Why excluding pupils is never the right answer
As a school pupil who has been excluded four times recently, I thought I should reply to Simon Jones’s article about the teachers’ strike in Lancashire ( Strike was for pupils, not against them , 16 April).
For us, being excluded isn’t a holiday or an excuse for a few late nights and long lie-ins.
It’s a time of extreme stress and anxiety.
You spend a lot of time worrying about the growing tension between you and your parents—and about how you will catch up with all the work you are missing while you are out of school.
Exclusions don’t take account of our circumstances. Often when a pupil misbehaves they aren’t just “kicking off” for no reason. It can be because of personal issues, or because we are having a difficult time at home.
How does being chucked out of school help us with those issues?
I think that pupils under pressure need a lot of support. They need praise and encouragement. Instead they usually find punishment.
Shereen Prasad, East London
I disagree with Simon Jones, who wrote defending the recent teachers’ strike in Lancashire ( Strike was for pupils, not against them , 16 April).
Instead of walking out to demand the head takes action against pupils, teachers should be walking out against the cuts that Simon rightly says will make the situation worse.
Children are at the bottom of the pile at school. As such, socialist teachers should always put the fight for facilities for children with special needs first.
Sometimes those needs are physical and we have to fight for equipment, like lifts, for instance. But at other times the needs are emotional—and we have to fight for facilities that help those children too.
That might mean one-to-one counselling or small group teaching, for example.
Exclusion overwhelmingly affects children who are already disadvantaged.
Pupils with special educational needs are eight times more likely than others to be permanently excluded.
Black Caribbean children are three times more likely to be permanently excluded.
We must not turn a blind eye to such shocking statistics by insisting on yet more exclusions.
We should point out that the policy fails. It doesn’t improve children’s behaviour, it usually makes it worse.
Instead of being in school surrounded by other children, excluded pupils often find themselves isolated or on the streets.
Either way, the life of a child who is already in distress is made a whole lot worse.
That’s not why I, or any other teacher I know, joined the profession.
Our starting point should always be: what do we need to make this child, and the others that we teach, safe and happy in our schools? And what do we need to do to make that a reality?
Anna Gluckstein, North London
Sick firm Atos has no cures
The fiasco of private healthcare firms being allowed to run the NHS is well illustrated by the sorry tale of Atos Healthcare and the St Paul’s Way Medical Centre in Tower Hamlets, east London.
Atos runs benefits medicals for the Department for Work and Pensions and many prison health services. Until recently, it had never run a general practice.
Three years ago our local primary care trust handed Atos, a French computing multinational, a ten-year contract to run the St Paul’s Way surgery.
The Keep Our NHS Public campaign organised a loud demonstration of patients, general practitioners, trade unionists, pensioners and local councillors.
At a local doctors’ forum, attended by over 100 GPs, there was anger at this betrayal by the NHS. We all knew that good local NHS practices had offered to run the service, but instead the Trust awarded it to the cheapest bidder.
The strength of the protest stopped the Trust from privatising four more practices that year.
In the end Atos couldn’t deliver the services they promised at the rate they offered. Patients couldn’t get appointments, and the practice “failed”.
At the end of last month the primary care trust was forced take back the contract.
As the government attempts to push through its mammoth NHS privatisation plans—while joyously slashing jobs—our victory over Atos is proof that we don’t have to accept this.
Now is time for action in defence of the health service.
The coalition is uneasy, and it needs to be. It is our NHS and we need to keep it publicly provided, and free.
Anna Livingstone, GP and Tower Hamlets Keep Our NHS Public
More Tory lies about the NHS are exposed every day.
It was revealed last week that one in ten specialist nurses are in fear for their jobs. So much for being “safe in their hands”.
A Gardiner, Lincolnshire
25 years on: leaders of scab union are on trial
Two leaders of the Union of Democratic Miners (UDM)—a scab union set up to help break the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike—are to stand trial, charged with stealing nearly £150,000 from a charity for sick miners.
Neil Greatrex was one of the founders of the UDM. As a result of the strike, the courts confiscated all the assets of the Nottinghamshire NUM union and gave the lot to the UDM.
Twenty five years later, former UDM president Greatrex and ex-Notts UDM secretary Mick Stevens are accused of diverting money from the Nottinghamshire Miners’ Home charity to pay for improvements to their own homes.
