The Spectator

Letters | 7 March 2013

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Gove’s history lessons

Sir: ‘The idea that there is a canonical body of knowledge that must be mastered,’ says Professor Jackie Eales, ‘but not questioned, is inconsistent with high standards of education in any age.’ This is not true. Primary education is, or should be, all about just such a body of knowledge. This gives children a foundation of fact, preferably facts learnt by heart. Without it, they cannot begin to reason, and develop valid ideas, in the secondary stage. It may be a tight squeeze to get them through English history up to 1700 by the age of 11, but it is better than not covering the ground at all. The bizarre result of 25 years of the national curriculum is that schoolchildren don’t know English history. Because the GCSE and A level exams focus on the 20th century, that is often the only period that is studied seriously, by would-be historians, from 14 onwards — and frequently at university as well. My niece, studying history at Oxford, confirms that her fellow students, who are very bright indeed, are often surprisingly ignorant about the actual events of the past. Without knowing the origins of the great English institutions of monarchy, church and parliament, how can anyone act as a responsible citizen today?

Nicholas Debenham

Twickenham, Middlesex

Sir: Speaking from experience, I recommend the following: when the child is nine, hang on their bedroom wall a pictorial chart of the kings and queens of England (mine was courtesy of Eno’s Fruit Salts on the occasion of the silver jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary) and give them a copy of Our Island Story. I inherited both from my elder siblings, and the basic timeline became fixed in my memory and is still there. Simpler than the revision of the curriculum planned, no?

Elisabeth J. Lunn

Totnes, Devon

NHS exploitation

Sir: MPs Nicholas Soames and Frank Field (Letters, 2 March) are entirely correct to deplore the financial pressures placed on the NHS by its abuse by foreign visitors. Great care needs to be taken, however, with the solution. Very simplistically, Section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948 provides that residential accommodation may be provided by local authorities for people who by reason of age, illness, disability or any other circumstances are in need of care and attention not otherwise available to them. This section has been used by failed asylum seekers and visa overstayers. The fact that the NHS provides for medical needs means that local authorities can show that the care and attention is otherwise available and they do not need to provide residential accommodation. To remove the right to NHS care would effectively allow a large number of people to fall back on to local authorities at a time when they are struggling with cuts to their central government financial provision.

Yes, exploitation of the NHS by foreign visitors should be prevented, but what is also required is a thorough reform of the law in the area of financial provision for asylum seekers and visa overstayers generally. For far too long, governments have tinkered at the edges and stitched amendments into statutes that were passed in different socioeconomic times and are now well past their sell-by dates, leading to a system that borders on Kafkaesque.

Peter Glover

By email

Dealing with gropers

Sir: Thank you, Rod Liddle, for injecting some basic common sense into the overheated subject of Lord Rennard (2 March). Yes, a kick to the shin is one way to deal with gropers but there are more subtle means. In my first job in the early 1950s, kindly called secretarial, I was regularly chased round the desk as a preliminary to starting the day’s work. Naively, I took it to be vaguely complimentary, and since it was made clear that it was nothing but a ritual which would lead nowhere, everyone’s self-esteem was left intact. A complaint would have been farcical, and anyway, in those days, would have been laughed out of court.

Mary Rose Beaumont

London SW4

Sir: My letter to you about horror words (Letters, 2 March) was overshadowed all Eastleigh week by the re-emergence of that awful Clinton-speak, ‘inappropriate behaviour’, which always has a peculiarly Liberal ring about it. What was ever wrong with ‘improper’ or ‘indecent’?

As for all the rubbish about knee-groping: great heavens, what is the matter with British womanhood? Why can’t they just haul off and administer a swift, old-fashioned one across the ears of a transgressing lord?

I fear the answer to both questions may lie in the obsession with PC and ‘health and safety’, so deeply entrenched in liberal philosophy: a slap might constitute assault, or even damage the recipient’s hearing.

Sir Alistair Horne, CBE, Litt.D.

Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Help the hens

Sir: Alexander Chancellor’s problems with soft-shelled chicken eggs may be easily solved. Reading between the lines, one or more of his hens appear to be suffering a calcium deficiency (Long life, 23 February). There are two common cures: either mix ground oyster shells (which you can buy from agricultural suppliers) with their normal grain; or take old eggshells, bake them in the oven, smash them into small pieces and add those to the feed.

The baking bit may sound unnecessary, but it is said to stop the birds from turning cannibalistic and getting a taste for their own eggs.

Guy Adams

London W14

A date with Jeremy

Sir: How old is Jeremy Clarke? If he’s under 60 can I go out on a date with him? I’ll buy the drinks.

Jane Robinson

By email