6 Febuary 2015 Caroline and Nicki
A quiet day I go to have my hair and feet done.
Penny Lacey, who has died aged 66, was a senior lecturer in education whose work challenged established notions of the best teaching methods for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.
After the national curriculum was introduced into mainstream schools in 1988, special needs education started to incorporate traditional academic subjects, with the main focus on numeracy and literacy. Skills-based learning was assessed according to “SMART” targets – those that were Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-related. For children with learning difficulties, however, such targets often bore little relation to the skills that a child actually needed.
Penny Lacey gave this example of an unhelpful SMART target: “Eve will experience two-dimensional shapes by tracing her fingers round the sides of a square, circle and triangle, three times a week with adult help.” While that might, as she noted, be specific and measurable and all the rest, Eve would probably remain unable to appreciate the properties of a square, circle or triangle. Basic social skills were just as difficult to instil in this manner: it was no use teaching a child to shake hands if the child proceeded to do so indiscriminately, without an understanding of the intent behind the gesture.
Penny Lacey proposed alternative targets, dubbing them, in characteristic tongue-in-cheek fashion, “SCRUFFY” targets. These had a far more general aim: they were Student-led, Creative, Relevant, Unspecified Fun for Youngsters. In order to identify an individual child’s abilities, she and her fellow Birmingham University colleague Dr Jill Porter developed the Strengths and Needs Analysis and Planning (SNAP) system. A “strength” might be simply the ability to maintain eye contact or grip a ball placed into the hand. The “needs” section of the assessment outlined corresponding activities that could allow the child to take the lead as much as possible. A child whose strength was exploring the texture of his or her own clothes, for example, might be encouraged to handle a variety of different materials with the help of another person.
At Castle Wood School in Coventry, a primary special school for children with moderate, severe and profound learning difficulties, Penny Lacey worked to create a new curriculum based on this personalised approach to learning. Many of her pupils needed to acquire the thinking skills so often taken for granted in “neurotypical” development, such as the ability to recall information, link cause and effect or anticipate another person’s wants. Such skills could not be acquired by rote like maths or French, but had to be learnt as part of an ongoing process throughout the school day. “We need to provide environments that provoke curiosity,” Penny Lacey explained. “We need to demonstrate curiosity ourselves and even sabotage routines so that children begin to think.”
She was born Penelope Saunders in London on August 30 1948, the daughter of Barbara, a pianist and physiotherapist, and John, a senior partner at the estate agents John D Wood. The family member Penny idolised, however, was her aunt Dame Cicely Saunders, pioneer of the modern hospice movement. As a schoolgirl Penny herself was mischievous and athletic, a prize-winning runner and, thanks to her height – she would grow to be 6ft – skilled in the high jump. She was also resourceful in the face of opposition. When a friend’s disapproving parents forbade contact, the 10-year-old Penny kept in touch with her via flags waved from the ends of their respective gardens.
Expelled from her first boarding school, she eventually took her A-level exams at St Mary’s in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, and won a place at Kent University, graduating in 1970 with a degree in English and American Literature. The following year she embarked on a teaching career, taking a PGCE at Coventry College of Education.
Following a probationary period she began work at a special educational needs school, Sherbourne Fields in Coventry. By 1989 she was instructing student teachers at Westhill College of Higher Education, and two years later she completed a master’s degree. In 1992, by now a single parent with a daughter to support, she graduated from Birmingham University – where she was already working as a lecturer – with a PhD in Multidisciplinary Education.
Her books include Researching Learning Difficulties: A Guide for Practitioners (2005, with Jill Porter) and Support Services and the Curriculum: A Practical Guide to Collaboration (2013, with Jeanette Lomas).
A talented pianist with a fine contralto voice, Penny Lacey sang in the Coventry Cathedral chamber choir and always arrived in the classroom equipped with a suitcase full of instruments in case of an impromptu music lesson. She continued to run her course at Birmingham University, and to teach for one day a week at Castle Wood School, until being taken ill with a blood clot on her brain.
She is survived by her second husband, David Doggett, a daughter from her first marriage to Stephen Lacey and five stepchildren. A stepson predeceased her.
Penny Lacey, born August 30 1948, died January 12 2015
So, the penny drops (Publishing patients’ death rates is backfiring, surgeons tell NHS chief, 31 January). Who’d have thought it, that publishing consultant-level results would lead some to decide against operating on patients with a perceived higher risk of mortality? It is the NHS management response though that is interesting. Apparently, this is not the time to “row back on transparency”; “information for patients … helped surgeons raise their game”.
Two points. First, the purpose of the surgeons’ intervention is to warn us that the collection and publication of this data does not lead to greater transparency. On the contrary, whereas we used to think that all surgeons, like all other properly qualified medical staff, were acting in the patients’ own best interest, now we cannot be sure: some, in response to the “transparency” inducing data are instead considering their own positions, and we have no way of knowing which are and which aren’t.
Second, even setting aside the harmful unintended consequences of the death-rate publication experiment, what kind of world are we living in where we think surgeons need to “raise their game”? Are we worried that the supervision they receive within their long and intensive training is insufficient and needs to be supplemented with supervision by an untutored general public, albeit armed with statistics that its lack of expertise renders superficially informative but deeply unintelligible? Or do we think that we somehow have to hold them to account because they do not feel accountable for their actions themselves? If the latter, then we really are in serious trouble and no amount of perfunctory supervision will help.
Dr William Dixon and Dr David Wilson
London Metropolitan University
• Alan Milburn urges Labour to embrace NHS “reform” (unspecified) to avoid the electoral disaster of 1992 (Miliband’s focus on NHS ‘mirrors lost cause of 1992’, 28 January). Luckily, we have learnt something since 1992. For the past quarter century England has led the world in market-oriented reform of the public services. The politicians have created a form of permanent revolution, notably in health and education, without any recognition that constant turbulence doesn’t generally make for good outcomes.
