Saturday, 12 June 2021
New year of opportunities
Sir, — The New Year is a time to reflect on what has passed and to look ahead to the opportunities to come.
And this year, as I consider all that 2017 has in store, I believe those opportunities are greater than ever.
For we have made a momentous decision and set ourselves on a new direction. And if 2016 was the year you voted for that change, this is the year we start to make it happen.
I know that the referendum last June was divisive at times. I know, of course, that not everyone shared the same point of view, or voted in the same way.
But I know, too, as we face the opportunities ahead of us, our shared interests and ambitions can bring us together.
We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today. We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed. We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren.
These ambitions unite us, so that we are no longer the 52 per cent who voted Leave and the 48 per cent who voted Remain, but one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future.
So when I sit around the negotiating table in Europe this year, it will be with that in mind — the knowledge that I am there to get the right deal, not just for those who voted to Leave but for every single person in this country.
Of course, the referendum laid bare some further divisions in our country — between those who are prospering and those who are not, those who can easily buy their own home, send their children to a great school, find a secure job and those who cannot. In short, those for whom our country works well and those for whom it does not.
This is the year we need to pull down these barriers that hold people back, securing a better deal at home for ordinary, working people.
The result will be a truly united Britain in which we are all united in our citizenship of this great nation, united in the opportunities that are open to all our people and united by the principle that it is only your talent and hard work that should determine your future.
After all, it is through unity that our people have achieved great things: through our precious union of nations — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; through our union of people — from sports teams to armed forces, businesses to charities, schools to hospitals and, above all, through our union of communities and families.
Of course, it isn’t just big, global events that define a year, it is the personal things.
2017 might be the year you start your first job or buy your first home. It might be the year your children start school or go off to university, or that you retire after a lifetime of hard work.
These things — life’s milestones — are the things that bind us, whoever we are.
As the fantastic MP Jo Cox, who was so tragically taken from us last year, put it: “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”
We have a golden opportunity to demonstrate that, to bring this country together as never before, so that whoever you are, wherever you live, our politics, economy and society work for you, not just a privileged few.
So as we look ahead to a year of opportunity and unity, let me wish you a peaceful, prosperous and happy New Year. — Yours faithfully,
Prime Minister and Maidenhead MP, Downing Street, London
In favour of grammars
Sir, — As a retired teacher with extensive experience in secondary modern and comprehensive schools, I read with interest the comments of some of the 32 headteachers in South Oxfordshire who object to the re-introduction of grammar schools in the area (Standard, December 30).
Their rationale for the status quo appears to focus upon a number of matters but ignores the question of what is the best way to educate the very able.
Catharine Darnton, headteacher at Gillotts School in Henley, is concerned about the reduction in per capita funding for her school when very bright students leave to attend grammar schools in Buckinghamshire.
She goes on to argue that the most able students act as “fantastic role models” to those in the stage behind them. Even if this is correct, it is surely wrong for very able children to be compelled to be used in this way, without any option.
However, it is often a different picture in some comprehensive schools. Very able students, far from positively influencing others, are treated as “swots” by distinctly less academically gifted peers and find it prudent to keep their cleverness under wraps.
The “school resisters” often have very strong personalities and know how to use them.
Mrs Darnton claims that her school is as successful as a grammar school in promoting the progress of the very able and this may well be true now.
However, the 2012 Ofsted report said “the proportion of students obtaining the highest grades at GCSE is too variable” and “when teachers do not use attainment information to precisely plan lessons, students’ progress is variable, particularly for higher-ability students”.
Certainly, the report states: “You have successfully raised the level of challenge for the most able pupils.”
This is commendable but it is clear that in the recent past some of the most able were not being adequately challenged. Parents with highly academic children might reasonably conclude that a grammar school option is more certain, even when considering a “good” (Ofsted) comprehensive school.
Daniel Sadler, headteacher at Chiltern Edge, argues that selection is socially divisive, putting this debatable point without considering what is best for the very able.
Rick Holroyd, headteacher at Langtree School, strangely argues that grammar schools would not enhance social mobility “for all students”.
Of course not but grammar schools give the very able across the social spectrum the opportunity, in the company of their peers, to be educated to their full academic potential.
Mr Holroyd further argues that the removal of the very able to grammar schools would lower the aspirations of the students remaining.
Why should this be the case if their teachers know their job and, with proper resources, encourage each student to develop to his or her highest potential in whatever direction it takes, including the option of a grammar school place later on?
A key problem is that teachers who argue against grammar schools help create the disgraceful notion of “second best” students.
