Letters: What puts off likely teachers

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 14 August, 2013


Your front-page story and second leader (13 August) deal with the problem of attracting (and keeping?) teachers in key subjects: pay is the issue, you say. Nowhere do you suggest that conditions might be part if not all of the issue.

I have many friends in the teaching profession, at all levels and in all sectors. Do they complain about pay? No. Their difficulties lie with the bureaucracy and the many “new initiatives” that they are required to implement.

Imagine spending hours reading new guidelines and preparing new curricula, only to discover shortly afterwards that these are all wrong, because there is yet another “new initiative”. No wonder they become either incandescent with rage or so totally dispirited that they decide to give up.

Twenty years ago, further education colleges brought in new contracts with unlimited teaching hours. I refused to sign; so I was denied any pay increases, and when I retired 10 years later my pension was consequently much less than it should have been. However, I have the satisfaction of knowing that my teaching was never compromised and my students never short-changed.

Some colleagues did compromise; some buckled under the strain and had to give up; some resigned, including one outstanding teacher (yes, of a key subject) who left after a year, saying that it wasn’t possible to teach properly.

If teaching is your vocation, pay is not as important as having the right conditions in which to teach.

Christina Jones, Retford, Nottinghamshire


For as long as I can remember, successive governments only ever seem to mention teachers in terms of how many of them are useless and should be sacked forthwith, how they are to blame for most of society’s ills and how overpaid they are, with too many holidays for such a cushy job.

I just can’t work out why there could possibly be any shortage of aspirants for teaching as a career.

Paul Clein, Liverpool

Muslim world struggles with democracy

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown seeks answers to Islam’s failings (10 August). The problems of the Muslim world seem quite explicable to me.

The western world has a religion whose founding figure was a peace-loving, anti-authoritarian ascetic; it landed in a world steeped in scholasticism and went through a rigorous intellectual massaging by the Church Fathers, also a group of peaceable intellectuals. By the time it was taken over by politicians within its DNA were the seeds of its own redundancy, as seen first in the Reformation and then the Enlightenment, which was largely about removing religion and superstition from law, politics and science.

Islam on the other hand began life as a state religion and has as its central figure a warlord; it grew from a society of Arab tribesmen which had been culturally isolated. You feel it has no self-effacing DNA and will keep its grip to the bitter end.

To blame the West for the problems of Islamic societies is to give our politicians far more credibility for effective action than they deserve.

Silas Sutcliffe, London NW3


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is as naive as the rest of us concerning the horribly miscalled “Arab Spring”. How can a newly elected government succeed in an impoverished situation in which it is unable to deliver employment, education and health care, especially where there is no strong tradition of state delivery of such services?

How can democracy work when you are beholden either to family or to a local strongman for employment?

Without a substantial wealth-creating class, and concomitant civil society institutions, which do not happen in tyrannies, how do you make the leap to functioning democracy? How is it done when an unhappy unintentional side-effect of Islam has been the preservation of patriarchal society which largely excludes women from public space? How is it done when an outsider like the US bankrolls armies for its own profoundly anti-democratic Middle East agenda?

Alibhai-Brown should not be so disillusioned with Turkey. Authoritarian government (as opposed to dictatorship) may be an unavoidable transitional stage, and however much we may dislike its current behaviour, Turkey’s present government is a lot less terrifying than its fundamentalist-secularist predecessors. Its signal achievement has been to reduce the power of the army and state bureaucracy. No one in Turkey wants to go back to the 1990s.

Democracy will only come painfully and incrementally in lands where it has never previously been known.

David McDowall, Richmond, Surrey


Gibraltar wants to stay semi-British

When residents of British overseas territories such as Gibraltar are asked if they wish to remain British, they understandably say “Yes please!” That is because over decades Parliament has crafted uniquely indulgent legislation to govern them. We would all like to live without VAT but only places like the Channel Islands and Gibraltar can afford to dispense with it.

