Teaching, smacking and others

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The Independent Online

Put the fun back into teaching by reducing paperwork

Put the fun back into teaching by reducing paperwork

Sir: Your article "Goodbye to Mr Chips" (5 July) and the letters from readers on choice in education both touch on the problem of finding good teachers for state schools and keeping them.

I hear time and again of good young members of the profession, working in state schools, who abandon ship after three or four years. Most leave teaching altogether, although some move to private schools. It is not so much a matter of salary as of the unending stream of paperwork, most of it a waste of time, and the constant state of exhaustion they feel.

Thirty years ago I was head of a small primary school. We were heavily oversubscribed, with children coming from many miles away. I could arrive at 8.30am and leave at 4.30pm on most days, all work completed. This was the norm.

There is no chance of children in state schools getting their fair share of the best teachers until this matter of overwork is fully addressed.


Sir: The point made by Alan Smithers, professor of education at Liverpool University, about the need to put the fun back in teaching (report, 5 July) is an interesting one. It also provides a perverse illustration of the precious joy and crushing despair regularly experienced in unequal measure by teachers throughout the country.

I hope the professor's appeal remains unanswered by the Government, as experience tells me that if fun became part of the inclusion agenda, then targets, testing and league tables would soon follow. The idea of the Dfes attempting to provide guidance in this area - a 50-page handbook with clear assessment criteria at the very least - may become a real possibility. Or could such a major initiative be left in the hands of mere teachers? Now that really would be fun.

Kingswinford, West Midlands

Risks of smacking to parents and children

Sir: The idea of putting parents who slap their children into prison is utter madness. If it is the protection of children which is being sought in the House of Lords vote on smacking, then throwing their parents into jail is going to achieve the opposite effect.

It is far more traumatic for the child to be separated from the parent by his/her imprisonment than to receive a slap for a misdemeanour, even if it results in a red mark on the skin. It is not difficult to imagine the torment of a child who knows that it is his own naughtiness which has resulted in his parent being imprisoned. Such psychological abuse by the state might well affect him for life.

Smacking is not ideal, but human beings are not perfect and no amount of legislation will make them so. Children already have legal protection against serious physical abuse. Has the Government thought about the number of foster places that will be necessary for the care of children while single mothers are in jail for slapping them?

Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire

Sir: The question of whether our society should allow parents to hit their children ("smack" and "slap" are mere euphemisms) should be determined by the same considerations of risk as we apply in other areas of social policy.

Of course, not every struck child is harmed, either in the short or long term. But neither are all children who experience sexual fondling. The reason why this latter activity is nowadays so reviled is because of the large body of evidence that many children do in fact suffer long-term harm. However, there is just as large a body of evidence surrounding the possible adverse consequences of hitting children. Nor is the level of force used necessarily significant: just as we do not tolerate the slightest degree of sexual contact with children, nor should we tolerate the "light taps" to deal with naughtiness which are much advocated by the pro-hitters.

The argument about criminalising parents who are simply disciplining their children is a red herring. We are subject to hundreds of criminal laws which realistically are not going to be enforced except in extreme cases. Criminal law has a well-established educative role.

I suspect that most people in the Government know this, the fear of an adverse headline will prove the overwhelming factor in determining what they do about it.

School of Law
University of Bristol

Sir: Why is smacking suddenly such a big issue for the New Labour nanny state? Maybe Mr Blair should focus on dealing with truancy and loutish behaviour or try to improve educational standards, morality and family cohesion (without mentioning the massive increase in drugs available to our kids since he "liberated" Afghanistan).


Sir: Smacking children falls within the same paradigm as bombing Baghdad and toppling the Twin Towers. Closer to Cain and Abel than to Dresden on the continuum, but the same lesson - might makes right. Cannot get your way by force of reason? Use force of violence. A timebomb handed from generation to generation.


Abortion and rights

Sir: Whilst I am opposed to the taking of any life, at any stage, the one question I note has not been re-addressed in the resurfacing of the abortion debate is that of the illegal and often deadly abortion which would surely reappear if the operation was made illegal.

Since mankind's history was first recorded, there are stories of women seeking to abort their foetuses, and one of the overwhelming arguments which swayed MPs in their deliberations in 1967 was that thousands of illegal, often amateurish, abortions took place every year, with numerous fatalities and permanent injuries to the poor women undergoing them.

If a ban was ever introduced, do we really think that desperate women would not resort, as they always have, to the back-street abortionist?


Sir: The preoccupation with the age at which a foetus might be aborted is a trivial matter. The overwhelming human right which Dr Nigel Halliday (letter, 2 July) does not mention is the mother's right to abort or not, and when.

To deny the mother her human right to abort irrespective of the reason or the length of her pregnancy is to deny her humanity. It is the mother's personal decision, although help may be solicited from domestic, legal, religious or medical parties, but that too is at the discretion and option of the mother.

