swansea

I was delighted to read my cousin Andrew Sturgis’ letter (24 January). It demonstrates that the pros and cons of the Rennard saga are not necessarily a generational problem, as some people think. Andrew is 96.

I hope he will get his grandson, Danny Alexander, to persuade his Cabinet colleagues to “get round a table” and heed his grandad’s sound, solid sense.

Robin Grey QC, London EC4

Steve Richards (22 January) seems to think that an “outdated” attitude on Chris Rennard’s part is, to some extent, the reason for his downfall. Is this an outdated attitude to women or is it to sexual harassment in the workplace?

He writes as if Chris Rennard is in his late eighties and came through the Second World War, and is now a confused old man, but he is 53 years old, plenty young enough to have learned during the 1980s and 90s that you don’t treat women in the workplace as fantasy fodder.

Lin Hawkins, Ashcott, Somerset

Contrived furore over girl abortions

Your report “The lost girls: Illegal abortion widely used by some UK ethnic groups to avoid daughters” (15 January) purports to show a higher male to female sex ratio in some ethnic groups in the UK.

However it is an assumption that this results from illegal abortion, as the census figures do not address abortion statistics. In my 25 years of medical practice in Tower Hamlets, where latterly 50 per cent of births were to women from Bangladesh and about 10 per cent from India, I only had one request for a termination of pregnancy on grounds of foetal gender. The woman was white and did not want a boy.

It is perverse to say that there is a debate about whether a woman should be given the results of a test on her own body. GMC guidance emphasises the importance of full communication with patients. The whole furore is a contrived situation by those who disapprove of abortion in general.

We accept that globally there is a problem, but the way to tackle this is to improve the status of women in society, not restrict women’s access to abortion or test results.

Wendy Savage, London N1

There is a bigger picture behind the controversy over abortion of female foetuses. Why, apart from rare cases of serious inherited illness affecting only one sex, should anyone want or need to know the sex of their unborn child?

When I was pregnant some years ago, there seemed to be no need to know the sex of the baby inside me. The unborn infant knew perfectly well who and what it was. Why should I intrude?

I wonder why we are so eager to know the sex? Is it our desire for knowledge and control in life, our unwillingness to accept uncertainties? Knowing the baby’s sex before birth means that we are constructing a gendered image of who the baby will be: at the extreme, future England footballer versus pretty little girl to buy clothes for.

Knowing the baby’s sex means you know what colour to paint the nursery – but isn’t the whole blue/pink thing a bit weird and stereotyped?

Shayne Mitchell, Cambridge

Plenty of sources for omega-3

It seems ridiculous to genetically engineer plants in order to produce omega-3 oil (report, 24 January) when plants already exist that produce it naturally.

Flax, or linseed, contains high levels of omega-3, as does rapeseed oil, hemp, walnuts and a range of other edible plants. People like me who eat a plant-based diet manage to obtain enough of this important nutrient from these sources, so why the need to grow potentially dangerous GM crops or, for that matter, eat fish which suffer and die in huge numbers?

Ben Martin, Maidstone, Kent

Poor timing by the chancellor

For many years I ran a small export-oriented knitwear manufacturing business. During this time, we saw bank base rate rise to 18 per cent and the exchange rate to $2.30 to the pound. But we survived.

As I near retirement and look to generate an income from my hard-earned savings, we are told the economy will grind to a halt if base rates rise above 0.5 per cent. Am I missing something?

Sue Holder, Aberaeron, Ceredigion

Economic crisis? Blame Canada

Canada has banned Marmite, Irn Bru and Penguin biscuits from sale.  Yet in Britain, the Bank of England is run by a Canadian and our National Lottery’s profits go to fund Canadian teachers’ pensions. Perhaps we could have our revenge by banning maple syrup?

Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex

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