Letters: Why education is failing

These letters appear in the Thursday 10th October edition of the Independent

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We have got what we deserved for our total failure to read the signs and complacent acceptance of what we were being fed by two previous governments about “raising standards” (“Today’s 16- to 24-year olds are less literate and numerate than their grandparents”, 9 October).

I was an expert witness on the House of Commons select committee on curriculum and assessment (2008) and spoke about the malpractices revealed by 10 years’ research into “teaching to the test” (national research funded by QCA/DfE). Teaching had been reduced to “coaching” for limited-domain testing and school inspection data so that arbitrary government “standards” were hit.

Perhaps now we will place the learners’ needs at the centre of teaching and use assessment to support those needs through teaching with differentiated pace and focus.

Professor Bill Boyle, University of Manchester


So at last the curtain has been pulled aside! After 20-odd years of various Ministers of Education bellowing at us from behind it and rumbling their tin sheet, education is seen for what it is – rubbish!

How sad that generations of school teachers, like myself, have been ignored while ministers’ ears were filled with the words of the trendy theorists. Any form of discipline was seen as offensive to the pupil’s individual freedoms, and any attempt at hard work was frowned upon as it was not “enjoyable”.

My own subject of physics was a mathematically based subject providing a solid understanding of the world and enabling the pupils to make informed decisions in later life. Now one can “pass” GCSE physics without multiplying two numbers together, and following a curriculum which includes such waffle as “the use and abuse of CCTV”. In the pointless attempt to make a subject “accessible” to everyone the bored are still bored and the hopes and aspirations of the interested are betrayed.

It is time someone (not Gove!) grabbed this thistle. Scrap academies, free schools and Ofsted’s meaningless tables, and get back to a nationwide school curriculum taught by teachers whose pride, professionalism and expertise does not need the constant interference of an army of non-teaching “experts”.  

Dr Ian Poole, Liverpool


There are two additional hurdles UK pupils must deal with when trying to attain good levels of literacy and numeracy: non-phonetic spelling in the English language and parallel imperial and metric measuring systems (because the UK cannot decide if it is American or European). Spelling reform and abandonment of imperial measurement would be steps in the right direction.

Julien Evans, Chesham, Buckinghamshire


“National Curriculum”; “Education, Education, Education”; “Education is our top priority.” Strange that ever since politicians have taken responsibility for the curriculum, standards have fallen. Perhaps, after all, the teachers did know best.

Unfortunately, as politicians also think they know best in every sphere of life we can look forward to more poor comparisons with the rest of the world.

Stephen Ryan, Draycott in the Clay, Staffordshire


Terrorism: how do we know what to believe?

We hear constantly from spokespersons for our various security services about how they are forever saving us from terrorist plots emanating from the “thousands” of UK homegrown jihadists, not to mention the countless elsewhere in the world plotting our destruction (“Snowden leaks ‘put UK at grave risk of al-Qa’ida attack’ ”, 9 October). They may be right, but the problem is we only have their word for it.

And let’s be honest, this is the same bunch that brought us Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the dirty dossier and Colin Powell’s comic show with rusty tankers and chicken sheds masquerading as terrorist training camps.

People like Snowden could be considered to be acting in the public interest (this could be called the Daily Mail defence) when they try to shine some light on the murky dealings of the security apparatus.

So we have a real problem: who and what do we believe? The odd case which actually reaches the courts mostly involves self-deluded and generally incompetent barmpots – not that I am underestimating the damage that might have occurred if they had been successful.

We are told that the security services are preventing similar plots almost daily – but how do we really know? Why do we take their word when a generally sceptical public usually regard any politicians or similar establishment figures as inveterate liars?

Tom Simpson, Bristol


Dilemma over malaria drug

I was initially horrified, as I suspect were many other readers, by the report (27 September) that British troops serving in malarial regions are being routinely treated with the anti-malarial drug Lariam (generic name mefloquine) as a prophylactic, despite the known risk of side-effects, including psychological disturbances leading to hallucinations and even suicide.