The successive upheavals have hardly ever been evidence-based, nor have they been piloted, properly evaluated or developed with staff and user involvement. Usually the architects and drivers of these pet projects have moved on, or down, by the time the chaos has become widespread, as in the cases of Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove. Worst of all, the obsession with pursuing these reforms has distracted the governing system from focusing on the things that matter most but make less of a splash, such as providing enough doctors, nurses, hospital beds, teachers, school places and opportunities for high quality staff training and development.
No service can stand still, and intelligent change based on persuasion and realistic timescales is essential. But the old style of reform that Milburn appears to be promoting isn’t part of the solution, it’s a significant part of the problem.
Emeritus professor, Open University
• The NHS returned surpluses to the Treasury of £2.1bn in 2012-13 and £2.2bn in 2013-14. If these had been used to increase the tariff paid to hospitals and fully fund emergency admissions above the contract, hospitals would not be in deficit now. There would have been enough to increase rather than decrease the money spent on GPs. I’m glad that finally managers have spoken out as so called “efficiency savings” are damaging the NHS (Report, 30 January). Again this year the US independent Commonwealth Fund put the UK health service top for cost-effectiveness as well as equity and satisfaction.
One cannot escape the conclusion that it is a deliberate government policy to underfund the NHS as part of its privatisation agenda. We are a rich country, as Mr Cameron reminded us during the floods – fifth in the world according to the IMF – and a civilised country should be able to provide good health and social care for its population. Last week, Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham launched Labour’s 10-year plan, which aims to do this. It can be funded by getting rid of the wasteful market and the bodies which support the market.
President, Keep Our NHS Public
• I am 78 years old. Recently, I was discharged from Sheffield Royal Northern hospital after open heart surgery. As far as I know, the several conditions from which I suffered have been successfully treated, and in due course I’ll be able to resume my former active and, I like to think, useful life. In my opinion, Miliband and Burnham have got their policy on the NHS spot on. Political strategists should bear in mind there are a lot of us oldies, and we tend to vote more often than younger people. The future of the NHS, in something like the form originally conceived, is to my mind easily the most important domestic issue in the forthcoming election. After all, what sort of a country do we want to live in?
Yes, the counter-terrorism and security bill is “ideological extremism masquerading as British values”, especially by conflating extremism with dissent against unjust western policies (Karma Nabulsi, Opinion, 4 February). In a familiar pattern, every terrorist act is exploited for strengthening executive powers, extending punishment without trial, widening powers of the security services, eroding fundamental freedoms, and further targeting Muslim communities. Moreover, the government’s latest bill would require public institutions to monitor and suppress “extremist” voices – supposedly to prevent terrorism.
All anti-terror powers are based on the Terrorism Act 2000. It redefined terrorism, blurring any distinction between violent acts and political dissent, thus criminalising vague association and speech acts. Anti-terror powers are about protecting UK foreign policy from dissent, rather than protecting the public from violence.
This political agenda explains the discriminatory application of anti-terrorism laws. For example, schedule 7 of the act, which authorises border officials to detain and question individuals, has disproportionately targeted Muslims and ethnic minorities. Since 2001, some 70% of all arrests under anti-terrorism legislation have been of non-whites. Such practices serve a politics of fear – marginalising Muslim and migrant communities, making others fear them, creating mutual mistrust and increasing risks of violent attack. This Orwellian agenda makes our society more dangerous, not safer.
Ordinary criminal law remains adequate to protect the public from violence; terrorist attacks have resulted from inadequately using intelligence and available powers, not from inadequate powers. Therefore we advocate the repeal of all anti-terrorism legislation since the Terrorism Act 2000.
Lady Jones Green party
Shahrar Ali Deputy leader, Green party
Les Levidow Campaign Against Criminalising Communities
Arzu Merali Islamic Human Rights Commission
Hanne Stevens Director, Rights Watch (UK)
Asim Qureshi Cage-UK
Malia Bouattia NUS black students’ officer
Zarah Sultana NUS National Executive Council
Zekarias Negussue NEC representative, NUS Black Students’ Campaign
Arwa Almari West Yorkshire Racial Justice Network
While there is plenty to complain about in recent Archers story lines (eg Adam’s New Year kiss and Rob’s paternity test) the programme still covers agricultural stories of relevance (Letters, 5 February). One of the most depressing experiences I had recently was to be shown round a robotic milking parlour on the dairy farm where we were staying in north Cornwall. The farmer had mortgaged himself to the hilt; the new system had cost him hundreds of thousands. The impact on milk yields: negligible. When a combine harvester now costs millions, why not employ hundreds of farm workers to hand-pluck the corn with a golden sickle? In the words of Eddie Grundy last week, discussing the robotic parlour, “there goes another skilled job”.
The Labour party has identified a major problem relating to university tuition fees but reducing them is not an appropriate solution for it (Editorial, 3 February). The problem is that a large minority of graduates have to enter careers that will never pay enough during their working lives so as to prompt loan repayment. Many are in careers that were not graduate-entry decades ago and for which degree courses now leave graduates “overqualified” with respect to the skills actually necessary for doing those jobs. Obviously, there are some highly skilled and well-paid jobs, for which there is a shortage of qualified graduates, but typically the skills acquired in most degree courses are not transferable to them, so the shortages cannot be filled by Britain’s large graduate population. By focusing education and training on skills that university courses can develop, Britain has created a system that is socially wasteful and dysfunctional.
Unfortunately, being a university graduate continues to enjoy high social status, so that the fundamental question of how to best match the provision of education and training with the needs of an economy containing many jobs that are not especially highly skilled rarely gets asked.
Emeritus fellow, Worcester College, Oxford University
• Your editorial on higher education funding misses a fundamental point. The present government is already borrowing to support a tuition fee of £9,000, but paying this out via the student loan book rather than through direct grant, thus requiring students to take on much higher loans. The fact that this does not appear on the public accounts or count towards the deficit is a sleight of hand. A much more honest debate about how investment in higher education can be delivered will only happen if the current smoke and mirrors accountancy rules of the Treasury are changed. However, it is not just Labour that has questions to answer about fees and funding.
