Letters, Saturday, January 22nd, 2010

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Better use of cash for education

THE bottom line regarding the Educational Maintenance Allowance is that the UK had to borrow £160billion last year to meet its spending commitments and this is the context in which the choice about the future of the EMA has to be made.

Costing half a billion pounds a year, the EMA aims to increase participation in education but a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies estimated that 88 per cent of recipients would have stayed on without the payments of up to £30 a week.

In addition, the think-tank conceded that there was only a marginal improvement in attainment among those young people who received the payment, which is surely a greater consideration than participation alone.

People forget that the EMA and other benefits are not free but taken with one hand and given back with the other after a slice has been removed for administration costs, and all paid for by taxpayers who may be concerned at the lack of means-testing involved.

Entitlement to the EMA can be manipulated and sometimes paid to pupils whose total family income does not need such a subsidy, thus prompting resentment among those who feel benefits should be restricted to the most deserving.

In fact, there are far better ways to spend money on education and I shudder to think what people in poorer countries must say about pupils having to be paid to participate in an education system which costs £88billion a year.

A better use of scarce funds would be to improve standards through a focus on better teaching along with a pupil premium to help the poorest, both of which are now happening within a schools budget that has been awarded a relatively generous settlement.

But if you want an alternative, ask the Labour Party whether they are willing to give a pledge (not a campaign) to restore the EMA should they return to government and how they would square this with their commitment to slash departmental budgets by 20 per cent.

Coun Robert Oliver, Conservative education spokesman

Give us a break

I KNOW nothing of the workload of ward councillors, but it is obviously not onerous, especially in the case of Coun Alan Wright. Hardly a week passes without yet another of his long diatribes, which grow ever more tedious.

Each letter reads much like the one before, only words and “facts” are rearranged to suit. Mark Twain supposedly said: “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please”, and Mr Wright seems to have taken this as his maxim. Downing Street press office must love him.

I’d like to point out to the councillor that the population hereabouts would enjoy some good news and a bit of cheering up. You know, something in the way of light relief from the dead hands of Sunderland City council, Cameron, Osborne, Miliband and the like.

So enough of your turgid maunderings, sir. Send us in a few jokes or a tale or two from the council chamber – you must get a few laughs there.

Failing that, go for long walks or take up knitting, but whatever you do, please give us all a break.

Memo to Bob Price and other Labour nerds: stop winding up Mr Wright. Can’t you see he’s self-winding?

Jan de Vries, Washington

Cast off knitting

IN a bizzare response to my original letter criticising female football fans, M. Taylor compares our national sport with knitting.I mean, who actually knits in this day and age? No one, I guess.

What a boring hobby! And have you seen the garments they used to produce after spending months sitting in a armchair? How can we forget the out-of-date Arran sweaters that were fashionable in the days of the Irish crooner Val Doonican.

There were also the jumpers with the baggy necks, tank tops and cardigans with sleeves that were too long.

Everyone who received a home-made garment pretended they were delighted, but secretly they thought they were naff and you could tell that they were made at home, usually because they were years out of date.

But due to the fact that the knitter had worked tediously for days on end, no one complained. I reckon this was why knitting was so popular in the 50s, then along came rock ’n’ roll, Elvis and all that, and everything changed.

Can you imagine the conversation that goes on in one of the few knitting circles that are left? Talking about dropped stitches, loops, patterns and wondering if the grandson would like the geeky bobble hat that’s just been completed or the socks that make your feet sweat.

You won’t find the youth of today knitting, or the celebrities. I mean, can you imagine the likes of Cheryl Cole knitting a pair of gloves? No chance. The days of the knitter are over for ever and that’s a good thing. We must move on.

Mick “The Pen” Brown

City needs rink

I BELIEVE Sunderland Council should repair the ice rink in Crowtree if they are not going to build a new one. There is a lot of talent in Sunderland that could be brought out if there was an ice rink opened up.

I was part of a protesting team when they decided to close the rink, and many children and adults were greatly disappointed when the ice rink closed.

We still have a committee for ice skating and we would be prepared to help organise another club.

C. Robson, Member of Sunderland Ice Skating Committee

Boxers’ thanks

ON behalf of Sunderland Amateur Boxing Club, I am pleased to offer our sincere thanks to the Silksworth and Ryhope District Darts and Domino League for their very generous gift of money.

This comes at the most expensive time of the year with registration fees and everything else costing more every year.

So on behalf of all the boxers, coaches and officials of Sunderland ABC, we give our thanks.

C. Quenet