Letters, Friday, January 6th, 2012

Have your say

Academies deserve to be supported

WITH an increasing number of schools in Sunderland consulting on conversion to academy status, it is about time they received support rather than criticism from the trade unions.

First and foremost, academies work and the evidence is undeniable with the latest GCSE results improving almost twice as fast as the average for maintained schools.

Some academies such as Mossbourne Academy in London stand out, sending more pupils to Oxbridge than the whole of Sunderland, offering a transformation not available here.

Academic research also supports these claims, with the LSE showing academy status improves results in converted schools and, through competition, also in neighbouring schools.

However, academy status is not a magic wand, with schools also needing good headteachers who are able to recruit and retain good teachers and ensure they teach well.

Among academies good headteachers can be shared in clusters or federations, often with outside sponsors, thus offering effective support to greater range of schools.

Some say that schools should be under democratic control, but let’s not forget that democratic control presided over low standards and high truancy rates for years in the North East.

More important is effective control, whether through good governors or the recently mooted local commissioners, so that weaknesses can be spotted and acted on quickly.

True, academy freedoms are to be extended to all schools, but this means a bid for academy status is now a nudge forward rather than a leap into the dark: a more sensible approach.

So the financial premium remains the main attraction with up to 10 per cent of a school’s budget increased, on conversion to an academy, as the local bureaucracy cut is bypassed.

And it is right that schools retain more of their funds, can shop around for services and tailor their budgets more closely to the needs of their pupils rather than of the whole city.

Finally, there is a more nuanced reason for academies and that is prestige with conversion now a reward for success rather than a punishment for failure.

Councillor Robert Oliver, Leader, Conservative Council Group

Lucky escape

WHEN people say you never know what is round the corner, you have to believe it.

Through a driver who didn’t have the wagon covered, it shed its load, and three vehicles had a very narrow escape. The road at the turn-off at the A690 beside the Reg Vardy garage was very dark, so nothing was seen.

My brother was one of the those people, in his van. He was the first to hit the rubbish on the road. It was just by the grace of God he could keep control of his van through two blow-outs.

An ambulance was in the vicinity with a patient inside so the driver called the police. What if it had not been there? What if this accident had ended in people dying? It does not even bear thinking about. It’s costing money as well to get things sorted out. I know money is the least of the problems when you escape with your life, but none of this should have happened.

What would have happened if the weather had been bad or more vehicles had been involved? Would that driver ever be found? So it’s right what is said: there but for the grace of God go I.

B. Crute, Cleveland Road, Sunderland

Fight together

ONCE again large job losses hit the North East, this time at Seaham Harbour. When will we all stand together to get rid of the shackles that have bound us since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – low pay, bad working conditions and rubbish employers?

Instead of fighting the people who rule us, we prefer to go and fight the rich man’s false wars around the globe such as Iraq,and Libya for their oil. Blair is already a middle man in Iraq selling Iraqi oil to eastern Europe.

Then we have people such as Mr Craddock, from Washington, encouraging our young men and women to join our armed forces. I would have thought a man of his age would have had more sense. Does he not see the wooden boxes coming back from Afghanistan on a regular basis? It is criminal what is happening, not forgetting the mess we have left in Iraq, with over a million dead and over 300,000 children orphaned.

We should be fighting the corrupt, lying, cheating goverments that have ruled us for the past 30 years. That is the only way things will change.

Alan Brown, Thetford, Washington

Great night out

CAN I thank the committee, staff and the ladies who raised the cash at the cricket club, Southwick?

We, the over-60s, had a wonderful Christmas dinner with gifts, free bingo and raffles, also a fabulous entertainer. A smashing night.

Sadie Irving and friends,

Wiltshire Road, Witherwack

Spend Euro funds

HAS the Government noticed that while the economy struggles, over £1billion of European money earmarked to help England’s poorest regions is lying unspent?

The Regional Development Agencies used to manage this funding and provide the UK financial contribution that allowed the money to be drawn down. With the agencies gone, local authorities have tried to find other sources of matching finance without much success.

The places that would benefit from this European money have nearly all suffered from job losses over many years. In the North East alone, £125million in unallocated funding is owing. With little in the way of matching finance available in this era of public spending cuts, regeneration projects are simply being shelved.

