Letters: Underachievers lack help at home

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You write "Teachers do not always know best" (leading article, 6 April); so who knows better? As a retired teacher, whose family has served state education continuously since the late 1800s, and with a brother and sister-in-law both primary heads and a daughter teaching in a secondary school, I believe that my experience enables me to have an opinion.

Nothing counts more than the social context. My daughter's school is in a deprived area. Having helped under-achieving pupils there, I know how much the school does to mitigate home circumstances but, at a recent parents' evening, she saw almost all the parents of her achieving pupils and none of the parents of the underachievers – that is, those she most wanted to see.

That says it all. I help with reading at a primary school. The reading diaries of good readers are full of entries from home; those who are struggling record very little help from home.

Politicians and the chattering classes probably cannot believe that there are families who have no aspirations for their children, as well as families who could not help even if they wanted to. If life outside school works against everything that education, however it is organised, tries to do, then how is a child to prosper?

Christina Jones

Retford, Nottinghamshire

Christina Patterson makes valid points about A-levels (4 April). But there are other issues. One key skill that should be taught is independent learning. The students learn how to research, how to think for themselves, how to evaluate arguments and formulate good counter-arguments, all contributing to the ability to understand differing points of view.

This is a skill that universities require of students. As a head of religious studies until two years ago, I found that Year 7s (those just out of primary school) were well able to do this.

One of the assessments we used to give them was to debate whether or not God existed. Students were told which point of view they had to support and worked in pairs to formulate their arguments. They had to predict what the opposite team would be likely to say and be ready with good counter-arguments. The resulting debates were usually brilliant.

Unfortunately, from Year 9 onwards the focus was on exams. Each faculty was set GCSE achievement targets (say, 90 per cent A*-C) and from then on the focus is on teaching to the exams. We used to run revision sessions every week for weeks before the exams.

Results rose year on year. The problem was that pupils arrived in Year 12 having forgotten all their independent learning skills and expecting us to spoon-feed them, as we had for GCSE.

Paula Saunders

St Albans, Hertfordshire

It is remarkable that such large numbers of people whose obvious earlier success in their careers propelled them to headship are suddenly, in Michael Gove's eyes, failures. When motivating pupils it is important to use criticism sparingly and constructively. This is equally applicable with adults.

Patrick Cosgrove

Chapel Lawn, Shropshire

'Shocked, shocked to find such tax avoiding going on'

In 2010, when the present government came to office and George Osborne became Chancellor, the Revenue & Customs estimated the richest avoided and evaded their taxes to the tune of £40bn. The Tax Justice Network argued that the figure was, at a minimum, £70bn and could be as much as £120bn.

Now Osborne proclaims he is "shocked" to learn that some of the UK's richest people organise their finances so they pay virtually no income tax.

His stupefaction put me in mind of a scene in Casablanca (1942). The Nazi Major Strasser orders Vichy police chief Captain Renault to close Rick's casino after a mass sing-a-long of La Marseillaise. Renault, a drinking buddy of Rick and regular bettor, starts directing his men to close the establishment.

Rick: "How can you close me up? On what grounds?"

Captain Renault: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

Croupier hands Renault a pile of money: "Your winnings, sir."

Mr Osborne has not outlined any new proposals to crack down on tax evasion or avoidance.

Sasha Simic

London N16

So Chancellor Gideon "Call me George" Osborne, St Paul's and Oxford, heir to a baronetcy and a wallpaper fortune, is "shocked and surprised" to discover that wealthy people are utilising enterprising ways of minimising their tax liabilities. Ask yourself if he also thinks the electorate believe there are fairies at the bottom of our gardens.

In a PR-obsessed government headed by an ex-PR man but spectacularly inept at public relations, Osborne is meant to be the shrewd strategist, not the man who only has to see a foot before he wraps his mouth around it. But it's hard to view his tax-dodging remarks as anything but another ill-judged attempt to counter his PR calamity of a budget that has ended in another disastrous own goal.

The Chancellor is right to believe that the British public is increasingly hostile in these austere times to "tax-dodging". But he is wrong to assess that anger to be directed at wealthy individuals who do genuinely donate generously to charity, availing themselves of the most tax-efficient ways of doing so.

There is likely to be far more public sympathy for the 800 charities, large and small, who are banding together (under the campaign banner, "Give It Back, George") to oppose the Chancellor's plan to cap donation tax relief.

