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- Arts + Ents
Tuesday 27 May 2008
Letters: The five-term year
Time to think again about the advantages of the five-term year
Sir: A decade ago, a colleague and I at the University of Lincoln tried to start a public debate about the advantages of a five-term school year. The issue has been raised again, this time by the Independent Public Policy (report, 21 May).
Our arguments were based on the logicality of moving to a school year that had terms of equal lengths (eight weeks), predictable term dates from year to year and consistently across schools, and regular vacations (four of two weeks, and a four-week summer break).
We also pointed to the research both in the UK and in the USA that suggested learning was lost during over-long breaks, and which identified the worst effects of learning loss as penalising those children most disadvantaged socially and educationally already.
That position was attacked by the Local Government Association and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers. The NAS/UWT demanded that teachers resist the change because the long summer holiday was the "last perk" of the profession. The LGA fudged a change that was no change: the six-term year, the "old" system of six half-terms relabelled as terms.
To date, this story has been one not of educational benefit but of factional self-interest. So hopefully, the climate is now right for a more reasoned and rational approach, based on the potential to give children better educational chances.
To implement such a change nationally would require initial planning and nominal set-up costs, but the five-term system would bring considerable benefits. The only question that remains is whether this government will have the courage and tenacity to implement it.
Professor of Education Leadership, University of Lincoln
What if we hadn't voted for Labour?
Sir: Can I be the only one who now, belatedly, regrets voting Labour instead of perhaps abstaining or voting LibDem at the last general election?
At the time I did so – not because I agreed with many of the then government policies (most of which have survived to haunt Gordon Brown), nor because I was already bitterly opposed to Tony Blair on the Iraq war – but because I thought that a Michael Howard Conservative government would be an even worse option than another Blair one. Now I begin to wonder if, perhaps for the sake of this country ever having a genuine democratic socialist political agenda, I was wrong.
Consider the alternative: Blair would have got his comeuppance (which he so richly deserved) by losing an election, and would have been replaced as party leader that much sooner, his Blairite policies justly tarnished. In retrospect, Gordon Brown might have made a better Leader of the Opposition than Prime Minister, and Michael Howard would now be getting all the blame for the economic downturn.
Labour would have been forced to review, and hopefully have revised, their discredited policies; perhaps rejecting, or at least modulating, the Blairite New Labour project and especially the dual obsession with spin and control which still bedevils this government, and David Cameron's somewhat dubious campaign to make the Tory Party "nice" and "user-friendly" would have been stillborn.
By now, what would be basically still a right-wing, neo-Thatcherite Tory Party would be getting all the flak in government, while hopefully the Labour Party would be licking its wounds and perhaps already taking positive action by reinventing itself and even contemplating a generational leadership change. That Mr Brown would have been thwarted in his chance of getting the keys to No 10 would have been an incidental footnote to history.
Sir: The report that ministers deny any plot to oust Gordon Brown (report, 26 May) brings to mind Margaret Thatcher's practice of describing a soon-to-be sacked minister as "unassailable".
What New Labour supporters will have to come to terms with is that there is no way back. New Labour's reputation was built on the foundations laid by Kenneth Clarke, who produced the budget surpluses which enabled both investment in the NHS and increasing inequality. The economic good fortune has now run out and with it New Labour.
When Gordon Brown stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised that his premiership would be one of "change" little did he realise that this did not simply mean a change of occupant. People expected a reversal of Blair's "modernisation" agenda, scrapping of identity cards, an end to private finance initiative and a change to the system whereby the poorer you are the more tax you pay proportionately. Instead, we got the abolition of the 10 per cent tax rate.
To cap it all, Brown is pressing ahead with another attempt to extend the period of police detention without trial, presumably so they can incarcerate a few more research students. Indeed, we have the absurdity of a Labour Party trying to play the race card against East European workers in the recent Crewe by-election, to the echoes of Brown's chauvinist call for "British jobs for British workers".
The best thing we can hope for is that the forthcoming general election defeat will be so comprehensive that in a few years not even the most brazen soul will admit to having been a supporter.
Sir: Listening to the unconvincing defence of Gordon Brown by his colleagues, and the ludicrous proposals for the return to cabinet of previously discredited or dishonest ministers, one has to ask whether Labour in government now has the faintest idea of what's happening in the real world. Mr Brown's single most important error, personality aside, was to fail to distance himself from the man and policies that went before. Mr Blair had to go, no longer trusted because of Iraq and other misjudgements.
When he did, the electorate was ready to listen to Mr Brown's plans for a change of direction. But instead of an apology for past mistakes, and a new, chastened, sense of purpose, we got even more of the same arrogant disregard f or the people, delivered by a man with far less presentational skill.
The result was predictable. So if Labour want to win the next election, they have got to do three things, immediately. First, understand that the interests of the electorate are not necessarily the same as those of big business. Second, stop ministers from talking contemptible rubbish when interviewed. Pig-headedly repeating an agreed line and refusing to answer the question fools no one, and insults the listeners' intelligence.
Third, and most important, remember that the electorate are the masters, not servants to be fobbed off, ordered about, and spied on. Because if the government doesn't get it, and quickly, then we will simply sack them.
Sir: Last year, no one could muster the courage to oppose Mr Brown's coronation. Then he could not find the courage to call an election. It would be surprising if Labour MPs now found the guts to go for a knockout, and equally implausible that Mr Brown should find it in himself to step down. Two more years, I predict. And it can only get worse.