The Liberal Democrats have agreed to review the system – but only after the election. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have said that they will find funds to lift the cap on student numbers, while at the same time committing to rapid and deep further cuts in public spending, raising the prospect that what little remains of the direct grant for university teaching, is wiped out completely. Until all parties reveal their hand in detail, megaphone diplomacy about the risks of one party’s policy compared to another is premature.
Chief executive million+
• We reject the claims made by some university vice-chancellors that lowering tuition fees is implausible. To suggest that a system of free higher education is unrealistic and would damage Britain’s economy is absurd. On the contrary, when the government spends money on public services such as education this grows the economy. Investment in free education would create jobs, growth and provide the resources to allow Britain to tackle the challenges of the 21st century, from climate change to health problems. Free education would also expand social justice, providing those students deterred from going to university because of the enormous debt burden of over £40,000 the chance to fulfil their potential. We are inspired by Germany’s move to scrap tuition fees last year, are committed to building a movement to bring about free education here and call upon vice-chancellors to reconsider their support for an education funding system that is failing.
Piers Telemacque NUS vice-president, society & sitizenship
Shakira Martin NUS national executive and president of Lewisham Southwark College SU
Aaron Kiely NUS national executive
James Honke University of Birmingham
Jordan Blyth Teesside University Free Education Campaign
Dave Cocozza Mature students’ officer, University of Kent students’ union
David Brand Free Education Brighton
William Roney University of Roehampton
Fiona Edwards Student Assembly Against Austerity
It is highly significant that the groceries code adjudicator has announced her first formal investigation – a probe into Tesco’s treatment of its suppliers (Tesco under investigation by new regulator over dealings with suppliers, 5 February, guardian.com). Of equal importance is the regulator’s new ability to fine large retailers for breaching the supply chain code of practice. The Tesco probe clearly shows that Christine Tacon intends to use the powers she has been given.
We cannot, of course, prejudge the outcome of this investigation, and it may be that Tesco is cleared of wrongdoing. But potential fines of up to 1% of annual turnover would force all major retailers to review their dealings with suppliers and, if necessary, put their houses in order.
The crucial next step is ensuring that any fines do not just go into Treasury coffers. The money should instead go towards a dedicated fund to support the innovation and growth of local food supply chains and into the country’s network of micro-, small- and medium-sized food suppliers. This would provide a boost to the rural economy, where many businesses have long been undermined by the expansion of the supermarket sector.
Senior rural policy campaigner, Campaign to Protect Rural England
• John Harris’s sobering article on the impact of Tesco’s store closures (Very little help, G2, 4 February) brings into sharp focus another of the supermarket chain’s undesirable downturn policies: the placing of smaller, more profitable shops in areas where they are neither needed nor desired. Last month in Belsize Park, north-west London, more than 3,700 residents signed a petition in protest against a proposed Tesco Express on the site of a former bank directly opposite the tube station on the area’s busiest thoroughfare. The impact on nearby businesses, particularly three independently run greengrocers and general stores, may well be catastrophic, and the arrival of yet more huge delivery vans can only worsen the area’s traffic problems. There are two other Tesco Express stores within easy walking distance. But clearly there are profits to be made from further suburban expansion, and panicky shareholders to placate, so why should the detrimental commercial or aesthetic impact on an already well-served local community be of much concern in these troubled times.
The Institute of Economic Affairs says this idea would save money and end ‘sardine-like’ conditions for commuters
Sir, The brave suggestion by the Institute for Economic Affairs that it might be time for much of Britain’s main rail network to be replaced by a road-borne coach network (report, Feb 3) will, of course, draw intense fire from the ubiquitous rail lobby.
I felt the full force of this brigade’s firepower in 2003 when, as a keen, newly appointed rail minister, I volunteered publicly my belief that part of the problem with this country’s transport policy was that it was profoundly influenced by trainspotters.
As the sky darkened with incoming missiles, the officials at the ministry were very kind to me, as an indulgent uncle might be kind to a deranged nephew, before they resumed their full-time job of trying to persuade the Treasury to cough up vast amounts of taxpayers’ money to keep the railways running. I fear that their job description has not changed much since then.
Dr Kim Howells
Sir, The suggestion by the Institute of Economic Affairs concerning conversion of our railway to bus lanes is not new. It was floated in the 1980s by Sir Alfred Sherman, who was associated with the same organisation.
There were many loopholes in the proposal. For example, railway tracks are often narrow, have tunnels and bridges, as well as very elaborate and expensive safety systems (which largely work). Furthermore, there is the issue about all the coaches arriving at a major terminal and how they are dispersed.
The present problems of the railway are caused by rapidly increasing traffic and decades of underinvestment. The complex nature of the organisation, riddled with expensive lawyers and financiers as a result of privatisation, is why it costs so much to rectify.
Lib Dem transport spokesman in the House of Lords and former general manager, British Rail Western Region
Sir, About 30 years ago a study was made of the feasibility of converting the railway between the Chilterns and London into a busway. The idea was not proceeded with for various reasons, not least of which was the problem of what to do with a large number of buses at the end of the journey; clearly disgorging them on to London’s crowded streets was not acceptable.
The Cambridge to St Ives busway does a good job, making use of a former railway track bed, but is not carrying anywhere near the sort of volumes of passengers which the Institute for Economic Affairs mentions. As a retired former busman I am well aware of the potential of busways, but moving large volumes of passengers on urban and interurban corridors is best left to railways, which manage it very well for most of the time.
Sir, John Chapman (letter, Feb 5) says that buses could be linked and then put back on railway tracks. With no linkage and steered by the drivers, express coaches using one lane of a road could offer 75,000 seats an hour. That’s 50 per cent more than the crushed peak-hour railway commuters who arrive at Waterloo in trains requiring four inbound tracks.