The question they should really be asked is this: Do you want to live under United Kingdom legislation? Do you want to pay UK taxes, accept UK regulation of your financial services, get your local government money from Eric Pickles, and so on. To which the answer would be, “No Way! Only the little people do that!”

Trevor Pateman, Brighton

I thought our government liked border checks, such as multiple passport checks needed to come home from Brussels on Eurostar, so why complain about the Spanish border checks at Gibraltar? For my money I’d rather we joined Schengen (if they will have us) and didn’t have border checks within Europe, either on Eurostar or at Gibraltar. Even the independent-minded non-EU Swiss are in Schengen.

H Trevor Jones, Guildford

If the Royal Navy is going to send a message to the Spanish government, surely its forthcoming exercise should be conducted off Cape Trafalgar.

Gordon Elliot, Burford, Oxfordshire

Honours  for doctors

Recently I heard on the radio a medical dame talking about the current accident and emergency problems within the NHS. The conversation was stilted, uninformed and full of the political platitude that made me quite ashamed of my profession. This led me to think: what have our honoured medical colleagues contributed to patient care other than acquiesce to their political masters? If ever there was a reason for abandoning the honours system this must be it. The award of honours to these people ensures the continuation of the political narrative as set down by their political masters.

Abandonment of this system of reward will allow those with vision, altruism and independent thought a chance to improve things for the common good. I believe that the honours system, in relation to medicine, has had a negative effect upon the improvement of healthcare. Let’s abandon this archaic system of awarding those who toe the party line and involve those genuinely wishing to improve the NHS, without personal reward, before it is too late.

Ian Bone, Retired Consultant Neurologist

Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute

Exploited by zero hours

If David Prosser (“Zero hours contracts? Key for growth”, 5 August) thinks workers are protected by the rules governing zero-hours contracts, he has never worked on one and lacks the imagination to empathise with those of us who have.

Workers may be allowed to decline work, but never do so, because their livelihoods are entirely at the mercy of the employer.

For the same reason, care workers feel discouraged from challenging the bad practices that put vulnerable people at risk: to cause any problem for your employer is to make yourself redundant.

Make an economic case for zero-hours contracts if you wish, but do not ignore that they are exploitative.

Robert Guzder, Baddesley Ensor, Atherstone, Warwickshire

Trouble on the railway

Chris Blackhurst’s proposal (9 August) to revive the Great Central Railway instead of building HS2 sounds easy, but there are serious snags. Marylebone is a small station with only one Tube connection; the first 40 miles through the suburbs and across the Chilterns are still in use by half-hourly stopping trains; further on, the route goes through the centres of Rugby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield; and it would be an indirect route to Manchester, let alone Liverpool.

Adam Sowan, Reading

Teenage errors

During 25 years as a probation officer I witnessed many confused and disaffected teenagers making misguided and ill-considered moral judgements as they sought friendship, status and a sense of self-worth. I have always believed the role of adults was to protect them at moments of such vulnerability rather than take advantage of them. Do you think Eddy Shah would agree?

David Strowbridge, Peterborough

Endless growth

Economists are welcoming the latest baby boom. The argument that we need more young people and more immigrants to support an ageing population seems credible. Somehow though it reminds me of pyramid selling, and I wonder what is supposed to happen when the new babies and young immigrants get old. Get more? Surely we should be aiming to achieve a stable population.

Ron Watts, King’s Lynn, Norfolk

Happy times

“We just need to have a Jubilee and Olympics every summer” (headline, 31 July). May I point out that the Royal Family have been doing their bit for British happiness for the past three years (a wedding, jubilee and baby), seconded by the Tour de France (two winners). It is up to the rest of us to get our act together.

The Rev Peter Mott, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Fit for the French

When a Frenchwoman looks chic (report, 13 August), it is simply because her clothes actually fit. They neither strain over every bulge (or fail to cover some), nor flap loosely giving that lost-in-space look. It may also be a matter of anatomy. I have garments labelled “medium” for UK and US sizes but deemed  “large” for the French.

S Lawton, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

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