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Monday 27 August 2012
Letters: We must invest in education now
Hamish Macrae's article ("The real worry is how have we fallen so far behind the rest of the world", 24 August) is a timely reminder of the importance of investing in education to ensure we can compete and prosper in the global knowledge economy.
Government education cuts risk causing huge problems both domestically and to our global standing. Despite having just 1 per cent of the global population, UK universities produce 7.9 per cent of the world's research publications and 12 per cent of all citations.
As the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills notes, people with further education qualifications generate an additional £75bn for the economy over their lifetimes, and putting someone through A-levels and university will generate a net return of over £220,000 for the economy.
Instead of cutting funding and making access to college and university harder, the Government needs a new strategy to harness education's power to fuel economic growth, pioneer new technologies and help deliver a more equitable society.
If the Coalition continues with its present raft of regressive education policies we really will be left in other countries' slipstreams.
General Secretary, University and College Union, London NW1
Hamish McRae is right to draw attention to the incongruity of ever-rising GCSE grades and an ever-declining position in international league tables in key areas of mathematics, science and English.
As an economist, he will be aware of Goodhart's Law which, in simple terms, postulates that when an "indicator" (in this case exam grades) becomes a "target" (pass rates and league tables) it ceases to be an effective indicator (of educational standards). Assessment becomes the tail that wags the dog; we teach students how to pass exams which is only one indicator of a quality education.
I will use another economic analogy, that of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (in which European exchange rates were referenced to the best-performing economy, Germany): we should use OECD data from the Pisa league tables of comparative educational attainment as the benchmark and measure our attainment against the best-performing jurisdictions.
This will ensure rigour and integrity while driving up standards. It will also revolutionise how we assess children.
Our aim over the next 10 years should be to allow the very best of our students to compete with the best abroad (and the median to compare to the international median). Our teaching and assessment will then have time to adjust to the forces of competition.
Beyond that, we need a wider range of indicators (everything from health, fitness and self-esteem to creativity and critical thinking) against which to measure our standards with the very best internationally.
Juggling GCSE grades at this late stage is unfair
Some years ago, one of the A-Level exam boards was accused of marking English literature papers too leniently (front page, 25 August). The following year, there was a big drop from the number of good grades usually awarded.
Many scripts were given a C where the comments of examiners showed clearly that they had considered it worth a B, and so on down the line. I talked with indignant teachers from many schools about this.
We agreed that official policy seemed to be that too many higher grades in one year could be "put right" by giving too many lower grades next year. But it puts nothing right for Jo, who deserved a C and got a B one year, or for Jenny, next year, who deserved a C and got a D, and lost her place at college.
Grade inflation is a bad thing, but denying students the qualification they have earned is iniquitous. It is the job of the exam boards to judge whether students have met the criteria for each grade, not to operate a quota system to avoid having "too many C grades".
If more students are reaching this standard, it is the natural consequence of schools improving. Taking away the reward of better grades is about as demotivating as it could be.
Barnsley, South Yorkshire
Mr Gove has changed the goalposts. He has also changed the rules without telling the players and the referee, then changed the score after the game has finished. There should be no room for lying and cheating in our education system.
Hayling Island, Hampshire
Public interest or public curiosity
When will editors learn that "in the public interest" does not mean "that in which the public is interested". Some 20 years ago, a high court judge made the distinction clear when he said: "There is a world of difference between 'public interest' and 'public curiosity'."
Editors who point to the availability of material on the internet from other countries are making a specious "lowest common denominator" argument: it merely illustrates that elements of our press are as morally bankrupt as those of many other countries.
Chris A Ferne
Editors surely understand a difference between "the public interest" and mere "public curiosity". No doubt millions of people were interested enough to gawp on the internet: that is a matter for them. Quite a different matter for a newspaper owner to determine that the public had an interest of substance in seeing them.
Is that the fundamental problem with the Murdoch press? It doesn't recognise the distinction, hence the mess it now finds itself in? In no way was the betrayal of Prince Harry's privacy in the interest of the rest of us.