The coaches would motor at 60mph, with the journey time from Southampton, for example, similar to that by rail. Fares, though, could be halved or perhaps even quartered. Linking the vehicles electronically would vastly increase potential capacity, but putting them back on rails would cost a fortune and prevent any other vehicle from using the track.
The opportunity is overwhelming.
More from Letters to the Editor
Published at 12:01AM, February 6 2015 Prince Charles’s antipathy to modernist architecture has had a disastrous effect upon popular taste
Published at 12:01AM, February 6 2015 The future of HMS Victory aside, the past offers a tantalising glimpse of life aboard the ship in wartime…
The future of HMS Victory aside, the past offers a tantalising glimpse of life aboard the ship in wartime…
Sir, As an RNVR rating in the Second World War my father was billeted on HMS Victory (letters, Feb 4 & 5). He used to relate the story of how, if any rating was slow to leave his hammock when eight bells sounded, his colleagues would lift a cannonball from the deck and place it on his stomach. The offending rating was faced with three choices: try to lift it without swinging, then throw it over the side and risk damaging the deck timbers; swing out of the hammock, ball in both hands, and risk damaging both himself and the deck timbers; or stay in the hammock and risk the wrath of the Petty Officer.
Not surprisingly, without exception they opted for the latter.
Ditchling, E Sussex
Prince Charles’s antipathy to modernist architecture has had a disastrous effect upon popular taste
Sir, It is now more than three decades since Prince Charles’s Mansion House “carbuncle” speech, and consequently architects are no longer dismayed by his prevailing historicist architectural predilections (report, Feb 2).
Nevertheless, his consistent antipathy to a modernist architectural language appropriate to the 21st century has had a disastrous effect upon popular taste — witness many current speculative housing developments which recede into a spurious vernacular revivalism, or worse, an illiterate historical pastiche. Such developments are unsustainable in their harmful impact upon our established towns and have little connection to a progressive British architectural culture.
It was not always so. The 1951 Festival of Britain demonstrated that a radical architecture and its urban planning outcome, could, indeed, meet with widespread popular appeal.
A return to such enlightened populism is long overdue.
Professor Emeritus A Peter Fawcett
Sir, People should be cautious when representatives of the royal family cast doubt on the authenticity of a new book (letter, Feb 4). As programme editor at ITN I was involved in the coverage of Andrew Morton’s book on the Princess of Wales. I well recall the furore and the denials. Subsequently, the book was found to be not only broadly accurate but the princess herself was one of the main sources. Royal spokesmen have form in these matters.
East Preston, W Sussex
Sir Peter Luff’s 2 per cent of GDP for defence would be better allocated to the protection of national computer systems
Sir, The plea of Sir Peter Luff and others (letter, Feb 4) for an allocation of 2 per cent of GDP to so-called defence is hopelessly old-fashioned. Any day now the internet could be used by some malign individual or organisation to shut down our National Grid. His 2 per cent would be better allocated to the protection of the computer systems controlling our national infrastructures.
Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites
Fishbourne, W Sussex
The apostrophe is not only a useful form of punctuation, it can even affect what you choose to eat
Sir, Further to the correspondence on apostrophes (letters, Feb 4 & 5), once while away on holiday I received a message from my teenage sons at home, declaring: “We have completely run out of food and are so desperate we are going to have to eat the cats.”
Governments must agree never to reward kidnappers . That is the true path of compassion
Sir, I am sad to see Anthony Loyd (Jan 31) brand as “cruel” the government’s rigorous hostage policy. Mr Loyd’s views command respect but his argument is flawed. Governments are commended for entering into the very negotiations that perpetuate the problem. The inevitable outcome is more kidnappings and higher ransoms, until “a few million dollars” becomes $200 million. What then?
When I travelled in bandit country as British ambassador in Rangoon in the early 1980s, I left a letter with my deputy instructing him that if I were taken hostage the British government should make no concessions. A Burmese friend made discreet inquiries and was assured that the rebels, who had a track record of kidnapping foreigners, would never take the British ambassador because his government would not pay.
Similarly, the Irish Republican paper An Phoblacht once carried a photo of me taken through a rifle’s telescopic sights under the headline “We let Fenn Go”. They undoubtedly did. My government had been unmoved by earlier assassinations: there was nothing to be gained by shooting me.
It is not British policy that is cruel. It is terrorist savagery and the foolish practice of paying wicked men to take more hostages. Governments must agree never to reward kidnappers. That is the true path of compassion.
Sir Nicholas Fenn Marden, Kent Sir, While I share David Aaronovitch’s outrage at the killing of the Jordanian pilot (Opinion, Feb 5), I fear he is reacting in the way that Isis would want him to. The more it can draw the West into direct military intervention, the more Isis is creating the “Muslim v Infidel” war it desires, and the less stark it is that Isis enjoys committing atrocities for their own sake and has no care that most of its victims are fellow Muslims. David Harris London SW13
GPs are to be asked to check patients’ immigration status to help to recover the costs from other EU countries
Sir, I cannot understand the reluctance of GPs and medical staff to ask to see a person’s EU health insurance card (report, Feb 5). I recently had to attend A&E while on holiday in France and was asked for proof of identity (passport) and to show my EU health card. I had no problem with either.
To reclaim the medical costs of non-residents is the point of the EU health insurance card, and not taking advantage of this process makes no sense at all. Are these the same doctors who constantly complain about the lack of NHS funding?
Sir, You report that GP leaders fear being turned into “debt collectors”, possibly using chip-and-PIN machines in surgeries in future. High street dentists under NHS contracts have been doing this for more than 60 years.
The politician Enoch Powell had a slight problem with train timetables as well as times tables…
Sir, Your anecdote about Enoch Powell (“Times tables eluded Enoch”, TMS, Feb 5) reminded me of the occasion when I met him on the platform at Haywards Heath railway station. “Young man,” he said, “can you interpret this timetable and tell me when the next train to Eastbourne is likely to arrive?”