Review of the current medical literature, however, while confirming these risks, also reveals that mefloquine is currently the most reliable means of protection against malaria, a potentially lethal infection, and the dangers of mefloquine are still widely considered by medical experts to be outweighed by this fact.

It seems reasonable therefore that this situation be explained to servicemen bound for malarial regions, and they be given the option of treatment by either mefloquine or another less reliable but safer prophylactic drug. Meanwhile high priority should be given to developing a drug equally or more effective than mefloquine but without its dangerous side-effects.

Dr Robert Heys, Ripponden, West Yorkshire


Back to the 1970s as lights go out

The risk of power rationing is greater now than for years. I remember 1974; it seemed, at the time, quite fun to sit in a pub by candlelight (although the lack of beer pumps was a problem to some) – the novelty was quite exciting, at least to the young. This time, however, the potential shortages have a significant difference: an ending cannot be negotiated.

 How is it, then, that the powers that be haven’t introduced a planning requirement for every new building to have a mandatory south-facing roof, covered in solar panels? Why are we not installing (in some places, reinstating) turbines at every possible opportunity in our rivers? 

Successive governments pay lip service in their commitments to green energy; they do almost nothing. And then they worry about the fall in voter turnout. Why should we care?  Apparently they don’t.

Alison Page, Lancaster


Facebook can be made to pay tax

So Facebook paid no corporation tax in Britain last year, despite reporting UK advertising revenues of £223m? This shouldn’t be getting the prominence that it is, for Facebook has – albeit frustratingly – done absolutely nothing wrong.

Businesses will look at ways to legally reduce their costs, including tax bills, and Facebook is no different to any other business.

That said, it flies in the face of logic and is frustrating for any UK taxpayer that businesses which earn their income in the UK don’t pay tax on all of that income.

The UK is one of the most advanced economies in terms of online advertising, and it’s unlikely that businesses such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and others would pull out if they were made to pay tax in the UK. That is a missed opportunity for the UK Government, which needs all the help it can to balance the books.

It is said that only two things are certain in life, tax and mortality; and while few can deny the value these internet businesses bring to everyone in the UK, it seems they have worked out how to avoid at least one of those certainties of life, for the time being at least.

Jason Woodford, Chief Executive, SiteVisibility, London, EC1


Modest giants  of science

Nobel prize winners seem to be a modest breed (“Professor who identified most elusive particle wins Nobel – then goes missing”, 9 October). Some years ago I was in charge of issuing tickets to the Ashmolean Library in Oxford, when an elderly lady appeared in front of me.

After appropriate questioning, she appeared not to have the required identification, but she eventually said: “I did win a Nobel prize. Will that do?”

“Very nicely,” I said.

It was Dorothy Hodgkin.

Jane Jakeman, Oxford


Even experts  can be right

Climate change denial is a bit like the creationist movement, in that those who expound it have no interest in the evidence: they don’t want to be confused by facts.

If 800 electricians examined the electrics in Mike Park’s house (letter, 8 October), and they all said that the installation was clapped out, would he not even consider the possibility that they were right? After all, they all make their livelihoods from the clapped-out installation concept.

Roger Plenty, Stroud, Gloucestershire


Dire prophecies

When Andreas Whittam Smith says he is becoming more pessimistic about whether or not the US will default on its debt (9 October), we should take note. In his column in The Independent of 16 July 2007, a year before the financial crisis hit, he wrote: “A financial storm is heading our way . . .  It could lose momentum or change direction. Or it could hit us full on.”

D Stewart, London N2


Worldwide hit

Recent experience confirms, at least in part, your article (8 October) on British TV exports. Seated at a cafe in eastern Europe with a Mexican lady and a Czech student, I found that the topic of conversation was Downton Abbey.

Laurie Shields, Wingerworth, Derbyshire


Just a potter

Your Tuesday article refers to Grayson Perry as a “transvestite potter,” when only the latter word was necessary. When will sexual and gender identities become irrelevant in the media? Not soon enough.

A Butler, Lincoln