Sir: Isn't this the time for Gordon Brown's cabinet colleagues to give him the same level of support that Mr Brown and his allies gave to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister?
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
The road to understanding
Sir: In her excellent article "The long and winding road to forgiveness", (20 May), Marina Cantacuzino says: "For most offenders to take responsibility for their actions, they need to consider how their behaviour affected people and what might be done to repair the harm it caused. This is what restorative justice is all about."
This approach also applies to much non-criminal behaviour. An interesting analogy is the movement by communities to become "fairtrade towns" and to develop partnerships with producer communities. Garstang in Lancashire, the first fairtrade town, is in partnership with a cocoa-producing community in Ghana, enabling people at both ends to understand the nature and impact of production and consumption, and unfair trading practices.
I have always felt it would be fascinating to bring together poppy farmers in Afghanistan with heroin users in Britain to examine the heroin trade from source to use, so each would have a greater understanding of the lives of the other; the unjust trade in terms of prices paid to the producers, the financial and social costs and the appalling impact that prohibition has at both ends of the chain.
Dr Nick Maurice
Sensible? Yes, but only for Israel
Sir: Alan Golding says of the Israeli-Palestinian problem (letters, 22 May), "the time has come to stop regurgitating the same old arguments and instead discuss the situation as it exists today and attempt to find a sensible solution?".
This would mean accepting that Israel can keep land illegally taken; would the Palestinians regard this as sensible? "Why not agree that history cannot be reversed". Again Israel gets to keep the land, and the ethnically cleansed stay exiled.
"Land can be exchanged and compromises agreed in many areas". But Israel has declared Jerusalem its "indivisible capital" and Israel has no good unoccupied land it could swap for its illegal settlements in the West Bank. It needs these settlements to access the water that it would never cede. The last time Israel offered land in a swap it was desert near Gaza used by Israel as a dump for toxic waste.
Mr Golding says cynics will regard this as unrealistic. Quite, and totally pro-Israel. Cutting the Gordian Knot answered a prophesy, it did not dispense justice; neither will this concept of giving Israel a permit to ignore past illegal actions. If the problem gets solved it will be when the West exerts massive sanctions against Israel or when Israel is eventually pressured by the numerous enemies it has made in the region.
Airline flies into a dense fog
Sir: I fly from London to Boston regularly. Last week, I checked the American Airlines website and found they wanted £493 for my usual two flights. I thought that high, so I investigated flying direct to Boston, driving to New York (200 miles) and flying back from there. That was £332, and included the outward flight from London to Boston that I wanted originally.
Then their website automatically suggested an even cheaper option. The same direct flight from London, but a different flight with one stop on the way back from New York, at only £318. You guessed it. The stop was in Boston, and the flight from Boston to London was the one I tried to book in the first place.
I rang American Airlines and asked if I could book the itinerary for £318 and ignore the New York to Boston part of the ticket. This would save them a seat which could be used by a standby passenger and save me driving 200 miles. I assumed this was a win for both of us but, after almost 40 minutes of talk and referring to supervisors, I was told this was absolutely prohibited. Can anyone at American Airlines explain the economics of this?
No class act
Sir: Does Simon Icke (letters, 24 May) really think that there are no working-class gay people? Clearly he must, since he appears to regard "family values" and caring about "the vulnerable in our society" as somehow incompatible with supporting gay rights. Would he perhaps feel happier if even gay people – even those who are working-class - were no longer regarded as vulnerable and no longer afforded the protection of the law?
Taking a bath in Bath
Sir: Your report on a weekend in Bath (Traveller, 24 May) would have had a lot of local readers spluttering into their cornflakes when reading the comments on the construction of the 2006 Thermae Bath Spa, "a local council this inspired should run the country". So what are the secrets for success in undertaking such a project? Council-tax payers, through their elected representatives, let the work be managed in-house, underwrote any overrun of costs and time and apparently are now receiving from their tenants a "peppercorn" rent for 20 years. Sounds a good deal, like Northern Rock.
D A Shearn
Midsomer Norton, Somerset
Sir: Your article "Visiting time: Charles Bronson invites us into his cell" (19 May), contains inaccuracies. You refer to "Broadmoor Hospital for the criminally insane". The correct term is Broadmoor high secure Hospital, run by the NHS to treat mentally disordered offenders who require high security. You also refer to "guards" smashing into a "cell". We don't have guards or cells. We have nurses, security staff and patients' rooms.
Acting Director of Communications, West London Mental Health NHS Trust
MPs abuse system
Sir: I have no difficulty with the concept that, because of their particular situation, MPs need two homes and that they should receive some assistance with the cost of one (but only one) of them. But where they have one in London at our expense (such as 10 or 11 Downing Street, or the Speaker's residence) then there is no justification for the taxpayer supporting a home in their constituency. This is an abuse of the system.
Sir: Mary Dejevsky in Comment (26 May) lauds Russia's Eurovision win and suggests Red Square as next year's venue for this campest of events, a highlight for gay men. The Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, has banned Moscow Pride for the third year running, calling gay rights events "Satan's work". A year ago, Peter Tatchell and others were attacked at an unsanctioned march in Moscow while police watched. No, Ms Dejevsky, not Moscow.
Michael J J Day
Settle, North Yorkshire
Well done, Taff
Sir: The name which always amused me when I passed it (letters, 24 May) was the pub near Cardiff called Taffs Well Inn.
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