More generally, most comprehensive school teachers are expected to cope with a very wide range of abilities, often in mixed-ability classes.
The truth is that they do not have the time and energy to do justice to every student and may ease the pressure by taking the view that the very able can still do well, in terms of the school’s standards, without the extra academic “push” provided by a grammar school. — Yours faithfully,
Lea Road, Sonning Common
We must help all students
Sir, — I read with interest the criticisms and comments by headteachers in the area condemning a possible return to grammar schools.
There are many difficulties facing teachers and headteachers — continuous scrutiny by Ofsted, changes in government policies, funding problems, constant paperwork, form-filling, pressure to achieve targets and a lack of recognition as a professional body by the media.
Reading your article, it appeared that the heads of schools in the area wish to keep their more able students as role models for the less able to admire and work harder to obtain results.
In some comprehensive systems this does not work and those who do well are often bullied and ignored by other pupils.
Grammar schools will not effect social mobility, they will offer an education suitable for those who have the ability to cope with higher education.
In the digital age and the increasing use of robots, the young in the future will have difficulty in procuring a job so it is vital they obtain the basics of learning but some are being constantly pushed into higher education with which they cannot cope and would enjoy learning a practical skill.
The UK is desperately short of skilled workers, so why, when one reads the school tables of results published frequently, do grammar schools appear higher in the lists and why are we now lagging behind the world in maths, reading and comprehension?
All pupils need help to obtain their potential in life but not all will become scientists, engineers, accountants, art directors, or musicians, but those who have ability should be given the chance to do so in an environment with others who share the same intellectual aspirations, either in a grammar school or in an academy that has divisions for academic ability pupils and for practical pupils who wish to pursue skilled work with opportunities for late developers to transfer at any time. — Yours faithfully,
Schools set to lose money
Sir, — The announcement, just before Christmas, of a new funding formula for schools is bad news for people in the Henley constituency.
Oxfordshire considers itself an under-funded county in respect of its schools.
As a result, it is disappointing to see that the Conservative Government expects most primary schools in the Henley constituency to lose money under the new formula. Several local secondary schools will also be worse off under the new formula.
While it is welcome to see schools in challenging areas receive more funds, those living in the more rural areas of Oxfordshire will not appreciate the threat to their village primary schools inherent in the new formula.
A reduction of one to two per cent on top of other financial pressures could easily spell financial disaster for some of our smallest schools.
The Government should have made it clear if it was its intention to create fewer larger primary schools and overturn the long-held policy in Oxfordshire of retaining local village schools.
The fact that county taxpayers will have to foot the bill for any extra transport costs resulting from possible school closures just adds insult to injury.
I would ask parents to check the facts about funding at their children’s school and write in support of a change to the formula if it is likely that their school will lose funds under the new proposals. — Yours faithfully,
Councillor John Howson
Liberal Democrat spokesman on education, Oxfordshire County Council
Let’s debate right to die
Sir, — I hope that you will allow me to respond to Edward Harding’s letter (Standard, December 30).
Firstly, I have nothing but admiration for the support given by and to the Bluebells Club to those suffering from dementia.
To suggest, however, that those of us who support assisted dying are suggesting “a one-man walk in the snow” and the Bluebells Club being replaced by a “euthanasia chamber in the car park” is unworthy of him.
Dementia is only one of the possible endings to life. There are others such as a massive stroke which could possibly lead to severe impairment or even a life-support machine. The Bluebells Club would be of little help there.
Remember, too, that we are fortunate to live in an affluent area and that this is a nationwide problem: how many areas have such a resource?
In addition , we must accept the fact that, given the increase in life expectancy, many carers are themselves in their seventies and eighties.
This is why I feel that this issue should be looked at nationally, not just as a local issue, and hence my letter to our Member of Parliament.
We can all write of individual cases but this is not, I suggest, the place. Enough to say that in my personal experience there is much pain that could have been spared if only the prolongation of life had not been the priority.
A final word: it is interesting that the headlines of the first two letters last week were “NHS can’t keep coping” and “Support, not euthanasia”.
There is a debate here which needs to be held. If we must ensure that the state is the provider of last resort then we have to accept that it is we who fund the state. I would be happy to pay more in taxes for a more enlightened system.
For me, all I have ever asked is that I should have a choice about the circumstance in which I wish to be kept alive and firmly believe that this does not impinge on the rights of others. — Yours faithfully,
Suffering in silence
Sir, — Edward Harding’s moving letter of December 9, although unintentional, nevergtheless raised again in your correspondence the question of assisted dying and I wish to pursue this further.
