Letters: Perspectives on education

Sunday 23 October 2011 04:03

Long road to equality

May I comment on Edwin Webb's gloriously anachronistic letter of 13 September on our education system and whether it favours girls or boys?

When I was at university in Toronto in the early 1960s, men outnumbered women and there were quotas for women and Jews specifically in medicine and law. When I arrived in Britain shortly afterwards, I was astonished to discover the 1944 Education Act provided unequal numbers of grammar schools for girls. With disbelief, I learned that dimwits from public schools went up to Oxford and Cambridge on closed scholarships, taking up places that should have gone to more able students.

So, in the bad old days, sex, race, religion and class all barred people from the professions and higher education. Things are slowly righting themselves and the pendulum always swings too far the other way in this process.

However, the big stumbling block here is the teaching unions. Insisting on self-regulation and not firing inadequate staff, the profession is relatively low-paid and not attractive to the best and the brightest of both sexes, except in the private sector. That is wrong, and that is the problem.

Judith M Steiner, London N6

Experienced teachers barred

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has said that too many children are labelled as having special needs and that the solution is better teaching. (report, 15 September).

Better teaching usually comes with experience. However, experienced teachers are discriminated against in the recruitment process. Under local management of schools, in which schools have their own budgets, the experienced are deemed too expensive to employ. Experienced classroom teachers in teaching posts simply cannot move to a similar post in another school.

Experienced teachers who have taken a career break, for example to bring up a family, find that they they are too expensive to return to teaching. Likewise, many in supply and temporary teaching find that gaining experience moves them up the pay scale and find that they become too expensive to secure a more regular teaching position.

The discrimination against the employment of experienced teachers is absolute madness.

Martin R Hargreaves, Woodchurch, Wirrall

Humiliated by the new dunce's cap

Your cartoon in which the teacher explains to pupils the post-cuts special needs programme by pointing to the dunce's cap, (Letters, 16 September) was most amusing. I wonder if you are aware, however, that the modern successor to the dunce's cap is alive and well and thriving in our secondary schools.

The National Curriculum is regularly thrust down a child's throat . When it comes to humiliation, to be reminded time after time that you are "working towards Level 3" when most members of your tutor group have achieved levels 5, 6 or 7, is every bit as effective as standing you in the corner with a silly hat.

Stephen Shaw, Nottingham

The Pope in Britain

I am dumbfounded by the decision made by the Government to spend £12m of taxpayers' money in part-funding the papal visit. While they are busy making cuts to our essential services, including education and the emergency services, they cannot possibly justify this insulting and irresponsible expense. Only about 4.2 million people in this country are of the Catholic faith; it therefore seems absurdly unfair to force the entire population into paying for this event.

Even as an atheist, I appreciate and understand the importance of this visit to the Catholic community, and for these people, I hope it is a resounding success. However, I am also aware that the Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest organisations on the planet, and feel very strongly that the entire expense should lie squarely with them, or those that follow the faith.

Do David Cameron and his colleagues really expect us simply to foot the bill without asking a single question, when there is a clear issue of prioritising the whole country's expenditure? I sincerely hope not.

David Babb Stone, Staffordshire

What is all the fuss about UK taxpayers paying £12m towards the cost of the Pope's visit?

British taxpayers pay for the costs associated with visits by all other heads of state. Is the complaint that it is somehow wrong for non-Catholics to be paying for the costs of a Roman Catholic coming to visit? For several hundred years all UK tax payers who were or are Catholics, Jews, Muslims, non-believers and others have been paying by way of their taxes for the Church of England, and, more relevantly perhaps, for the costs associated with the head of the Church of England.

John Morris, The Hague

Twelve million pounds being spent on the Pope's visit! It is time spending on events like this was severely capped. For example, I wonder what extravagance is being planned for the coronation of King Charles III.

Martin Whillock, York

With over 50 per cent of British people responding "none" when asked what their religion is, it is understandable that the Pope and other religious leaders are panicking. However, it is spectacularly arrogant of them to assume that it indicates in any way a decline of our moral standards, or a loss of "our heritage".