Lindfield, W Sussex
SIR – Having spent 32 years in the corporate world, I would like to allay fears (Letters, February 4) that a focus on corporate models will undermine values in schools.
Those who lead and work in large companies can exhibit values such as honesty, trust, loyalty and fairness. In any event, it is not models which dictate culture but the people who operate them – and the tone is set at the top.
Our head teacher is near completion of an MBA, in order to bring business discipline to the way he and his team run a highly successful state academy which, like all others, faces severe financial challenges. All credit to him for doing this so that our school can benefit from the best of both worlds.
Jacey Caroline Graham
Chair of Governors, The Coopers’ Company and Coborn School
SIR – Charlotte Vere, the acting general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, argues that it’s time to stop allowing outdated stereotypes to dominate education debates.
The majority of pupils at independent schools come from hard-working families who simply care about their children.
What Ms Vere did not say is that by opting out of the state sector, these parents are saving the taxpayer around £4 billion each year, perhaps a lot more. Yet these parents also pay their income tax and council tax towards state school places they do not take up. This puts into the shade all the nonsense we hear about charitable benefit and the need for independent schools to do even more for the community. What does the community do for independent schools?
SIR – Cambridge Assessment (Letters, February 2) may not thank me for saying this, but its science IGCSEs are easier to teach than the approved GCSEs.
This is not because they are dumbed down, but because they are structured so that new learning builds upon what pupils have already learnt. The progression is not interrupted by environmental propaganda or fashionable educational theory, such as “how science works”. They simply allow a good teacher to get a higher pass rate and, at the same time, provide more able pupils with a superior foundation for further study at A-level and university.
Prof Tom Burkard
SIR – Appearing in the BBC Two documentary Inside the Commons, the Prime Minister described the architecture by saying: “It looks half like a museum, half like a church, half like a school.”
No wonder the Education Secretary has declared a war on innumeracy.
SIR – Simon Crowley writes (Letters, February 4) that “almost none of our visible politicians have any experience of military service”.
Any vocation other than politics could be substituted for “military service”. They lack experience in science, business, the church, medicine, education and other fields.
Politics has become little more than an academic game without reference to the real world.
Competitive gas prices
SIR – Rather than bother the Ombudsman about the cost of liquid petroleum gas, Rowan Simmonds (Letters, January 4) should change his supplier.
I am also an LPG user but I take out a contract for a period of time at a fixed price and when due for renewal contact all suppliers for their best price. Customer loyalty is important and I have found that the original installer of my tank has always bettered the lowest offer I have received from their competitors.
Unlike those supplied from the national grid, I am currently paying the same price for my gas as four years ago.
Left to right: Nicholas Kirkwood, Jonathan Saunders, Peter Pilotto, Christopher De Vos, Christopher Kane, Erdem Moralioglu (Zac Frackelton)
SIR – I confess I have no understanding of the world of fashion, but I have learnt from your photograph lining up six of “Britain’s brightest fashion stars” that it is important to wear nothing but black.
The only exception is one wild young thing with a red pullover peeking out from under his blazer. Did he not get the memo?
SIR – The Kurds, whose lands are divided between Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran – and form a very small part of each – have been struggling for independence for decades.
Now that the Kurdish forces have begun driving back the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), they must be rewarded. Frontiers need to be redrawn. To force Iran and Turkey to cede their occupied land back to the Kurds may be difficult but pressure must be put on both countries.
SIR – As a Jordanian citizen myself, I am filled with a sense of sorrow and unbearable revulsion at the gruesome video showing the Jordanian pilot being burned alive by terrorists.
This heinous crime shows the responsibility we must bear, to work assiduously to confront this fanatical death cult. Most importantly, the world community has a moral duty to help Jordan in its hour of need.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
Value of make-up
SIR – Your feature on the worth of make-up reminded me of an account from the diary of Lt Col Mervin Gonin, Commanding Officer of 11 (British) Light Field Ambulance, who witnessed the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
“It was shortly after the British Red Cross teams arrived, though it may have been coincidental, that a large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted! We were screaming for hundreds of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish I knew, because I believe nothing did more for those internees than the lipstick.
“Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightdress but with scarlet lips. They wandered about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet lips. I saw a woman dead on the post-mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick.
“Do you see what I mean? At last someone had done something to make them individuals again… That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”
Be a sport and keep rounders in the curriculum
Doing the rounds: a Spanish predecessor in the 13th-century ‘Cantigas de Santa Maria’ (The Art Archive/A
SIR – Whenever I meet ex-pupils, they seldom reminisce about favourite maths or science lessons. Instead, they invariably recall games afternoons, in particular rounders.
It is a highly skilled game, developing eye-to-ball co-ordination, fielding tactics and the ability to interpret the rules intelligently. These skills transfer to other sports.
Best of all, rounders is a game for mixed teams of both boys and girls at primary school.
I trust many of my ex-pupils will appeal to Rounders England to fight against the recent decision by the Department for Education to drop the game from the physical education GCSE curriculum.
The place of respect in ‘British values’
SIR – While teaching British values is certainly as important as maths, the last word on the Education Secretary’s list, respect, is currently much misused and misunderstood.
Common courtesy should be universal, but respect must invariably be earned. It is certainly not an automatic perquisite of being different from the mainstream, as the “anything goes” brigade would have us believe.
Virginia Water, Surrey
SIR – The concept of “British values” is ill-defined – what makes a particular value especially “British”?
What we need to foster in our children and young people is a sense of self-esteem and appreciation of and respect for other people.
Sadly, Government interference with the educational process is undermining the efforts of teachers to help their pupils thrive in a multi-cultural world.
Ralph A Tebbutt
SIR – Never mind the use of potato peelers, and drivers chatting to passengers (Letters, February 4): how is it that all drivers on films and television seem to find a vacant – and presumably legal – parking space just outside the door to where they are going?
Caught out in the cold
SIR – Your headline “London and the East told to prepare for 3in of snow” (February 4) prompted a wry smile.
When has Britain, let alone the capital, ever been “prepared” for snow?
