Letters: Teaching

Trust teachers and see children flourish

Thursday 26 February 2009 01:00

Your reports on the Cambridge Primary Review (20 February) are wholly accurate and reflect the unease which teachers have felt for years about the testing regime, the league tables, the narrowing curriculum and the aridity of the whole primary experience for many children.

I hope the official Opposition is not going to attempt to make political capital out of this, as it was the Conservatives who began the process of politicisation of education and the top-down approach in which politicians always knew best and either ignored, patronised or demonised teachers who dared to stand up for a broader and richer curriculum. It has been one of New Labour's greatest failures that it did not have the courage to listen to the professionals but continued with these failed policies.

I was a primary teacher and headteacher for thirty years, mostly during the oppressive 1980s and 1990s. Despite the tightening controls and lack of resources, the schools in my area still managed to offer art, music, PE, drama, environmental studies, outdoor education and even a modern language initiative in which children as young as eight were taught French or German through the arts and with the use of native speakers.

None of these schools was special in any way, but worked in a partnership and shared expertise with secondary colleagues. The "basics" were not ignored and in fact the children began to have a better understanding of the English language as a result of their confidence with another tongue. Their self-esteem also improved as a result of the experience of a broad education.

The difference was, we had the backing from management at local authority level and the comfort of autonomy from Ofsted and central government. Generally we were trusted.

Stephen Smith

Hawick, Roxburghshire

Why we need nuclear power

Andy Blowers et al (letter, 25 February) are quite correct to argue that there are risks with nuclear power. The most serious, in my view, is weapons proliferation. So as well as building new nuclear power stations, the UK should finally meet its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations, abandon the upgrading of Trident, and invest the £20bn-plus that will be saved in low-carbon technologies.

This investment should include renewables, carbon capture and storage, electric vehicles – and nuclear power. All these paths must be followed, because Professor Blowers is also correct that nuclear power is not the whole answer. If the UK seriously expands the number of electric vehicles, there will be a major increase in electricity demand, however much progress we make on energy efficiency. So all forms of low-carbon electricity should be promoted.

Caroline Lucas is also correct, in her letter, to say that we need to make very fast reductions in carbon emissions, and nuclear stations will take a decade to construct. But however well the UK does by 2020, there will need to be further reductions beyond that. That will require more electric vehicles, and so more electricity.

The UK has immense renewables potential, particularly wind, wave and tidal. But only 1.5 per cent of our total energy (electricity, heat and transport) is currently from renewables, and even if we meet the EU target of 15 per cent by 2020, there will still be 85 per cent from fossil fuels or nuclear.

Stephen Tindale

Climate and Energy Consultant

London N5

Like many in my party I have long been opposed to nuclear power, but the imperative of reducing global warming emissions has changed my view.

There are more than 400 nuclear power stations across the world, and many are approaching the end of their lives. Simply replacing them on a like-for-like basis will require enormous investment, but at least that would not lead to a significant increase in emissions.

World population and energy demand are growing rapidly. There is no silver bullet that will deal with the problem of climate change; not nuclear, renewables, CCS or energy saving. All have a role to play.

Chris Davies MEP

Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesman, Stockport, Greater Manchester

In the Middle Ages they did things better. Then when the great and good needed to atone they crawled on their knees up the mountain to the shrine, they were whipped in sackcloth and ashes, they held vigil through the night, they waited at the gates barefoot in the snow, they gave their riches away. In those days even the greatest king could not do the long term damage that your anti-nuclear gurus, now converted to support for nuclear power, have done.

The kings might have massacred a few thousand, murdered the odd archbishop or offended a Pope but this lot have despoiled the brilliance of generations, wrecked the investment already in place, sold the security of the country into the hands of foreign suppliers, damaged the environment for at least a couple of centuries and turned public opinion against hard science just when we need it most.

The long-term consequences of their work will be more destructive than anything the bankers have done. I am angry beyond all expression, grateful that at last there might be hope.

Mike Bell

Oldham, Greater Manchester

Straw's veto on Iraq war minutes

The decision by Jack Straw to veto the publication of Cabinet minutes concerning the decision to invade Iraq underlines the need for a full, and fully independent, public enquiry into the actions of the Government leading up to the conflict.

That the Tory supporters of this shameful episode have expressed their support for the decision of the Justice Secretary gives further credence to the view that revelations in these minutes would inflict an equal amount of "serious damage" on the Conservatives too.

These public representatives initiated an unprovoked and unjustified war in which hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children have perished as well as hundreds of UK service personnel. Whether or not intelligence was manipulated by the Government, none of them have expressed an iota of regret or remorse, or even admitted that they might have made a mistake.

Peter Coghlan

Broadstone, Dorset

The Justice Secretary has vetoed the release of Cabinet minutes on the decision to invade Iraq, apparently to protect the confidentiality essential to enable frank discussions around the Cabinet table. However, we are led to understand that little, if any, open debate took place at these meetings.