What nonsense! It means that over 50 per cent of our population has grown beyond the need for assorted churches' guidance, because we are capable of thinking for ourselves, and we realise that morality is a lot deeper than any holy book written thousands of years ago.

When religious leaders say one thing but do another, then the growth of atheism and lack of faith and trust in religion is totally understandable – predictable, even. Long may it continue.

Paul Harper, London E15

Pope Benedict is appalled by child abuse inflicted by priests, and has done much to stamp it out. He stands precisely for that reverence for sex which has done so much to promote human happiness and health wherever it has been sincerely practiced – in Africa, Europe or elsewhere.

Despite its betrayal by a tiny minority of priests, badly managed in many cases, the Church is utterly opposed to all abuse and "consensual" sexualisation of children.

Dr Helen Watt, Senior Research Fellow, The Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford

Let us recall aspects of John Henry Newman's life before the rush to beatification. This was a man who called for the submission of the understanding to faith, who contemplated the return of heresy courts for the clergy, and who prevented the marriage of two of his parishioners because one of them was a chapel-goer.

If we are looking for a Newman for our times, might I suggest Cardinal Newman's Unitarian brother Frank? Here was someone who encouraged the growth of universities, who supported the idea of women getting the vote and was altogether an admirable Victorian progressive.

Leave Cardinal Newman with his fustian "Church Fathers" and dressy rigmarole, and concentrate rather on improving education, widening access, and discussing moral questions without respect to an authority which is only there because it is old.

Christopher Walker, London W14

Geoffrey Robertson, in his list of allegations against Pope Benedict (Essay, 8 September) stated that the Queen would be obliged to wear black when she met him. I notice from the photographs that she in fact wore a fetching shade of light blue.

Neil Addison, Warrington

Cut crime, not the police

As a serving police officer, I was interested to read on 10 September that the chairman of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, announced the police service was facing cuts that could leave up to 40,000 officers out of a job.

He went on to say that the most vulnerable in society would be worst hit, adding: "It is likely that crime levels will go up."

In reaction to this the policing minister, Nick Herbert, said: "I understand the Police Federation wants to make its case and protect every job, but we must be careful not to frighten the public."

In July it was announced that crime in England and Wales fell by 9 per cent last year to its lowest level since comparable records began in 1981. Following that announcement Mr Herbert said: "I think there is a little bit of a danger in politicians arguing about figures or latching on to figures and losing sight of the fact that [for] people in their everyday lives, in their communities, when they go to and from work, there is a lot of crime around." The Home Secretary added to this claim by pointing out that are still 26,000 victims of crime every day.

Is it therefore acceptable for the Coalition Government to scaremonger over crime when trying to score political points, but not for others when the impact of their cuts agenda is made clear?

Miles Ockwell, Detective Sergeant, Sussex Police, Arundel

If the inevitable cutbacks in the numbers of front-line police materialise, does this mean that in future we will have to beat ourselves up at demonstrations?

Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire

Stereotype of French bigotry

Andreas Whittam Smith should know better than to make national stereotyping the basis of his article on France's expulsion of some Roma ("The French fear of 'the other' ", 16 September). France is a country of such contradictions that the opposite of every fondly held British stereotype is equally true.

There are anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic outbreaks. But France has the biggest Jewish and biggest Muslim populations in Europe.

Laurent Fabius was the last prime minister of Jewish origin in the mid-1980s; the most popular Socialist Party politician currently is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, also of Jewish origin. At the beginning of this century, the prime minister was Lionel Jospin, of Protestant origin. Britain, on the other hand, has never had a Catholic prime minister – as today's visitor to Britain is probably aware – and the last prime minister of Jewish origin was Disraeli, way back.

Nor are these isolated examples. The region where I live, the Dordogne, took in thousands of Jews during the Second World War, despite having no Jewish diaspora.

National stereotyping is not far removed from racism. Lambasting the policies of French President Sarkozy (himself of Hungarian origin) and of the present government is fair game – but leave banging on about "the French" to other newspapers.

Rod Chapman, Sarlat, France

Once France has finished expelling the Roma Gypsies, maybe people of Hungarian origin should be next.

David Bristow, London SW15

Badger cull means anarchy

The Coalition Government plans a badger cull, against all scientific advice and public opinion. If this cull goes ahead it would lead to total anarchy in the countryside.

