In defence of super-heads
Sir: I would like to defend head teachers all over the country from the assertions made in Mary Dejevsky’s article (‘Super-heads will roll’, 7 December). The international Pisa studies — which proved how urgently the English education system needs to improve — show that greater autonomy for head teachers within proper accountability structures produces better results for children. That is why this government’s reforms have been designed to transfer powers to heads, away from council control.
We’ve balanced this increased autonomy with sharper, stronger accountability. Head teachers are charged with spending taxpayers’ money wisely and honestly and, as accounting officers, are personally responsible for the resources under their control. The requirement for academy trusts to have independently audited accounts means that the framework for individual academies is more rigorous, transparent and challenging than that faced by maintained schools.
While the handful of cases cited are indeed shocking (two occurring before this government came to power), they are noteworthy precisely because they are so unusual. The overwhelming majority of head teachers are motivated purely by a noble moral purpose — to give more children than ever before the sort of high-quality education previously reserved only for the very rich.
Mary Dejevsky is questioning the motives of a group of dedicated public servants working hard to transform children’s lives for the better. They need our support, not our suspicion.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools
House of Lords, London SW1
A degree of value
Sir: Anthony Horowitz (‘A writer’s notebook’, 14–28 December) is wrong to say that ‘the catastrophe of university fees was that they made a direct correlation between education and employment’. This is one of the few good things to come out of the fees hike. Universities are now under pressure to provide degree programmes that make students more attractive to employers, and students are under pressure to avoid wasting their, and taxpayers’, money on degrees like golf management (surely not the pinnacle of ‘education for education’s sake’ for which Horowitz pines). I would rather not be paying £9,000 a year for my History degree, but if it means that my tutors are more concerned with preparing me for real life, then maybe it’s a price worth paying.
Magdalen College, Oxford
Fellows for Lawson,
Sir: Nigel Lawson (Diary, 30 November) should not have been surprised by the response of a few Fellows of the Royal Society to concerns about climate change policy. In the opinion of some of the fellowship, the uncritical ex-cathedra comments on global warming by the Society in recent years has not enhanced its reputation. As Darwin’s bulldog, Thomas Huxley, warned, ‘Belief, in the scientific sense of the word, is a serious matter and needs strong foundation.’ Especially when it encourages unsound government policies.
B.K. Ridley FRS
Pass the snort
Sir: James Delingpole’s Christmas message to ‘Eat, drink, snort and be merry’
(14–28 December) is most heartening. My grandmother recounts how a ‘small platter of cocaine’ used to be passed round at the end of dinner parties, and conversation was all the more sparkling for it. Nowadays, you must hide yourself away in a loo, which is not only unseemly, but also ensures that someone always spoils the evening by spilling the precious powder down the drain. Perhaps with James Delingpole’s blessing, we can finally return some dignity to this ancient pursuit.
Off the hook
Sir: I read with interest of Charles Moore’s problems with BT (Notes, 7 December). I provide a service for people with lifelong disabilities who cannot cope, and have around 120 clients. But the revelation of dealing with so many people is how ‘product-driven’ many international companies are, and the worst in my experience is BT. They will only talk to the customer, so if the customer can’t talk, there is a problem. I’ve written to the customer services director, Warren Buckley, so many times without response that I begin to wonder if he exists!
Mr Moore refers to other service providers behaving better, but with BT it’s much worse because BT has a monopoly of the wires. I’ve tried every means of dealing with the matter, but continue to receive non-returnable emails about bills owed, with no reference on. I’ve written twice to Mr Patterson, the CEO, setting out the situation. Someone did ring me from India ‘about the letter’. I wasn’t clear which letter was meant and asked if someone from England could ring me during working hours. I heard nothing further.
Sir: I thoroughly enjoyed Henry Jeffreys’s piece on the joys of seasonal drinking (7 December), but had one minor quibble: fermented yak’s milk in Mongolia? Whatever next? Fermented mare’s milk — airag — is often drunk, and is quite tasty, more so after a few bowls. Admittedly the lumps can be slightly offputting, but they are avoidable. Yak’s milk is both drunk and used to make cheeses — but in my many years in Mongolia, I’ve never known it as an alcoholic drink.