SIR – There is no need for my local council to grit the side road I live on. The potholes provide plenty of traction.
What he’s having
SIR – Greek tavernas, where accuracy in translation is frequently given a low priority, are not exempt from gaffes in advertising their culinary delights (Letters, February 2).
A taverna in Koukounaries, on the island of Skiathos, proudly displayed a sandwich board at its entrance that read: “Orgasmic food served here”.
SIR – A starter on the menu of a Halifax hostelry a few years ago was “Chef’s own liver pâté”. Surprisingly it remained available for many months.
Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria
Globe and Mail:
Sir, – Jim Cosgrove, like me, must be of an age when gardaí , doctors and other professionals are appearing to get younger by the week (February 4th). Why not a president to match? After all how much worse could it be? If experience is important in politics, lack of it must be a better bet seeing what the old, experienced, wrinklies have done! – Yours, etc,
JOHN K ROGERS,
Sir, – Theresa Reidy (Opinion & Analysis, February 5th), arguing that we should lower the age requirement of candidates for the presidency, writes: “There is no scientific evidence to suggest someone is more emotionally mature at 35 than at 30, and no guarantee that as people age, they will earn more life, or political, experience.”
I almost let out a groan of exasperation as I read these words. Is the tyranny of social scientists so far advanced that these latter-day oracles have to be consulted on everything? Has anyone actually measured the emotional maturity of 35-year-old people as opposed to 30-year-old people? How on earth would they do that? What is one unit of emotional maturity called? How could anyone fail to “earn more life experience” as they age, even if they never left the house?
Personally, I wouldn’t care if all candidates for the presidency were required to be red-headed, left-handed girls under the age of 12. I think a monarchy would be much more sensible. But, all that aside, can we please refrain from this mania of replacing reasoned debate with a blind faith in “scientific evidence”, which is so often pseudo-scientific evidence anyway? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Surely the major problem to be addressed is not that a 21-year-old citizen cannot run for president but that the 99 per cent-plus of the population who are not part of the cosy political cadre cannot become president either. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It is helpful to remind ourselves of some of the figures who have shaped this State to refute the suggestion that someone under the age of 35 would be unfit for the office of president. The current Taoiseach and his last three predecessors were all in their early or mid-twenties when elected to the Dáil; Dick Spring and William Norton were each under the age of 35 when elected to lead the Labour Party, and, in Mr Spring’s case, tánaiste; and the current government’s youngest member, Leo Varadkar, was appointed at the age of 32.
Should membership of the Dáil, the cabinet, leadership of a major political party and occupation of the position of tánaiste be insufficient to satisfy objections, then what of Michael Collins, whose short life was abridged at the age of 31? Is his role in achieving our independence and serving as leader of the country’s provisional government enough?
To those swayed by the suggestion that the referendum be voted down as a protest at the fact that this proposal is before us instead of other ones, I would argue that it is unclear how voting No would encourage the Government to hold further referendums. If the proposal is rejected, it would be interpreted as a rejection of the proposal itself, not the electorate sending a cryptic message to hold a different vote on something else. Indeed, it could even make it easier for the Government to justify not holding referendums on more important subjects – if the electorate is resistant to a relatively uncontroversial change such as this, then there must be limited appetite for constitutional reform. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Empirical studies comparing children of same-sex and heterosexual couples are more extensive and consistent in their findings than the letters of Ryan Connolly and Neil Bray (February 5th) would imply. All of the available evidence from these studies shows that children of same-sex and heterosexual couples are similar with regard to their gender identity, gender role behaviour, sexual orientation, mental health, and psychological and social adjustment.
These studies include comparisons between children reared by lesbian couples and those reared by heterosexual couples, between children with stepmothers and stepfathers; follow-up studies of adults raised by lesbian mothers have also been published; recent studies have also been undertaken with gay men who are parents. The studies draw on methodologies developed in the field of psychology over decades, including quantitative and qualitative measures of gender identity, sexual orientation, psychological adjustment, social adjustment, parental styles and quality of parent-child relationship. They have been conducted in different cultures at different time periods using small samples as well as population studies. They have been published and reviewed in international peer-reviewed journals and by professional bodies such as the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Paediatrics’ Committee, the Australian Psychological Society and the Psychological Society of Ireland.
The studies are in agreement with other studies of child development in showing that the quality of relationship, whether with one parent or with two, and whether with gay or straight parents, is the most important factor in child development. – Yours, etc,
Dr GERALDINE MOANE,
School of Psychology,
University College Dublin,
Belfield, Dublin 4.
Sir, – The proposal to alter radically the definition of marriage, by way of an amendment to the Constitution, is both flawed and unnecessary.
The idea that the meaning of marriage needs to be fundamentally changed in order to give equality to couples of the same gender demeans our very understanding of the wholeness and integrity of human nature and a long-recognised principle of social foundation.
It is nonetheless entirely appropriate that contractual unions or civil partnerships of the same gender should be not only recognised, but also given full constitutional protection, and surely this could be achieved by way of an alternative amendment. For that to happen, one could only hope that our legislators and their constitutional experts would reconsider the current proposal and come up with a revised definition and wording which would preserve the distinction between marriage and civil partnerships of the same sex, and one that would be just and fair to all.
If they don’t, it is very likely that vast numbers of the electorate will reluctantly vote No. – Yours, etc,
DAVID J STRAHAN,
Kilternan, Co Dublin.
Sir, – The upcoming referendum is a missed opportunity by the Government to address the injustice of the period of time that married couples have to wait before applying for a divorce. Currently a married couple can legally separate when their marriage breaks down but must wait for four years after separation before they can apply for a divorce.
The constitutional requirement for married couples to be living apart for four years before being able to apply for a divorce has led to a very unfair situation whereby such couples have to go through a legal separation only to have to go through it again four years later in order to obtain a divorce.
The breakdown of a marriage is a very stressful, life-changing event and the current four-year wait before being able to seek a divorce only serves to make it more stressful for the couple and can have a negative impact on the couple’s parenting of any children of the marriage.