The decision is based purely on pressure from farmers. What they fail to accept is that all the time our dairy herds are put under such stress to produce higher and higher milk yeilds their immune system is hugely compromised. Until this is addressed, these animals will always succumb to infections.

Farmers are already unpopular in the countryside. If, as planned, the cull is left in their hands, the rural population would fight in no uncertain terms. We have already watched a decline in wildlife, due to intensive farming methods. The killing of badgers by untrained gunmen is a step too far.

The countryside would become a no-go area, a complete bloodbath. It is already difficult for anyone who cares, dealing with maimed game birds during the shooting season; imagine finding maimed badgers. This plan cannot be allowed to go ahead.

J Deane, Saltburn, Cleveland

The plan by the Coalition Government to slaughter badgers is nothing short of a declaration of war against British wildlife. Nick Clegg is on the record as supporting the policy. The Tories and their Liberal allies are nothing short of a catastrophe for humane values and for science-based policy-making.

Chris Gale, Chippenham, Wiltshire

Cosmetic cowboys

We were saddened by the criticisms of the IHAS "Treatments You Can Trust" scheme ("Cosmetic surgeons turn scalpels on state-sponsored marketing scheme", 13 September) made by Nigel Mercer, apparently on behalf of the plastic surgeons' group BAAPS.

Mr Mercer is well aware that despite all of our efforts in the cosmetic injectables sector to call for regulation, statutory regulation has been rejected by both Labour and Coalition governments. He also accepts that there are real issues of patient safety in the cosmetic injectables market, so why is he so opposed to the launch of a register which puts patient safety first?

To call it "little better than state-sponsored marketing" seems to show lack of understanding of the scheme. The whole cosmetic injectable market is commercial – even plastic surgeons advertise on websites – so, within this market, our aim is only to promote those doctors, dentists, registered nurses and organisations who comply with the professional training principles and clinical standards agreed across the sector.

By far the most important target, though, is to drive out of business those cowboy operators who have little regard to clinical standards and quality of outcome; if we eventually do that, then we will have shown that the register does have teeth, commercial teeth, because consumers will have voted for quality standards with their wallets.

If everyone in the industry had waited for regulation, we would still be waiting now, putting patients at continued risk of cowboy providers. At least through this scheme, patients wanting cosmetic injectable treatments will have places to go where they can get safe treatment.

Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, Chairman, Independent Healthcare Advisory Services Injectable Cosmetic Working Group, London SW1

Benevolence in a free market

"Mark Steel ("Let Ryanair run all our services", 15 September) obviously didn't listen to my comments about public libraries very closely. I actually suggested that people like me, the relatively affluent, should be expected to pay for services such as libraries. His belief that this equates to a society in which mean-spirited individuals charge their neighbours for cups of tea, betrays Mr Steel's rather grim view of human nature.

Charitable, generous and benevolent activities are not precluded by the free market; they are, however, strongly discouraged in the big-state, big-spend society which Mark Steel favours.

Quite why he also harbours such a loathing of Ryanair is inexplicable. The increased marketisation of the aviation industry and the success of budget airlines such as Ryanair have finally placed foreign travel within the financial reach of those on very modest incomes. I thought these were the sort of people Mark Steel wanted to help.

Mark Littlewood, Director-General, Institute of Economic Affairs, London SW1

Mark Steel (15 September) made a common mistake in thinking that the state provides funding for Guide Dogs for the Blind. We receive no government funding and we are entirely dependent on people's generosity to survive and to ensure that blind or partially sighted people can have the same mobility and freedom as anyone else. We are delighted that Mark Steel agrees we are an important cause to support, and hope your readers agree, particularly during Guide Dog Week (2-8 October).

Richard Leaman, Chief Executive, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Reading

Wrong Mods

In response to Kaleem Aftab's review of the Brighton Rock remake (15 September), set in 1960s Brighton, I'm sure your average Mod would not take kindly to Quadrophenia being described as a "biker movie". A quick lesson in Sixties social history: the bikers were the Rockers, the Mods' rivals.

Mick Bearwish, Bristol

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