Paul Connew

St Albans, Hertfordshire

So our Chancellor apparently is shocked that rich people don't pay enough tax. If all British citizens and British passport holders were assessed for tax on their worldwide earnings no matter where they lived and any tax they paid to a recognised foreign tax authority were deducted from their tax liability, then offshore tax havens would disappear overnight.

Any British citizen living in a foreign country would still pay tax to that country and only pay the difference (if any) to the UK, but any British citizen who is "non-resident for tax purposes" would still be liable for UK tax on their earnings. It is true that some might choose to give up their British citizenship but that would be their choice; being a British citizen carries responsibility as well as privilege, and one responsibility is to contribute to the exchequer.

Allan Winsor

Loughborough, Leicestershire

The news that Amazon pays no corporation tax in Scotland despite £7bn of sales is truly bewildering. Did the SNP government ask them if they paid tax when they gave this multibillion-pound company £10m of Scottish taxpayer's money?

I sadly doubt it. With Alex Salmond trying to save Rangers from paying the full amount to HMRC you really have to wonder what kind of independent Scotland they want us to have? It used to be low-tax Celtic Tiger Ireland that we would be like; it now seems like no-tax Celtic Lion Scotland.

Dave Cochrane


Lobbying must be transparent

Any register of political lobbyists that excludes those professionals working "in-house" (leading article, 3 April) will not be worth the paper it is printed on. Lobbying has a valid place in the political system, but must be conducted with openness and transparency. This is simply not possible if a register excludes the majority of professional lobbyists, who work for a specific organisation rather than for a third-party agency.

Suggesting that a register is in any way useful if these professionals are excluded is naive at best and is at worst insulting to the electorate, who have a right to know everything in their political system is being conducted above board.

The Government must ensure that every professional lobbyist – whether they work for a third-party agency, business, charity or trade union – is subject to the same rules, and that a statutory register is backed by a compulsory code of conduct, a ban on all professional lobbyists holding parliamentary passes that give them privileged access to decision-makers, and that meetings between officials and lobbyists are recorded and on public record.

Chris Whitehouse

London SE1

The danger of elected mayors

Where did the notion come from that locally elected mayors are an extension of democracy, rather than a concentration of power?

What actually happens is that the top dog of the leading party has a scrap with a younger dog of the same party for the nomination, one wins and the party unites behind him and assures his victory.

The winning candidate then rules with an advisory "cabinet" he has appointed; the rest of the council are his stooges or impotent opponents. There is no political brake on his authority.

In the old model of local government, a council's intended actions had to be debated openly in committee by councillors with equal voting power; now the decisions of an individual are "scrutinised" by a committee after the event.

This is less local democracy than local autocracy.

Jad Adams

London SE23

Racist police reflect society

Racism in the police is not acceptable, but why do we expect police officers, from a society where even discussing racism is so uncomfortable it is rarely done, to suddenly have the knowledge and skills to deal with different cultures in difficult circumstances? A few hours of diversity training and some wishful thinking will not do it. A police service that reflects society? Sadly, we have achieved that.

Bob Morgan

Thatcham, Berkshire

A night to blub

I much liked Terence Blacker's comments (10 April) on the Titanic cruise, particularly the bit about all the blubbing predicted when they reach the spot. Much has been made about passengers in period costumes eating from contemporary menus. I bet nobody is wearing a costume or eating food appropriate to those in steerage class.

T Saul

Mansell Gamage, Herefordshire

Athletes' tickets

With reference to "Athlete's father in ticket row" (7 April), LOCOG is guaranteeing all athletes up to two tickets for family and friends for every session that they compete in. Athletes can also get tickets through their national governing bodies and the British Olympic Association as well as through sponsor schemes.

Chris Townsend

Commercial Director at London 2012, London E14

Galloway insults

Howard Jacobson's sneering article about George Galloway (7 April) with its sad, plodding, attempted patina of good-humoured banter, is on a par with the gratuitous insults by the BBC when Mr Galloway was "interviewed" on Newsnight. How the "serious commentators" squirm on the rare occasions a radical truth-teller gets his head above the parapet.

Jim McCluskey

Twickenham, Middlesex

Out of tune

Laura Davis, in her review of Cher Lloyd at the Indig02 (10 April), says Lloyd riskily covered Nicki Minaj's "Turn My Swag On". Actually, that version of "Turn My Swag On" is by Keri Hilson. Not Nicki Minaj.

Amita Chohan

Rugby, Warwickshire

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