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Friday 2 November 2012
Letters: Who is to blame for the GCSE marking scandal?
I am puzzled by Ofqual's allegations that teachers' overmarking of coursework was responsible for examination problems. While it is possible that teachers overmark, all coursework is subject to moderation by moderators appointed by the examination boards. Surely they would have adjusted the marks if they detected overmarking.
Examiners and moderators do not award grades; they only award marks. The grade boundaries are set by the senior officials of the board. If the officials believed that there was overmarking by teachers, then they could have adjusted grade boundaries. Ofqual's allegations reek of blame-shifting.
It is, of course, disgraceful that some teachers are pressured into giving higher marks for coursework than they believe their pupils deserve. But the reaction of Ofqual is no less shocking.
In order to ensure that there is no rise in the number of candidates achieving a grade C, they have raised the marks required. This has the effect of penalising those teachers and their pupils who have not cheated, by giving them a lower grade than they deserve.
It is perverse to punish virtue, and, rather than tinkering with grades, a much more radical reform of public examinations is needed.
George MacDonald Ross
Ofqual's action tells the world: "If you go to a school that does not cheat we will mark you down from your correct entitlement and blight your future – so be warned."
Ofqual has only one option: live with the grade inflation and list the schools whose marking was up, so that universities and employers are warned that their results may be inflated.
The point about the English GCSE fiasco is not the issue of what constitutes cheating. It is that in terms of ability at English the margin between C and D is minuscule. Yet upon this unmeasurable difference we make hang the pupil's future, our view of the quality of the school, and the teacher's hopes of preferment. What a nonsense!
After the storm, we need to work on the climate
Dr John Cameron (letter, 1 November) says that "to attribute hurricane Sandy to man-made global warming, when using insufficient observational data and coarse mathematical models, brings climate science into disrepute".
That it may do, but I care not for the reputation of climate science, and rather more for the existence of mankind on this planet. It is true that we cannot prove beyond doubt that these weather conditions are man-made, but climate change deniers miss the point.
If we do not take steps to reduce the effect of our lifestyle on the planet right now, soon we won't be here anyway. If it is proved that it isn't man-made, and we still take steps to reduce the effect, in 20 years' time we can all have a laugh about it. At least we'll still be here to laugh.
We need to emphasise that steps must be taken now, and I praise The Independent's journalists for their coverage. We cannot afford to take the risk.
Shoreham-by-sea, West Sussex
Like Alan Hinnrichs (letter, 31 October), I thought about New York being devastated by a hurricane, and that it was a foretaste of the growing climatic mayhem expected during the next few decades. And it is happening in the centre of civilisation, not in some distant tropical land.
Many US cities affected seem to have coped well with the evacuation of vulnerable residents, but tunnels for traffic and utilities have been less amenable to protection. It is not clear whether the emergency efforts had a unified plan or were just a rapid response.
Both eventualities have a common remedy, however: adaptation. Increased sea defences, flood alleviation schemes, tunnel protection, refuge areas for both humans and livestock and, of course, robust evacuation plans, are just some measures that require working on. None of it will be cheap, but neither are the alternatives being played out in New York right now.
Adaptation will be necessary whatever the success of climate amelioration. Such success will not come overnight; it is estimated as needing 30-40 years to show any reversal. During that period adaptation is going to be essential.
Americans are people too
I am sure that I am not the only reader of The Independent to be worried about the welfare of much-loved friends in New York. One of mine managed to maintain her email connection and was able to keep me updated.
She told me of one young mother who lost both her children, aged four and two. They were swept away from her into the deluge. She could hear the elder shouting for her, and she could do nothing.
But to such as John Crocker (letter, 1 November) I am "wittering on about the misfortune of a minority of the richest nation on earth". Pass the sickbag!
What a brilliant letter from John Crocker : "It is time the media in the UK broke the thrall in which they seem to be held by the US." Hear! Hear!
In the same issue was an article about the chief of police in Oakland. Oakland? Where's that? There's nowhere in Britain with that name. It wasn't until I read the byline that I realised that the article was about Oakland, California, USA. But of course we were expected to know that, even though it is around 6,000 miles from here.
In contrast, in a recent article you felt it necessary to explain that Hamburg is a city in north-west Germany. It's only about 200 miles from the east coast of England, for goodness sake! Some of us have even been there.
Managing the fish in the sea
How we continue to provide fish as food to the world is an extremely important debate ("Ethical eating? It's a fishy business", 12 October). The UK exports most of what it catches (435,000 tonnes in 2011) and imports what it wants to eat.
We catch and export langoustine, crab, herring and mackerel and import cod, haddock and prawns. Most of our cod and haddock comes from Iceland and Norway, where stocks are at all-time highs. The issue is predominantly one of national taste and not of fish stocks.
The assertion that fish numbers in our oceans are dwindling does not tell the whole story. There are fish stock increases in many of the areas from which we source our fish. These increases are not down to luck; they are the result of careful management, technological improvements and joint working between the industry and environmental groups.
Indeed, contrary to some commonly held perceptions, wild whitefish supplies are predicted to rise by 16 per cent by next year. There is a long way to go to ensure over-fishing stops completely but we are making progress.
We should be protecting fish stocks, but also recognising that all food production has impacts and without fishing we would just be shifting intolerable environmental burdens to other areas.
Dr Paul Williams
Chief Executive, Seafish, Grimsby
Legally married in a mosque
Your report on the Scientologist marriage case (25 October) refers to Britain's "complicated marriage laws", so it is perhaps understandable that it states them inaccurately.
It is not true that Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus "have to get married in civil ceremonies and then receive religious blessings". They may do that, but, just like, for example, Catholics, they may register their buildings so that a religious marriage performed there by an authorised person will be a legal marriage.
Recently a Muslim couple who were married in a registered mosque by an imam, believing it would be a legally recognised marriage, were held to have contracted a legal marriage even though the imam thought he was conducting "only" a religious ceremony, and did not formally register the marriage.
In 2010 there were 198 Muslim and 168 Sikh buildings of worship in which legally recognised marriages could be solemnised.
Co-editor, International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, Pembroke College, Oxford
US warplanes at the ready
Our local free newspaper tells us that US fighter aircraft based at the naively named "RAF" Lakenheath will be operating night-flights all this week. Well that's good, as our nights here in sleepy Suffolk are too damn quiet.
But when you report possible British intervention in the Middle East, a seriously dangerous possibility arises: the US night-flights are the precursor to yet another war in that volatile region, and that our foreign policy is again set to trot along at the heels of the US.
Walsham le Willows, Suffolk
What an interesting map you published of all the hostile military bases ringing Iran (2 November). If ever a state needed nuclear weapons to deter aggressors it is Iran, whereas the UK's nuclear submarine fleet is a mere vanity project and big earner for "defence" contractors.
Why you should get out and vote
Whether or not you support the principle of elected police commissioners, failing to record a vote or the spoiling of ballot papers, as suggested by your recent correspondents, is a potentially dangerous course of action.
Bear in mind the warning of an early political commentator who said: "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."
His name was Plato and he lived almost 2,500 years ago, but his words are as true today as they have always been.
Gay men in cloth caps
Rugby league is, according to popular myth, a sport played only in the North by reactionary, illiberal types, or, to use the words of Michael Herd, once of the London Evening Standard: "A game for ape-like creatures, watched by gloomy men in cloth caps". Who would have thought that the Leeds-based Rugby Football League would win Stonewall's award as the sporting body doing most to tackle homophobia?
Perhaps this perennially disregarded sport could teach football, and especially the FA, a thing or two about inclusivity.
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