It is interesting to contrast this to the position of same-sex couples in civil partnerships. At present such couples only have to wait two years before they can apply to have their civil partnership dissolved. The shorter time period, in my view, reflected changed attitudes in society by the time civil partnership was brought in.
If the referendum is passed then (somewhat ironically) same sex-couples who marry will also be subject to this four-year wait.
It is time for this to be addressed in a referendum so that separating spouses can finalise matters in one step rather than two. It is a shame that the Government did not use this opportunity to allow marriage breakdown to also catch up with attitude changes in society. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The recent decision of the ECB to no longer accept Greek collateral issued or guaranteed by the Greek government has been made by this “politically independent” institution in the aftermath of the Greek election results (“ECB turns up pressure on Athens by refusing Greek bonds”, Front Page, February 5th).
The junk status of Greek debt has, until now, been waived by the ECB to accept Greek collateral. In the wake of the Greek elections, the ECB has decided, in its political independence, that this waiver no longer applies. Coincidence?
The sooner the EU recognises that its political and fiscal infrastructure is not fit for purpose the better. – Yours, etc,
Castleknock, Dublin 15.
Sir, – Much of the coverage of the post-Greek election situation amounts to little more than an apologia for Greek threats to default on their own self-inflicted debts and ask the citizens of other EU and euro zone countries to pay for it.
The narrative being promoted all over the media now is that of the newly elected Greek government attempting to intimidate its fellow members in the EU and especially those in the euro zone.
The present Greek government is demanding that the citizens of other euro zone countries pay the price for decades of irresponsibility by Greek governments and Greek banks.
Most euro zone members did not go bankrupt. They did not have to look for a bailout because the decision makers in charge of their governmental and financial institutions did not make reckless and irresponsible decisions.
Yet the taxpayers of some small eastern European countries, which are now in the euro zone, are being threatened with picking up the costs for what is generally recognised as dysfunctional administration over decades which allowed endemic tax avoidance by wealthy Greeks and reckless lending by Greek banks.
We can see how hypocritical the case being made by Greece is when we realise that the citizens of these small eastern European countries, which are not among the richest in the world and have their own problems, did not threaten to pull the house down when they had financial difficulties.
The decision-makers in positions of power in government and banking in these poorer countries acted responsibly yet the injustice of their citizens being threatened with paying for the irresponsibility of their Greek equivalents is being ignored by much of the current commentary. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – So the Government is bringing in controls on the price at which alcohol can be sold. No doubt the “common good” will be invoked to justify this change in the law but the same common good is nowhere in earshot or sight when there is any mention of controls on the price of rents.
The free market works in mysterious ways. – Yours, etc,
Rathmines, Dublin 6.
Sir, – One can only think that those most likely to benefit are publicans and supermarkets that would gladly avoid real competition. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – There are only two occasions when I would write a letter to The Irish Times on the subject of alcohol prices. These occasions are when I am sober or when I am drunk.
Today is no exception. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Frank Kalman has written (February 4th) in response to Elaine Keogh’s courageous article “Hopes for sick children who go abroad may be ‘unrealistic’” (Health, August 20th, 2014). The reference to the response rate of relapsed neuroblastoma ignores the context in the original article, which refers to “high-risk” neuroblastoma that has relapsed rather than relapsed neuroblastoma in general. However, it’s important to point out that the message of the article is not in any way about numbers.
It’s about relationships between families, the wider community and health professionals, and the truly holistic considerations of sending a child abroad for treatment. It’s about the psycho-social impact on and potential harm to patients and families – perhaps split apart by the logistics – and the stress of caring for a sick child far from supports and the caveat as to the motivations of those that may promise (or even be merely interpreted as promising) a miracle.
If a layperson were to attend the average basic cancer biology conference, within a day they would believe that cancer could be cured next week. The sad case is that many of the most promising leads in treatment will remain just that, rather than “real-world cures”.
As a former member of the team, I know that Crumlin hospital, which takes part in many clinical trials, can offer the most promising treatments given in the spirit of hope and advancement of medical science.
While nobody could blame parents for searching for the slightest hope in dire situations – and it is true that parents should indeed be proactive and “fight” as their child’s advocate – this process should not be seen as a conflict between doctor and parent but rather a dialogue; and surely one in which honesty is key.
It is marvellous that Mr Kalman’s daughter’s story is one of success. Fundraising can have a positive impact on multiple domains. Finally I should point out that while I have worked with the doctors whose opinions were expressed in the article, I write this letter independently and my views are my own. – Yours, etc,
Dr NEIL BARRETT
for Medical Research,
Sir, – Andrew Doggett (February 5th) brings up an important point regarding the lack of transparency in the purchase of houses. This is the biggest transaction is most people’s lives, yet we all have to take on face value the latest bids. It is a system that is open to huge abuse by both rogue bidders and unscrupulous estate agents.
I am certain most estate agents operate with the highest degree of integrity but they themselves are open to be duped in a competitive bidding situation under the current circumstances. This can drive up property prices, particularly in sought-after addresses.
A simple process whereby bidders would have to submit their bids in writing (via email or text), with these recorded by the estate agent for possible future audit, would be the sensible approach. The bidders would still remain anonymous to other competing bidders but it would undermine underhand attempts to drive up prices. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Congratulations on your powerful editorial “Responding to barbarity” (February 5th). I would like to draw attention to one small inaccuracy contained therein. In dealing with the execution without trial of republican hostages by the Free State authorities during the Civil War, you state that “Joseph McKelvey, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellowes,and Richard Barrett were hanged on the orders of the cabinet”. In fact these men were shot by firing squad in Mountjoy on December 8th, 1922. Apart from this minor point I agree with the view you express that taking and executing hostages “is immoral, and profoundly counterproductive”. – Yours, etc,
Fr IGGY O’DONOVAN,
Sir, – Inspired by Peadar MacMaghnais’s phrase “in these islands” (February 5th), I intend to drop the term the “Irish Sea” from my vocabulary and confine myself to the happy compromise of “in this sea”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Further to “Stena Line confirms end of Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead route” (February 6th), what are we going to wave at now, when we walk to the end of the pier? – Yours, etc,
Much of the coverage of the post Greek election situation amounts to little more than an apologia for Greek threats to default on their self-inflicted debts and ask the citizens of other EU and eurozone countries to pay for it.
