Public mistrust of MMR, Leave our school terms alone and others

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The Independent Online

People mistrust MMR because they mistrust politicians

Sir: Despite what the Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary says (letter, 5 November), your leading article's analogy between selling computers and selling the MMR triple vaccine to the public is perfectly valid.

For whatever reason, and despite "overwhelming engineering evidence", the computer manufacturer had been unable to convince his customers that there was not an overheating problem. So he gave in and fitted an unnecessary cooling fan at added cost. The alternative was to do nothing, suffer further deterioration in the product's brand image and see profits fall.

In the case of the MMR triple vaccine, the Government cannot convince the public that it is safe by continually quoting "overwhelming scientific evidence" because the public in recent years have come to believe that politicians, when it suits them, do not tell the truth. So the MMR product brand image is at rock bottom. It is little use saying that that the triple vaccination is safer than three single vaccinations because the public does not believe that either.

If the Government continues to do nothing, a fair percentage of those who cannot afford or otherwise obtain the course of single vaccinations will avoid vaccination altogether, probably resulting in outbreaks of measles. It is not politically acceptable to make the MMR vaccination compulsory. There is only one viable solution: the NHS must offer a choice between MMR and separate vaccines.

It is not an issue of "overwhelming scientific evidence" or "over-simplification" as Paul Burstow suggests. In both the case of computer overheating and that of MMR, it is a marketing issue on how best to obtain a desired end result.

CHRIS EAST

Royston, Hertfordshire

Leave our school terms alone  

Sir: Your editorial on the proposed six-term school year (5 November) was (unusually) distinguished by an almost total lack of critical thinking. More than the briefest examination of the subject will come up with many examples of the forthcoming disruption, not to say negative effects, of the proposed changes, of which I will mention but two.

First, the official declaration of a "fun" sixth term will be seen by both parents and pupils as an open invitation to truancy. Never will these two affected groups have been so united in skipping what will be seen as inconsequential school time, when holidays beckon. The same applies to the two-day spells at school at the end of the eight-day breaks. And as for the period around the bank holidays, especially Easter - well, I know that I would have been tempted, when I was a reasonably conscientious parent, to "make a bridge" to the end of term.

Secondly, how exactly are we in Kent going to pilot the early taking of public examinations in May next academic year? Perhaps we'll have different papers: if not, what price the contents of GCSE and A-level examinations?

T J HILL

West Farleigh, Kent

Sir: As a teacher and parent I greatly welcome the proposed introduction of the six-term academic year. Is it possible to hope, as well, for consistent term dates for all schools? If your children are not at the same school, the task of juggling work, travel and childcare arrangements when holiday dates vary between schools is quite a nuisance and, to some working mothers, a very costly problem.

This recent half-term was on different weeks in different schools and I know some parents who were obliged to make double the child care payments as a result. Schools usually give rather whimsical reasons for their choice of term dates, but it is too serious an inconvenience to treat lightly any more.

KATE GREENHALGH

London SW19

Sir: I read with interest your report concerning the proposals to split the school calendar into six terms, and recognised the obvious merits to such a proposal. What sickened me were the comments by Chris Keates, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, who vehemently opposed the change. Mr Keates' objection to the marginally shorter summer break was that: "Many young teachers come into the profession because the summer break gives them the opportunity of travel".

As a trainee teacher in my final year - and as a parent - I find his attitude deplorable. I am entering the teaching profession because I have a passion for working with young people; because I want to make a difference in their lives, as do the rest of my fellow students. I have yet to find one who shares the motivation suggested by Mr Keates. If someone was to be put off entering the profession for the reason suggested, then we should all be thankful. Such an attitude is unwelcome in our schools.

CARL NIBLOCK

Southport, Merseyside

Democracy in action  

Sir: Your leader ("Mr Prescott and his flawed campaign for devolution", 4 November) misses the point of the Government's regional policy. We are offering people in northern England the chance to get closer to decision-making by establishing elected regional assemblies. These assemblies will be democratically accountable to their regions, taking over responsibilities from central government and unelected public bodies.

