Letters: State schools and university

The real education priority is to improve state schools

Tuesday 27 January 2009 01:00

Ellie Levenson proposes (19 January ) that two Oxbridge places be allocated to every school in the country. So, for example, Colchester Grammar (average A-level score: a bit over five Grade As) would get two places, and so would Godelpus Secondary (average: a bit under two Cs).

With the resultant lowering in average quality of intake, either Oxbridge would have to lower its degree standards, or their undergraduates would get lower grades. Oxbridge degrees would become devalued, and Oxford and Cambridge would cease to be among the world's best universities. Rather than try to bring the top 7 per cent down, the aim should be bring the bottom 93 per cent up.

The first priority is to raise expectations. If parents do not care about their children's education, schools must bat for their pupils. Schools need to get across that there is more to life than getting on TV reality shows, that learning is hard work but worth it, and that to have a chance of getting into a top university you must do "hard" subjects, say, languages or sciences.

Teenagers also need to learn that parenthood is an awesome responsibility, and that if they embark on it as teenagers, whether accidentally or deliberately, they will drastically limit not only their own life chances, but those of their children and their children's children.

The Government's priority should be to make state schools safe, nurturing places where children have the time, the freedom from fear, and the desire to strive for excellence.

Who was it said their priorities were, "Education, education, and education"?

David Hewitt

London N1

Hang on in there

Last week I phoned a company, only to be told, by a recorded voice of course, that, "You are number one in the queue for our automated helpline". And there was I thinking that the present-day scourge of inaccessibility couldn't get worse.

Mike Phillips

Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

Rat Rescue League?

Do not despair P A Reld (letters, 25 January), you are not alone. I often wonder why the anti-hunt brigade don't turn up to protest at our local mole catcher who takes great delight in tying his quarry by their tails from the nearest tree. Even the rat catcher from the council who lays poison which causes the vermin a slow and painful death has not had his car sabotaged. Is it because moles and rats are not pretty enough to warrant attention, or because these men are neither rich nor middle class?

Angela Elliott

Welton le Marsh, Lincolnshire

Sydney's song

Sydney Carter wrote words to the music played at President Obama's inauguration (leading article, 22 January). The song with the title "Lord of the Dance" is now widely sung in schools and churches.

Canon Christopher Hall

Banbury, Oxfordshire

Wrong Indian

Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana, is not Native American but a Punjabi Indian (letters, 23 January), the first to be elected to state-level office in the United States. Several Native Americans have held state-level posts such as Attorney General, although as far as I'm aware, none has been elected as Governor.

Ewan Watt

London SW1

No racism

Steve Deeming (letters, 24 January) views the reluctance of British soldiers to see Taliban casualties treated in the same hospital as wounded comrades as evidence that "[racism] is alive and well in the British Armed Forces". I presume that if Mr Deeming was to find himself shot or blown up, but was lucky enough to survive, then he would have no problem whatsoever sharing a ward with someone who has tried to kill him and his friends.

Geraint Hughes

Swindon, Wiltshire

Animal quackers

The enemies of duck interbreeding are said by animal rights groups to be "one step from Dr Goebbels" (report, 26 January). Would that be the goose step?

Ian Gowans

London W14

No need for credit crunch inquiry

We do not need to wait for an inquiry to establish who caused the credit crunch (Andreas Whittam Smith, 23 January). As a lawyer who was responsible for prosecuting serious tax frauds for Customs and Excise across many regions of the country, then went to a leading City firm to set up a specialist practice against Customs fraud prosecutions, I have no doubt that the fact that the acquisition of toxic funds which turn out to be valueless is in itself sufficient evidence for the Serious Fraud Office to initiate immediate investigations into whether those who were dealing in them knew that they were valueless.

The SFO should also, at once, start investigating whether senior executives of financial institutions were recklessly or willfully shutting their eyes to the obvious in order to justify bonuses. In cases where the result of these investigations is affirmative, arrests and charges should follow swiftly, as a matter of course.

Gavin McFarlane

Surbiton, Surrey

Andreas Whittam-Smith's call for an official inquiry into the "proximate cause" of the banking collapse, while leaving questions about long-term failures to a more informal examination, seems misconceived.

The economic crisis is due to systemic failure, the inevitable consequence of a blind adherence to the Friedmanite notion that regulation interferes with the efficiency of markets. In truth, the regulators didn't see the crisis coming because they had their eyes tightly shut and their fingers in their ears.

When Brooksley Born, head of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said the collapse of Long Term Capital Management in 1998 should be a wake-up call to alert financial authorities to the threat the derivatives market posed to "financial stability around the world", Alan Greenspan claimed such regulation was unnecessary.

In 2002, Warren Buffet warned that derivatives trading was a financial time-bomb that could set off a chain reaction leading to corporate meltdown; he was ignored. By the end of 2008, after the collapse of AIG, Christopher Cox, the Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, said the credit-default swaps market had created "a tangled web of interconnections where the failure of any one institution might jeopardise the entire financial system".

