Sir: Dennis Sewell’s damning indictment of Ofsted (‘Ofsted in the dock’, 13 December) stopped short of the logical conclusion of disbanding it, arguing instead that the chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, should be supported in his efforts to purge inspectors promoting the progressive educational agenda that the coalition inherited.
We’ve been here before. Chris Woodhead was chief inspector for six years, and despite his best efforts concluded that his organisation had ‘become a part of the [progressive] establishment, and arguably the most lethal part…’. Wilshaw has been chief inspector for almost three years, and apparently is only just discovering the extent to which his inspectors are still promoting fashionable dogma.
Even if it were possible to find inspectors with the will to restore knowledge as the central tenet of education, we will never reform schools by treating teachers as dimwits whose every move must be monitored; nor will we attract enough talented graduates into the profession. Arguably, Ofsted is the major factor in excessive teacher workload — the issue which fatally undermined Michael Gove. With modern computer adaptive tests, it is possible to objectively measure what pupils have learned for a fraction of the £168 million it took to maintain Ofsted last year, and at the same time leave teachers the freedom to teach as they see fit.
Prof Tom Burkard
Sir: Melissa Kite describes graphically the dreadful predicament her parents find themselves in because their house lies on the projected route of HS2 (‘How HS2 blights lives’, 6 December). Their experience must be replicated whenever a railway, road or runway is proposed. The answer is not to stop building, but to ensure that fair compensation is offered, from the time the proposals are floated. Any project which does not include adequate provision for compensation is undercosted, and Parliament should hold the government to account on this. If it cannot, the courts must.
On the other side of the coin, George Osborne argues that a project such as HS2 is an engine of economic growth. It follows therefore that some people will enjoy enhanced profits as a result, but we have not yet developed the techniques for identifying these gains or recouping some of them to offset the compensation. This could be done through a tax on increased profits, or through tolls or fare surcharges. If it is argued that these would make the project uneconomic, then it is uneconomic.
Sir: Matthew Parris suggests that commonplace books have declined because ‘we have become arrogant and wish only to provide platforms for our own reflections, not those of others’ (13 December). He should not despair. At least two popular social media platforms — Tumblr and Pinboard — are designed precisely to enable people to record and share quotations, images and so on that have caught their eye. They are a commonplace book for the digital age. If those platforms (or similar services) can survive, then many of us will find — buried among nonsensical cat gifs and ‘memes’ — a record of books, poetry, epigrams, works of art and much else besides that caught our eye over the years. Maybe some might even be tempted to publish the highlights in a limited-edition book.
Fit for Downing Street
Sir: I read with interest Charles Moore’s comments concerning the ‘plebgate affair’ (Notes, 13 December). It seems to me extraordinary that the opinion of one man, admittedly a high court judge, resolves the matter. It is quite probable that another judge would have taken a different view. Charles Moore refers to ‘fat unshaven policeman’ at the gates. I believe that one in five serving officers in the national force is not fit to carry out his duties, and gets pushed into jobs such as protecting Downing Street. The Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, should ensure that fit and intelligent officers guard No. 10.
Sir Simon Day, former chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority
A lovely voice
Sir: I was sad your contributor Ysenda Maxtone Graham (‘A fair hearing’, 6 December) did not mention Patricia Hughes, the greatest radio voice ever; plummy and po-faced to some but to me divine. I was listening to her one afternoon while pointing a stone wall of my cottage in Wales when she got the giggles. She struggled for a cliff-hanging minute (would she be axed?) until safety and decorum were thrown to the winds and she laughed uncontrollably. It was a wonderful moment.
Discomfort by design
Sir: The problems of airport design (The Wiki Man, 13 December) are not confined to air travel. The railways have been subject to similar whims. When, in the 1990s, the remodelling of Euston station was revealed to the public, it was reported in the press that the station was sadly lacking in public seating. On being questioned on this point, the architects loftily replied that this was intentional, as it would have looked untidy.
Orewa, New Zealand
The case for Hollande
Sir: Jonathan Meades’s excellent article on ‘le French bashing’ (13 December) reminded me of a conversation with the owner of a small business in France. When I asked her if there was anything good about President Hollande, she thought for a moment, then said, ‘At least he gives you English something to laugh at.’ Quite so.