The narrative being promoted all over the media now is that of the newly elected Greek government attempting to intimidate its fellow members in the EU and especially those in the eurozone.
The present Greek government is demanding that the citizens of other eurozone countries pay the price for decades of irresponsibility by Greek governments and Greek banks.
Most eurozone members did not go bankrupt. They did not have to look for a bailout because the decision makers in charge of their governmental and financial institutions did not make reckless and irresponsible decisions.
Yet the taxpayers of some small eastern European countries, which are now in the eurozone, are being threatened with
picking up the costs for what is generally recognised as dysfunctional administration over decades which allowed endemic tax avoidance by wealthy Greeks and reckless lending by Greek banks.
We can see how hypocritical the case being made by Greece is when we realise that the citizens of these small eastern European countries, which are not among the richest in the world and have their own problems, did not threaten to pull the house down when they had financial difficulties.
The decision makers in positions of power in government and banking in these poorer countries acted responsibly, yet the injustice of their citizens being threatened with having to pay for the irresponsibility of their Greek counterparts is being ignored by much of the current commentary.
A Leavy1 Shielmartin drive
Sutton, Dublin 13
Help Jordan in its hour of need
The gruesome video showing the Jordanian pilot being burned alive by terrorists was excruciatingly painful to watch.
As a Jordanian citizen myself, I am filled with a sense of sorrow and unbearable revulsion at the ruthlessness, cowardice and depravity to which these terrorists have sunk.
The pilot stood with exemplary gallantry, defying his captives. The cruel and inhumane manner of his execution shows the true colours of the enemy we are all facing; an enemy which has nothing to do with true Islam.
After all, the brave pilot was a prisoner of war, who deserved better treatment enshrined in all universal laws, Islamic values and the teachings of Prophet Mohammed.
This heinous crime shows that we all have a responsibility to work assiduously to confront this fanatical death cult, and replace it with the true and tolerant message of Islam.
Most importantly, the world community has a moral duty to help Jordan in its hour of need; the country remains an oasis of stability, peace and serenity in a volatile region.
As King Abdullah II put it, “we Jordanians will unify our ranks and show the true character of the Jordanian people when we face hardships and plights, which will only strengthen us and reinforce our unity”.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London NW2, United Kingdom
Gender quotas not the answer
A Leavy in asking “Was a nearly 90pc male Dáil, the decisions of which helped to bankrupt the country, elected on the basis of merit and expertise?” (Letters, Irish Independent, January 3) rightly criticises the sexual discrimination that has existed with regard to the selection of Dail candidates in recent years.
And what does he propose to counteract this sexual discrimination – the introduction of another form of sexual discrimination, aka gender quotas?
If you have a problem with sexual discrimination in favour of men, it doesn’t make sense that you support the introduction of sexual discrimination in favour of women. Gender quotas, by their very nature, facilitate and encourage sexual discrimination.
Is this not precisely what advocates of gender quotas are seeking to address?
While it may well be true that better qualified Dáil candidates were not always chosen in the past (and I look forward to the day when we have more women in politics and put the era of the old boys’ networks and cronyism behind us), I would submit that the performance of the Dáil up to and during the bankruptcy of the State had more to do with the well-documented objectively identifiable deficiencies of the Dáil – for example a lack of expertise, groupthink and the whip system – than with its gender profile.
Candidates should be chosen on the basis of ability and merit, irrespective of gender.
Rob SadlierStocking Avenue
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Remember the Commandments
Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Religion may be an excellent means of taming and training the perverse, obtuse and wicked biped race: but in the eyes of the friend of truth, every fraud, however pious, is still a fraud.”
All Abrahamic religions, by the very virtue of their timing, contain the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. Even though they are originally from the Jewish faith, many an Irish schoolchild has had them etched on their brain.
One of the Commandments is “Thou shalt not kill”. This is a very simple instruction and whether one believes in God or ancient wisdom or even the function of law within society for the greater good, I think it’s fair to say that going around killing people is a bad idea.
And yet daily, even hourly, we are fed the news that man is ignoring the advice quoted above.
We were recently told about the horrific killing of a Jordanian pilot – who was a Muslim himself – and then the execution of two prisoners by the Jordanian government in retaliation for this. These are only the latest in a string of grotesque, macabre actions that seem to spring from the theatre of war that soldiers are so willing to perform in.
And isn’t the word of God to blame for it all? Funny that, when our teachings suggest something completely different.
Perhaps humanity and its strange habit of hanging modern interpretations on the words of prophets long dead has something to do with it?
Or perhaps those who seem to be educated in theology have gone and we have lost the most basic ability to interpret that which is so simply written? One could mention the first Commandment at this stage but then again who is any of us to judge the religious that scream blue murder – regardless of their Prophet’s words?
Perhaps we should just leave that to Solomon or someone else like that
Dermot Ryan Attymon
Athenry, Co Galway
Curbing drinkers’ harmless fun
The end is nigh for responsible stay-at-home tipplers if Leo Varadkar and his sycophantic cohorts in the Government introduce a minimum price for alcohol.
Pleasant leisure-time evenings of harmless fun and banter will be outlawed, as it will be far too expensive to consume even the smallest snifter.
However, the voting public will no doubt give Leo’s libation legislation their full alcohol-free verdict at the next general election – and we’ll all drink to that.
Now what’s the quickest way to Newry?
New Ross, Wexford
Raising a glass to new law
A new law to ban cheap alcohol – I’ll drink to that!
Kevin Devitte Mill Street,
Westport, Co Mayo