The fundamental problem is not that too many people broke the rules, but that there were not enough rules to be broken, and that poorly regulated markets implode through loss of trust.

Mr Whittam Smith's focus on a few British-based miscreants risks the same kind of blinkered and unsatisfactory conclusion he identifies in the Hutton inquiry, missing the bigger picture, that endemic regulatory failures were predicated on a bankrupt ideology.

Charles Hopkins


Senior Labour and Tory politicians tell us banks shouldn't be nationalised because governments aren't any good at running banks. Funny, I thought we had just been furnished with conclusive proof that bankers aren't any good at running banks.

Suzanne Newell

Hexham, Northumberland

A global giant with a conscience

The points raised by Johann Hari are interesting ("My New Year resolution is to lose my bottle – and quit Coke", 1 January), but they are based on incomplete information.

We accept we have not yet got everything right, but we believe we are moving in the right direction. Our business already directly sustains nearly one million jobs globally, each one supporting 10 more jobs indirectly. We respect our employees' right to collective bargaining and more than a third of our world-wide workforce belongs to unions, a high proportion for a global business.

We employ more than 8,000 in Colombia at two to three times minimum wage, and the workforce at the plant in Carepa mentioned by Mr Hari is 60 per cent unionised. With respect to "the alleged links of Colombian bottling plant managers with the paramilitaries", two investigations by Colombian authorities – one by a local court and one by the Attorney General's office – have found no merits to such accusations.

We strongly oppose child labour and require our partners and suppliers to meet the same standards. There have been dramatic reductions in the incidence of child labour in El Salvador.

We have cut water use throughout our operations, for example, by 2 per cent in the UK, and 35 per cent in India since 1999. We haven't got all the answers, but we are working relentlessly to try to find them. It's for that reason that we were awarded the Citizen of the Year award by the Clinton Global Initiative last year.

David Cox

Director of Public Affairs, Coca-Cola GB, London W6

Where are all the great TV writers?

The trend of "re-imagining" old TV favourites because "Audiences are getting harder to please ..." ("Reminder of things past", Arts & Books, 23 January) is covering up the fact that modern TV and film writers do not have the talent or necessary experience of real life to create original stories. This is the result of almost 30 years of image-obsessed consumerism. Where are the Kneales, the Clarks, the Kennedy Martins, the Galton and Simpsons, the Pinters, the Clement and La Frenaises?

Today's type of TV and film writer is most likely to be a university graduate from a comfortable, middle-class background, with a desire to sell their "product" and win awards. It is the blinkered, conveyor-belt system that has resulted in our TV screens being dominated by endless daily soaps and glossy dramas promoted on the celebrity star names they feature.

Jon Ericsson

Doncaster, South Yorkshire

Not the faultof teachers

"And one of the primary reasons for substandard education is inadequate teaching", you state (leading article, 14 January). You imply that inadequate teaching is caused by not-too-bright teachers.

Most inadequate teaching is because of difficulties teachers have in controlling classes; challenging social areas have more failing schools than quieter areas. Many academically gifted teachers are ineffective because they cannot enforce discipline.

Chris Sanderson


Has the BBC no compassion?

Now Sky joins the BBC in refusing to broadcast the Gaza appeal. What on earth is wrong with the Western world? Have those people no heart? No compassion?

The BBC was happy to broadcast many an appeal relating to the tragedies in Darfur, in Ethiopia and many other places. Why is this particular area of the world being singled out for the moral imperative of journalistic impartiality? And since when have victims of any kind become pawns in an argument about partiality or impartiality in reporting news?

No wonder we Palestinians have become masters at analysing conspiracy theories and at feeling that the whole world has it in for us. When will everyone accept that we are a dispossessed people simply asking for our right to return home and live in peace with our neighbours, whoever they may be, Arab or Israeli? When will world leaders have the courage to step in and say enough is enough.

Let there be a solution which allows all to live peacefully and to get on with their lives. That is all both ordinary Palestinian and Israeli people want. When will Israeli and Palestinian leaders stop playing sick political games at the expense of their peoples?

The Palestinian Diaspora is as big a shame on the world's soiled conscience as was the Jewish Holocaust.

Dr Faysal Mikdadi

Dorchester, Dorset

I think the BBC is gravely mistaken in their refusal to broadcast the appeal for humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza, especially now that other broadcasters have seen fit to go along with the DEC's request. Far from showing their objectivity, I would say it shows an extraordinarily craven attitude towards the Israeli government. Nobody is asking, surely, for support and succour to be collected for Hamas, but for the poor helpless civilians, many of them children, caught up in this appalling debacle.

Angela Peyton

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

It is a splendid irony that the BBC's refusal to broadcast the Gaza appeal has given more publicity to that appeal, and the suffering in Gaza, than the organisers could have dreamt of.


Epsom, Surrey

We have been told by the Israeli military that their assault on Gaza involved careful, precision targeting of Hamas resistance fighters and officials. Seeing on television the colossal devastation in the Strip, I wonder whether comprehensive carpet-bombing and shelling could have produced anything worse?

Dr Brian W Beeley

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

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