There is, perhaps not surprisingly, an entirely cynical interpretation of the lack of urgency to draw down the funds from Brussels. If the money remains unspent, under the terms of the UK rebate negotiated many years ago by Margaret Thatcher, two-thirds of the unspent money will automatically revert back to the Treasury.

We in the Industrial Communities Alliance – which represents local authorities in Britain’s older industrial areas – want to see this money spent on economic development in the regions, not simply on cutting the deficit.

It is surely a travesty that in these hard times that the Government should stand in the way of spending that would promote growth and jobs and help re-balance the economy.

We in local authorities will do our best to help deliver this growth, if the government will help us unlock the European funds.

Coun Alan Napier, North East Chairman of the Industrial Communities Alliance, Deputy Leader, Durham County Council

There is hope ahead

I THINK M. Dixon was right to voice his concerns regarding the Labour Party (Letters, December 31). I also think the vast majority of the people of Sunderland understand and share his concerns.

As he says, independence for Scotland would cost the Labour Party about 40 seats and the Tories only one. Added to that, the forthcoming gerrymandering of Parliamentary constituencies by the Tories will cost Labour a further 30 or 40 seats, with the frightening prospect of these millionaire muppets winning the next election.

Mr Dixon also highlights his concern over the leadership of the man he refers to for some reason as “Miliband E”. He is right again. Nice bloke, but totally weak and ineffective. I can’t think of any other Labour leader, other than Michael Foot, who wouldn’t be tearing this shambles of a Government to shreds.

However, I say to Mr Dixon: do not despair, all is not lost. Polls indicate that the Scottish people are far from enthusiastic on independence, and people are beginning to realise that it was the Tories’ sponsors, the spivs of the City of London, who caused the financial disaster in which we now find ourselves, and that Cameron and the most useless Chancellor in history are making matters even worse.

Also, the middle classes are beginning to realise that the Tories are only interested in protecting the interests of the filthy-rich minority and that doctors, nurses, teachers etc are being clobbered just as hard as the poor, the sick, the young, the elderly and the disabled while the parasites of the City are filling their secret tax-avoiding offshore accounts with their obscene bonuses.

It is now nearly two years since the “disastrous 2010 election”, as Mr Dixon described it, and there are still another three years of purgatory to endure. But never despair, there is hope on the horizon. E. Royal

How to judge a city

DO we judge our city on the creation of a new hi-tech hub, our mantle as a digital city, the cars we produce, the strength of our football team or the drama of an iconic bridge?

Or, do we judge it on the conversations overheard in the city centre, often complete with expletives, the number of mobile phones held to ears and sausage rolls held to mouths and front-page shock/horrors of violence we inflict on each other?

I regret that I judge it on the latter, as these reveal more accurately the mood and aspirations of the society we live in and the general but irresistible slide in our moral values.

Here’s an example: lunchtime on New Year’s Eve, a mother and two young children, shopping in a local grocery store, the mother and son wearing pyjamas and dressing gowns, the daughter, pyjamas only. Is this the new badge of honour which shouts out “I don’t need to work or even get dressed”?

I realise that Sunderland will be no worse than many towns and cities. Sad that it’s no better.

Peter Monaghan

Search Party

I AM trying to track down the Hutt and Hawkwood families who are descendants of a marriage between William Reynolds and Alice Crichton who lived in North Yorkshire in the early 1900’s.

William and Alice had two children, Stuart and Jean. I am not sure what happened to Stuart, but Jean married a Roland Ayres and they had two daughters, June and Brenda, and lived in Scarborough.

June married a John Hutt and Brenda married a John Hawkyard. Both marriages took place in York. I believe they later lived on Wearside but I have no more details.

I would like to make contact with them if possible regarding the Crichton side of their ancestors as I am a first cousin twice removed of Alice, their grandmother.

David Robinson, 4 Marleyfield Close, Churchdown, Gloucester GL3 1JD

I am writing on behalf of my friend Mrs Hazel Brooks on the Central Coast of Australia, in new South Wales, who has asked for help in tracing her relatives from Sunderland.

They are Lillian Retnolds (nee Gardiner) and also Albert and Mary Hay (nee Gardiner).

If anyone can help I can be contacted on

annmackem@optusnet.com.au or 1/24 Casuarina Drive, Banora Point 2486, NSW, Australia.

Any help would be much appreciated.

Ann Hansen