The alleged ability of the foetus to feel pain is also irrelevant, as are various movements. The foetus, by definition, is entirely parasitic on the mother and does not have any rights, human or otherwise, other than those the mother chooses to recognise.

Cheshunt, Hertfordshire

Origins of Israel

Sir: You repeat an historical fallacy which has, sadly, become almost a mantra ("A history of handovers", 29 June), when you state that Israel was created with the strong support of the United States.

In fact, the US was far from enthusiastic about the creation of Israel as an independent nation in what was then the British mandate of Palestine. The State Department made its opposition clear even before the end of the Second World War, when Zionist groups were already active. Important US newspapers and periodicals at the time, especially in 1947 and 1948, reveal clear hostility to the idea of a Jewish home in Palestine. The US believed that such a state would act as a vehicle for left-wing ideas in a region dominated by feudal regimes which would be easier to control, and with it its considerable natural resources, particularly oil.

The Americans deeply distrusted the socialist aspirations of the founding fathers of Israel, and voted in favour of the partition plan proposed by the United Nations only after President Harry Truman, for personal and political reasons, instructed the US delegation to the UN to do so.

In the war that followed, Israel defeated the armies of Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Syria thanks to the military aid provided by the countries of Eastern Europe, not the US. Indeed, the Soviet Union was one of the first countries to recognise the new Jewish state.

Professor B POLLACK

Greenham memories

Sir: How sweet of Lady Olga Maitland to recall me and my suffragette ribbons from Greenham days ("The World According to...", 5 July). Since she was kind enough to wonder what had become of me, let me assure her that I am as active and committed as always to rid the world of nuclear weapons and stifle militarism and the arms trade.

These days I am more likely to get a consultancy fee than a prison term. At present I publish Disarmament Diplomacy, renowned for its up-to-date analyses on weapons and treaties, and am also the vice chair of the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945. I was recently appointed senior advisor to the international Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by Hans Blix.

Though my work requires me to be at the United Nations or exotic nuclear-related locations much of the time, I continue to support grassroots campaigning whenever I can. Greenham women are still everywhere, and I would be delighted to invite Lady Olga to tea with the new generation of committed peace activists at Aldermaston and Menwith Hill.

Director, The Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy
London E8

Peak-time congestion

Sir: Car-share lanes (report, 5 July) are not the way to reduce motorway congestion at peak times. An answer lies only just over the Channel, where trucks are banned from overtaking between 7am and 10am, and 4pm and 7pm.

If they wish to drive they stay in the nearside lane, thus allowing car drivers to proceed to their places of work. Trucks not wanting to put up with this do not drive at those times.

If this country cannot decentralise its congested areas of work then it should decentralise the road users to spread the traffic over 24 hours.

Elkesley, Nottinghamshire

Sir: Car-share lanes were long ago abandoned in New Jersey. The gridlock in regular lanes beside empty car-share lanes promoted anger and chaos, and there was also an increased cost for police surveillance.

Millington, New Jersey, USA

Wartime massacre

Sir: One minor correction to Peter Popham's illuminating article (2 July) on the wartime massacre at St Anna di Stazzema: the town nearby is not Santa Pietra but Pietrasanta.

My uncle, Luciano, who persuaded his family to flee the hamlet of Stazzema the day before the massacre took place and who was subsequently taken and marched to a German labour camp, is still living in Pietrasanta today.

My children, who would not be here without him, know the story well. I am glad that through your pages others may learn from it too.

London N7

Medical risks

Sir: Dr Charlotte Paterson (letter, 6 July) comments on the report that "Reactions to common medicines kill 10,000 each year". We do not know how many adverse reactions would arise if the same number of patients were treated with alternative therapies. Nor do we know how many patients would die if the alternative therapies are less effective, nor how many would die if not given any treatment at all. Risks must be balanced against likely benefits.

Seaford, East Sussex

Index inclusion

Sir: As much as I enjoyed Philip Hensher's article praising the index (Review, 6 July), I was surprised to find no mention of Lucy Ellmann's Sweet Desserts. Surely any novel whose index actually includes an entry for the index (Index, 143-5.) should be indispensable for any true index aficionado?

London NW5

Russian women

Sir: When I saw the photos in The Independent of the beautiful Maria Sharapova (30 June) I was interested in comparing them with the pictures of dowdy ladies sweeping Moscow streets who were described to us during the Cold War period as typical of Russian womanhood.


Swallows' tales

Sir: According to my wife, there is no truth in your correspondent's assertion that swallows have disappeared from our corner of southeast London (letter, 5 July). There has also been a profusion of parakeets over our little suburban paradise.

London SE9

Sinister car

Sir: Benjamin Zepheniah (Motoring, 6 July) is quite right to draw attention to the fact that the Triumph Acclaim was a Japanese car in disguise. But what makes the car more sinister is the fact that "Triumph Acclaim" is a direct translation of "Sieg Heil".


Take no notice

Sir: On a local bus there was this notice: "Plain clothed policemen travel on this bus". I want to know the bus on which the good looking nude policemen travel.

Hove, East Sussex