Reading difficulties, Liberal Democrats and others

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The Independent Online

Children with reading difficulties need individual attention

Sir: The finding that one in five 11-year-olds cannot read well enough (report, 7 April) is not just a tragedy for those children, but a disaster for society and the economy - and even worse because it is unnecessary.

Reading Recovery, a literacy intervention for the least able readers, has shown time and again that children who could barely write their own name after a whole year of literacy hours, let alone read a book, were able to become independent, successful and well-motivated readers within six months of special one-to-one tuition.

Five years later, aged 11, most of those children are still doing well. Learning phonics is an essential part of learning to read, but it is not sufficient on its own. The arguments over phonics have distracted attention from the real problem - the lack of funds at school level to provide adequate support for our poorest readers. Hundreds of schools face cutting their Reading Recovery programmes, because the tiny amount of money they received for special educational needs has been wiped out by conflicting pressures on school budgets.

In the face of these financial pressures, intensive teaching for the least able children falls off the agenda, so once again the most vulnerable children bear the burden of the government policies.

National Coordinator, Reading Recovery National Network
Institute of Education
University of London
London WC1

Sir: It is easy to understand why more individual help, rather than greater use of phonics, should make a big difference to children who struggle with reading. The main reason why many children have reading difficulties, is that hundreds of the most common English words cannot be phonically decoded. Identical letters often have different sounds: eg here/there, cost/most.

The most effective solution to this difficulty would be to amend at least some of these spellings. But since this is not likely to happen in the near future, we need to find better ways of helping children to learn to read unphonic words. Giving them much more adult help is clearly one way.

Perhaps struggling readers could also be helped to learn to read the tricky words more quickly by initially giving them simpler phonic spellings alongside them, like cycling props that can be dispensed with when they are no longer needed. The most important first step is for everyone, teachers, educationalists and parents, to appreciate the main cause of English reading problems.

Wareham, Dorset

Put your trust in the Liberal Democrats

Sir: You ask on your front page "So who do you trust?" Tony Blair or Michael Howard? (7 April). The answer is neither. Certainly not the Tories - remember the recession, job losses, homes being repossessed and the "barking mad" privatisation of our railway industry? The last thing Britain needs is the return of a Tory government.

Whilst Gordon Brown has enjoyed success with the economy, how can we trust a Labour Government that led us into Bush's military adventure based on non-existent weapons of mass destruction and has continued the headlong rush to privatise public services?

The Liberal Democrats have had the integrity to challenge an internationally illegal war, tell it how it is on council tax and respond to rising student debt by advocating the return of full student grants (already achieved in Scotland). It is time that you gave us fair coverage and the credit we deserve. There are three parties in this election - not two!

Liberal Democrats are the main challengers to Tory and Labour MPs in hundreds of seats throughout Britain, including here in Salisbury.

Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Salisbury
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Sir: You ask "So who do you trust?", I would answer neither Tony Blair nor Michael Howard. I would probably trust Charles Kennedy, but it seems his opinions are not important enough to include. Given that one in five people intend to vote for his party, shouldn't you include what he has to say also?

Sutton, Surrey

Sir: In answer to your headline (7 April) "So who do you trust?" the answer must surely be "nobody". As a voter, as far as I am concerned the whole stinking edifice which is the House of Commons is corrupt from top to bottom and it taints almost everything which comes into contact with it. Whether it is the Jeffrey Archers, Jonathan Aitkens or Neil Hamiltons of the Tory Party or the David Blunketts or the Tony Blairs of the Labour Party, most of our so called "leading politicians" appear to be sucked into the system and lose all sense of moral value within a very short period of time of entering the House of Commons, and whilst it may be been said that there is "honour amongst thieves" there is clearly very little honour amongst politicians.

A charitable view is that most people, on entering politics and being elected to the House of Commons on whatever political ticket they choose, believe that they can change the system and help their fellow man; however the system is such that even the most honourable of intentions are progressively eroded whether it be "cash for questions", dubious Saudi arms deals or simply abusing a position of privilege to ensure that the nanny of a friend gets preferential treatment. Equally it appears to be morally acceptable to lie to the nation and the House of Commons about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Like many other voters it appears to me that the electorate are being asked "would you rather be hanged or shot"? The third alternative (Liberal Democrats) is as yet untested but will surely follow the established precedent. For my part, and I would urge all disgruntled voters to follow my example; if there is a "monster raving loony candidate" standing in your constituency, cast your vote in his/her favour on the grounds that at least you will be voting for an honest comedian.


Sir: Your headline asks "So who do you trust?" Do you have a tick-box for "None of the above"?

Abercynffig, Bridgend

Zimbabwe politics  

Sir: Pauline Henson asks when the British Government will realize that Zimbabwe politics are about the ruling party attempting to cling to power (letter, 5 April). Unless I am very much mistaken that is what all ruling parties attempt to do in all democracies. Fiddling with constituency boundaries, postal voting and promising the earth are all common re-election ploys in established democracies around the world, including our own.