Release of these minutes – on an exceptional basis – would surely encourage future Cabinet ministers to insist on having full discussion on critical decisions. Far from threatening the basis of collective decision-making, it would strengthen it.

David Preedy

Headley, Surrey

A cab home after a night out

Regarding your "Black Thursday" coverage of the taxi protest in central London (6 February), I'd like to make clear that Westminster City Council is not denying black-cab drivers their fares. We are supporting a marshalled minicab service to help people get home safely by allowing them to book and pay for a minicab in Leicester Square and then be escorted to their safe, registered cab home from a pick-up point nearby.

There are problems with unlicensed minicabs in central London and I think most people would agree it can be difficult finding a black cab in the early hours. The scheme aims to squeeze out illegal touts. It is not a replacement to black cabs who offer an excellent service.

Martin Low

Director of transportation, Westminster City Council

Gail Trimble just one of a team

As a fan of University Challenge I have been astounded by the recent articles about Gail Trimble. One could be forgiven for believing that this was an individual competition. From the panegyric from Philip Hensher to the full-page adulatory article on Tuesday, she is the winner. I suspect this will not have endeared her to her three team-mates who contributed so much to this result.

Four minutes from the end Manchester were still in the lead. The next six starters turned that on its head. Of these Trimble answered three, Marsden two and Kay one. The turning point came after Marsden's starter offered Schwarzman a series of American bonuses which took Corpus into the lead.

Ms Trimble is clearly a remarkable young woman, but this is a team competition to which everyone contributed.

Ronnie Aitchison

Normanton, West Yorkshire

You applaud the intelligence of Gail Trimble in your editorial of 24 February, a girl with clarity of thought which has enabled her to teach herself so much of the knowledge that enables her to shine. Yet the British press as a whole are responsible in my view for the confused state of mind and low intellectual ambition of many of today's young people and their parents.

In his piece on Trimble, your writer Andy McSmith describes as a "mathematical puzzle" the difference between 10 square metres and 10 metres squared. It is no such thing. It is a question of vocabulary and syntax – of plain English, which Ms Trimble has taken the trouble to learn. One square metre can only be one metre, squared; 10 metres square can only be 10 metres times 10 metres.

To call 10x10 a mathematical puzzle is something only a British journalist is capable of.

James Baring

Passenham, Northamptonshire

Toxic waste in Africa

Your excellent report on toxic waste dumped in Africa (18 February) highlights a problem reaching back at least 20 years. When I was working in Guinea Bissau in the late Eighties I stumbled across a dump site oozing barrels of toxic waste, shipped from a European country. On raising questions about this with the government department of information, I was given a ride to the airport and deported.

Where material can be disposed of at a fraction of the usual cost, and corruption is rife, this practice is to be expected.

Richard Heritage

St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex


British jihadists

The young men whom you call "radicalised Britons" and "extremists" are just honest Muslims who take their scriptures seriously ("We are fighting British jihadists in Afghanistan", 25 February). They sincerely believe what all Muslims are taught to believe: that the Koran is the inerrant word of God. If Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, will Afghanistan be lost in the faith schools of Birmingham?

Richard Dawkins


Meaning of writing

Analysing personal traits from handwriting ("Between the lines", 23 February) is not supported by proper scientific studies. Graphology has never established itself as a scientifically-based method of personality assessment, and to claim that handwriting can reveal personal traits such as determination, optimism, self-esteem and visionary thinking with any degree of accuracy is nonsense. Graphology appears to work because people think it works, but hard evidence of its validity is lacking. The Independent doesn't publish daily astrology readings, and it should not suggest that graphology has anything worthwhile to say.

Dr Lawrence Phillips

Visiting Professor of Decision Sciences, London School of Economics

Don't ask

I'm afraid that William Hague is wrong (report, 24 February). It is not "high time the UK government asked the new US administration for permission" to release the information on Binyam Mohamed. It is high time the independent judiciary in this country raised two fingers to the executive of a foreign power and just released it.

Mike Perry

Ickenham, Middlesex


Aunty Jacqui and Uncle Jack try to reassure us terror-stricken infants that passing all these laws will protect us from malign influences. Jacqui threatens us with a horrible fate if we are not properly supervised; Jack tries to pacify us with the idea that sharing all our secrets will save us having to fill in more forms. Even the hardliner David Blunkett worries that these good intentions might backfire if not carefully monitored. But who's to do the monitoring? Faced with such rubbish, we here in Cornwall growl, "What are you like?"

Dr Richard Paterson

Sabina Paterson

Flushing, Cornwall

Hard times

In her column of 25 February Janet Street-Porter explains that, "In a recession we spend money and eat out," because of tiredness and wanting to relax with friends. I do wish I was fortunate enough to be experiencing Janet's recession. The result of the economic downturn in my family's world is that we can no longer afford to eat out

Tim Matthews

Luton, Bedfordshire

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