Following a severe stroke, my mother was left totally paralysed, had difficulty swallowing and could no longer speak, although she was able to mouth that she wanted to die.
This continued for three months and whenever kindly pneumonia showed its face, she was triumphantly brought back to life by young doctors (who had their careers at stake).
She was only allowed to die peacefully and with dignity when an elderly locum came on duty.
Thirty years later things have at last moved on and nowadays patients and their next of kin are asked if they wish for resuscitation.
Those who have experienced first hand caring for the terminally ill, with no quality of life left, just the reverse, would never dream of opposing an assisted dying bill, let alone abstain from voting.
I would not wish this on anyone but otherwise they have no concept of the reality of the situation. I dare to suggest that we would not allow our animals to suffer so. — Yours faithfully,
Wargrave Road, Henley
Poor record on mental health
Sir, — The ever-escalating number of under-16s who are being or have been sexually abused has gone from being frightening to scandalous.
The UK is one of the worst countries in the world for this problem and also for not providing specialist mental/holistic health help to victims or help for those attracted to children or adolescents.
If most other countries provide such help should we not be asking ourselves if our non-provisions are at least a major factor in our poor ranking?
Do we really deserve NHS clinical commissioning groups that claim they do not need to provide such services because, and I quote, “being sexually abused is not illness”? — Yours faithfully,
Wensley Road, Reading
In praise of the NHS
Sir, — So often in the national and local media we read of bad news about the NHS. It is very different here.
On Friday at 3pm I called at the Nettlebed Surgery on the off-chance of seeing a doctor about my severe sinusitis.
Fortunately, one of the doctors had a few moments to spare between appointments and prescribed the appropriate medication. I left with this in my pocket 10 minutes later.
Our surgery is staffed by two-and-a-half doctors, two nurses and a loyal and hard-working band of admin people. It has provided this high standard of service for some years now.
We patients are most appreciative and thank them for their dedication. — Yours faithfully,
Bring down burial costs
Sir, — I was pleased to read that one Henley councillor is trying to reduce the burial fees at Fair Mile cemetery for former residents, i.e. people like myself and my three sons who were born, lived and worked in the town, and only moved for a reason.
I lived and worked in Henley for 74 years and only moved to be near my family, who were also born and worked here and would still be there if there had been affordable housing to buy or rent. We purchased burial plots at the cemetery (treble cost) next to my late wife and now, due to former residents having to pay treble the cost for everything including the chapel, what we hoped is not going to happen.
I hope Councillor David Eggleton will succeed in his mission. — Yours faithfully,
R F Douglas
Peppard Road, Emmer Green
Protecting our green spaces
Sir, — I was relieved to read the response by our local councillors to the request by South Oxfordshire District Council to consider releasing Gillotts Corner Field for housing. In the past Henley Town Council has purchased land around the edge of our town to help maintain the pleasant environment that we know and love.
It surprises me that after producing our local housing plan and voting to support it, we are asked to provide yet more sites for housing.
Green spaces around Henley, particularly Gillotts Corner Field, are well used by residents to get fresh air and exercise. We must work together to ensure that they are safe from development. — Yours faithfully,
Berkshire Road, Henley
Sir, — Your article about development in Goring to meet government targets for new homes (Standard, December 23) raises serious questions.
Goring high street provides the only access to the river crossing in the 13 miles between Reading and Wallingford (apart from Whitchurch toll bridge).
The high street is 15ft 6in wide (4.75m). There is a pinch point.
Ninety-one houses could mean 150 more cars. Both the station and village car parks are almost full now. Can the services cope?
The neighbourhood plan steering group has a difficult task to deal with the consequences. — Yours faithfully,
David L Watts
Manor Road, Goring
Thoughtful, kind police
Sir, — I would like to thank Thames Valley Police for their kindness and thoughtfulness. Thank you all so much. — Yours faithfully,
Mrs B Bowles
Luker Avenue, Henley
Thank you to volunteers
Sir, — Many thanks to the amazing volunteer Team One who decorated Sonning Common village hall at the beginning of December and to Team Two (many of the same people) who came on Christmas Day to welcome residents for lunch.
Particular thanks to John Pearman, the FISH volunteer bus driver who transported 10 guests in the volunteer bus but also went in his own car to fetch one guest who was unable to get into the bus.
Without this group of regular and loyal volunteers, meeters and greeters, cooks and washer-uppers we could not possibly organise the lunch. Thank you so much. — Yours faithfully,
Chrissie Phillips-Tilbury and Jill Vallis
Christmas Day lunch organisers, Sonning Common village hall
16 January 2017
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