Zimbabwe's pre-independence governments ensured their own unbroken tenure in power through blatant disenfranchisement and draconian military rule. Mugabe was 55-years-old when he first won the right to vote in his own country and he, like Ian Smith before him, has utterly failed to adapt to the constantly evolving world around him. Eighty-year-old grumpy old men seldom change their ways and all attempts to lecture Mugabe on how to be a democrat are therefore futile. He only remains in power because 10 million Zimbabweans have not yet decided they have had enough of his despotic rule; this should not be a surprise when you consider that eight million Rhodesians were ruled by Smith for a quarter of a century without any general uprising, despite the African population suffering far worse human rights abuses than they currently endure.

Everybody should stay out of Zimbabwe's business until Zimbabweans start helping themselves, politically that is. Does anyone really want to see another Iraq-style invasion and democracy delivered through the barrel of a gun?


Ritalin is effective

Sir: Thanks to Dr Seton-Browne (letter, 7 April) for putting some perspective into the Ritalin debate. All drugs can be misused, but Ritalin has a huge clinical body of evidence showing it to be a safe, effective and non-addictive treatment.

Also not all ADD sufferers are hyperactive. Some, like my son, suffer from inattention, anxiety and specific learning difficulties. My son is never disruptive in class but he carries a crippling burden inside. Those who have blanket opposition to Ritalin would leave him to suffer in silence, when carefully monitored treatment with this drug has radically improved his life academically, socially and psychologically. I do not give my son a "chemical cosh" (letter, 4 April), but a drug which has effectively treated a disabling condition.


Funding for Darfur

Sir: Becky Tinsley (Letters, 31 March) is wrong on a number of counts. The truth is that no one knows how many people have died in Darfur. It was the estimate of deaths made by the World Health Organisation that the Select Committee described as misleading.

Darfur is both a humanitarian and a political crisis. Only a political solution will end the suffering, just as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement - which the UK played an important part in helping to achieve - has brought to an end the longest running civil war in Africa between north and south Sudan in which some two million people have died. We have been leading supporters of all the UN Security Council Resolutions on Sudan, including the one passed this week introducing a sanctions regime against those responsible for the violence in Darfur. And, the UK was the first country to provide the practical support to the African Union mission in Darfur, providing both funding and vehicles.

Secretary of State, Department for International Development
London SW1

Parking woes

Sir: For once I so agree with John Walsh (Review, 7 April) about the parking muggers. The same happened to me in Westminster; I parked, realised that I didn't have enough change to get the needed two hour's worth of parking (£8 in coins - who carries that with them?) so dutifully spent more money in the nearby newsagents to get said coins and then inserted them.

I returned one hour later to find my van ticketed for not paying immediately on arrival but a minute later. The only way a traffic attendent could have ascertained this was to watch it all happen from nearby, wait until I left and then pounce. Result? I lose all profit on the job I was attending, the council not much better off after costs and no improvement in traffic flow.

Tring, Hertfordshire

Football freebie  

Sir: On 7 April (Pandora) you stated that Michael Howard had failed to declare in the House of Commons Members' Register of Interests tickets to see football matches at Liverpool which he was given by Liverpool Football Club. In the last year, Michael Howard has only been to Anfield once. This hospitality was below the registrable limit of £575.

Private Secretary to
Michael Howard MP
House of Commons
London SW1

Swedish figures

Sir: The number of women MEPs from Sweden and the UK is actually 58 per cent and 24 per cent respectively. The figures you quote ("Feminist party threatens to unseat Swedish premier", 8 April) are the percentages in the Swedish Riksdag and the House of Commons which both have a lower representation of women, at 45 per cent and 18 per cent respectively. The percentage of women in the European Parliament as a whole is slightly over 30 per cent.

Director, UK Office
European Parliament
London SW1

Monaco's capital

Sir: In his article on Prince Rainier (7 April) John Lichfield calls Monte Carlo the "capital city" of Monaco, but this is not so. Despite being only two miles long and half a mile broad Monaco contains four towns, Monte Carlo, the port town of La Condamine, Fontvielle which was built on the reclaimed land, and the capital, Monaco-Ville which stands on the rock and is where the palace is located.


Train travel

Sir: Mr Pring (letter, 7 April) asks what is the problem with cheap rail travel. The answer lies in its limited availability, and in a seemingly irrational fares structure. Like him, I was offered a ticket for £19, for a weekend return journey (Oxford-Liverpool) of length similar to his. Within an hour of my conversation with National Rail Enquiries, those tickets had sold out, and my trip was going to cost £98. A week later a friend paid just £52 for an immediate mid-week return trip from Reading to Southport - via Oxford and Liverpool!