If it is "in the public interest" for naked pictures of Prince Harry to appear in The Sun, then it must also be "in the public interest" for that paper to publish nude pictures of Elisabeth Murdoch, sizzling, super-sexy rising star of the media mogul's family.
Datchet, Royal Berkshire
A proven route out of recession
John Rentoul talks of "economic illiteracy" in Ed Miliband's claim of there being a "cost of living crisis" (22 August), pointing out that goods and services cannot become cheaper without money coming from elsewhere. He says it is inevitable that household finances will be stretched in a recession. True, but it has been proved that recessions are shortened and shallowed when governments intervene to improve the public's standard of living.
The most efficient route out of any recession is the moving of money from where it is relatively inactive (savings accounts, pension funds, investors abroad) to where it will circulate more swiftly (construction projects and people's pockets, particularly in families and those on low incomes).
It is in the latter areas where it will be spent most quickly, because these are groups who cannot save, and buy goods and services as a priority. This triggers the "multiplier effect" of more spending, more wages and more investment. So an economically literate government would move money by borrowing and raise taxes on the very rich (who are most likely to direct their wages into investments) and using the proceeds to fund stimulus, including measures to lower living costs.
If, for example, the Government were to provide heavily subsidised childcare for every child it was needed for, thousands of pounds a year would freed for young families at a stroke. A major barrier to work would be eliminated, and households would find themselves with increased spending power.
Tackling rising living costs is not economically illiterate; it is the best way to get us out of this mess.
Jack H G Darrant
John Rentoul attacks the campaign launched by the TaxPayers' Alliance calling for a freeze in fuel duty on the grounds that we have not explained "what public spending should be cut" for it to be affordable.
The Alliance has consistently articulated how government spending could be cut. For example, our 2010 publication, How to cut Public Spending (and still win an election), proposed £50bn of savings, many of which are still yet to be adopted by the Coalition. I am surprised that the book is absent from Mr Rentoul's library, so I am sending him a copy.
It is very easy for metropolitan commentators to claim that there are "good reasons" for exorbitant levels of fuel duty, but for millions of British people, especially in small towns and rural areas, a car is a necessity for getting to work, taking children to school or doing the weekly shop.
If the Government taxed other essentials such as basic foods or children's clothes at a rate of 60 per cent, Mr Rentoul would doubtless be leading the outcry.
It is a shame that he is not willing to stand up for struggling motorists in the same way.
Chief Executive, The TaxPayers' Alliance, London SW1
Prudence should not be penalised
Barry Corbett (letters, 24 August) asks why the taxpayer should subsidise other people's inheritances. Take two people in need of care. They both worked all their lives, both earning similar salaries, paying all taxes and NI contributions. One spent his money on holidays and good living, the other saved all he could and paid extra taxes on interest and dividends. Exactly why is the taxpayer entitled to some of the frugal man's money because he was prudent?
Paying for politics
Your leading article (24 August) suggests that the funding of our political system by the state has become a necessity. In an era when the dominant political philosophy is that market forces must prevail, why should we have to prop up a derelict political system in which the outstanding attribute of all the parties is gross incompetence? Let them live according to their beliefs and allow market forces to decide.
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
Not all together
Your article about Amazon, based in Luxembourg (25 August), illustrates a much greater problem. There are other companies trading here but registered abroad. Companies registered in the UK are at a disadvantage, often paying more corporation tax and sometimes forced into closure. The Chancellor should reinvent the tax so that foreign companies pay their fair share on their British business, if necessary, making assumptions on their profits where a company does not co-operate.
Legal aid abuse
How is it possible to steal millions from your company, fly to Cyprus, stay safe from extradition for 17 years, then return to the UK and live in a £20,000-a-month home while claiming legal aid to pay for your defence? There is something seriously wrong with our legal aid system that allowed Asil Nadir this blatant abuse of taxpayers' money.
Is it my imagination, or is Boris Johnson beginning to look more like Benito Mussolini?
T D Wilson
Professor Emeritus, University of Sheffield
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