The prosecution came out of a fraud squad inquiry into miners’ compensation claims handled by the Mansfield-based union and Vendside, a subsidiary established by the UDM.
Previously, two fat cat lawyers who ripped millions off sick and dying miners in a deal with the scab union were struck off for dishonesty.
Vendside bankrolled the UDM through the millions it got from handling compensation payments by charging an extra fee.
Thatcher used the scab UDM leaders to help defeat the magnificent strike. Mining areas are still paying the price.
This is proof that putting the word “democratic” in a union’s name does not make it so.
Phil Turner, Rotherham
Arts must not fall into Tories’ trap
Philippa Thomas’s article on the cuts in arts funding was spot on in identifying the government’s trajectory ( Arts cuts hit small groups that nurture future talent , 16 April).
Every day I hear of colleges shutting courses, and venues in danger of closing down.
Even where Arts Council England (ACE) funding has not been withdrawn, councils have cut grants to organisations.
As ACE announced who was getting funded there were all kinds of reactions online.
Even among those who were not cut, there was a realisation that this was a dark day for the arts as a whole.
But there is a trap some fall in—pitching one organisation against another. So Philippa sets Lea Anderson’s Cholmondleys and Featherstonehaughs against Wayne McGregor and Akram Khan.
We can discuss and debate whose contribution has more merit, and whose values happen to fit better with the government’s, but frankly the amounts of money concerned are tiny.
I think it’s a bit like fighting over crumbs while David Cameron and his banker mates have made off with the bakery.
Despina Mavrou, East London
AV doesn’t help centre
I don’t agree that the AV voting system would necessarily strengthen the centre ( AV will strengthen the centre, not the left , 16 April).
The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas would still beat Labour in Brighton under AV, as they tend to be “transfer friendly”.
In the case of George Galloway, I suspect he could have still beat Labour under AV.
That election campaign was focused on the Iraq war, and if that were the issue voters were focusing on too he would have won with a bigger majority.
The trick with AV is to get yourself at least in second place to give you a chance to benefit from transfers.
One thing that AV would do is remove the old bugbear of left of Labour candidates in the election. This is the spectre of splitting the vote and letting the Tories in.
Keith Underhill, Manchester
New cables can plug gaps
Peter Gaskell makes a simple error (Letters, 16 April). He assumes the “modern high voltage direct current cables” that Martin Empson refers to are the cables that we see across Britain.
In fact, the pylons that are so noticeable are an old way of transmitting AC power generated by fossil fuel turbines.
Modern DC cables that could carry power from solar stations in the Sahara to Europe, and power from Scandinavian hydro stations back to the south, are not only more efficient, they also operate very happily when buried.
Jon Fanning, York University
It’s time for an upgrade
How can we square the existence of modern high voltage DC cables, that allow transmission of electricity over long distances, with the enormous amounts of energy wasted between electricity plants and where it is needed, asks Peter Gaskell.
Britain’s energy grid was designed for a network of centralised coal and nuclear plants in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Millions of pounds of investment are needed to modernise and expand the system to allow us to more efficiently exploit renewable energy.
In particular, HVDC cables allow the long distance transmission of energy.
Upgrading the electricity grid should be part of solving the climate crisis, reducing the potential for blackouts, and creating much-needed climate jobs.
Martin Empson, Salford
More lies from the military
Our university has an internship programme with the US consulate here in Okinawa, Japan.
Since the earthquake and tsunami, I’ve been bombarded with emails about all the wonderful things the US military is doing using its Okinawan bases to provide assistance.
This came after the US appointed Kevin Maher as disaster relief coordinator—a week after he was fired by the state department for calling Okinawans “lazy”.
The fiasco ended with Maher’s resignation last week, but only after demonstrating the hypocrisy of the US.
Peter Simpson, Okinawa, Japan
Libya’s call to arms
I read the Unite union’s statement on Libya (Socialist Worker, 9 April).
It calls on the British government “to call a halt to the military action and urge a general ceasefire to be followed by international mediation”.
Much as I loathe airstrikes, the fact is that revolutionaries are calling for them.
The left might worry about the implications of Western intervention.
But it is those on the ground who see the tactical necessity of external support.
John McEwan, Lanarkshire