They will have powers to make a difference in key areas which need to be planned at a regional level such as economic development, jobs, planning, housing, transport, culture and the environment. So they need to be strategic bodies which have a wide influence, freedom to allocate spending according to regional priorities, and a vision for the whole region. They will not be involved with local service delivery, which rightly will remain a local authority responsibility.

But establishing regional assemblies and improving local government arrangements are not mutually exclusive. Along with the preparations for elected regional assemblies we are working to improve the efficiency, transparency and accountability of existing structures of local governance. Streamlining local government structures by establishing unitary authorities will lead to more effective co-ordination between councils and elected assemblies.

Our sounding exercise on regional policy received responses from a wide range of individuals and organisations across England, involving over 50,000 people. The results showed a high level of interest in holding a referendum on establishing an elected regional assembly in the North-east, the North-west, and Yorkshire and the Humber. What we are doing now is giving those people the choice they asked for. Our new information campaign will give people the information they need to have their say on the future of their region. This is surely an example of devolution and democracy in action.

NICK RAYNSFORD

Minister for Local Government and the Regions

House of Commons

Sir: However convincing your editorial, one only has to compare the salaries and perks on offer to the political nonentities in (say) the Welsh Assembly with the comparatively meagre allowances available to their English equivalents serving on local councils, to understand why the political establishment will move heaven and earth to foist regional assemblies on us whether we want them or not.

DAVID BURTON

Telford, Shropshire

Space colonies  

Sir: I was fascinated to read that in 2006 a satellite, Keo, will blast off into space to return to the Earth some 50,000 years later, (Review, 4 November). Its cargo will include, among other things, "a record of all human languages and accumulated knowledge" and samples of human DNA. The idea being that it will become a time capsule for our descendants. An object of some amusement; a historical artefact for the humanoids of the 521st century.

This preposterous project emanates, of course, from the French. Who but they would be so conceited, impulsive and foolish? May I suggest an alternative fate for this celestial Pandora's Box?

That sometime between 2006 and 52,006 this "cultural Noah's Ark" falls into the hands of an alien civilisation more advanced than our own and provides them with everything they need in one handy package. Our earthly experience does not bode well for what happens to less "advanced" civilisations after such an encounter. We British with our imperial perspective are perhaps better placed than most to be wary of such a rash proposition.

ROBERT HANDYSIDE

Bamburgh, Northumberland

Flagged down

Sir: In your piece about Oxford's pub the Lamb and Flag (4 November), Tim Reynolds describes the imaginative and friendly policy of its owners, St John's College. Some may remember that in 1997 the College aimed to destroy it as a pub in a planning application to Oxford City Council (ref. 97/00272: "Change of use from Public House...to Education and Student Accommodation").

Fortunately, after a campaign involving students of St John's and hundreds of members of the public, including myself, the application was refused.

G O JONES

Oxford

Bridlington bull's-eye  

Sir: From last Sunday's listings:

12.30 SUNDAY GRANDSTAND

12.40 Triathlon. The latest round of the World Cup in Athens

12.50 MotoGP. Live coverage at the Comunitat Valenciana circuit in Spain

2.00 World Beach Volleyball Championships on Copacabana beach in Rio

2.20 Darts. The World Masters final in Bridlington

Nice one Bridlington!

EDGAR AMBROSE

Manchester

Fair pay  

Sir: It is truly shocking that female solicitors are paid as much as 15 per cent less than their male colleagues (report, 5 November). I am sure that most consumers of legal services will agree with me that the sooner the salaries of male solicitors are reduced to those of their female colleagues the better it will be for the scales of justice.

NIGEL WILKINS

London SW7

Testing read

Sir: Hopefully more students will now read The Independent (letter, 6 November). In setting exams I regularly ask students to explain a short quote from The Independent. This requires them to put their academic ideas into the context of the world as presented to newspaper readers, and it makes examining students at least twice as interesting!

Professor JOHN MUMFORD

Department of Environmental Science and Technology

Imperial College, London

About turn  

Sir: Sanity prevails and the hand of welcome is rapidly withdrawn from the toxic ships (report, 5 November). Any chance of a similar U-turn over the toxic President?

ALASTAIR SUTHERLAND

Totnes, Devon

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