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Library cuts will be an insult to both staff and communities
Having heard of council plans to save money by getting rid of library staff and substituting a system of helpers, I believe that I speak for the community of Hatfield and the surrounding area when I say that we feel any withdrawal of our expert and professional librarians as an extremely great loss. The three professionals, who have run the library for as long as I have lived in the area and before, have created such a warm and welcoming hub for us , such a home-from-home enriched with educational opportunities, useful activity groups and the retrieval of beloved reading matter and research material, that it would be a very sorry matter if we were to be deprived of those who have made such a good job of creating this delight. To suggest, as might be the case, that the work of experienced staff can be done by amateurs on a rota is an insult not only to the staff but to the community. I wish that the councillors involved in the cuts would spend some time at our cosy High Street library and sample the book and information retrieval services provided there, sit in on the weekly art group, the computer class, one of the two well-subscribed reading groups, the fortnightly craft group, the half term educational activities for our children and grandchildren, the local or family history class, join any one of a series of one off classes arranged for us such as Book Binding, Making up a Planter or Sugarcraft, or attend one of the regular coffee morning fairs run in support of a local charity. All of these opportunities to mix with our neighbours and be creative in an almost extended-family setting are life enhancing and irreplaceable - an immense credit to the staff. To remove their jobs seems a strange way to repay their hard work and to, as I imagine would be the case, expect them to give training to any volunteer replacements would be difficult for all concerned. I am sure that some of the above points apply to other staffed libraries under threat. These are educational assets to the communities they serve. Is there not a safer way of making savings within the system? Most of us surely would be willing to pay for the valuable services that the existing libraries provide if the library could become a more commercial concern. Could the council look into the possibility of subscriptions and donations being requested from users as well as direct but affordable payment for services? Hands off our busy staffed library please! Our area would never be the same again without it.
Pru Winder, Doncaster
Ofsted is flawed
Doncaster Council’s ex-mayor Peter Davies, as so often in his perceptive analysis of political matters, has absolutely hit the target with his latest ‘Straight Talking’ article, ‘Worrying fall from grace for our schools’ (Free Press, February 20). Ofsted has become the educational equivalent of a Mayan ritualistic cult, requiring regular sacrifices of hardworking teachers and headteachers in Doncaster as elsewhere. Those civil servants still left in the Government’s own education department face the hard daily choice between abandonment of their values and unquestioning compliance with Education Secretary Michael Gove’s cult or sudden dismissal/being put out to timeserve in the long grass. The absurd freefall in Ofsted’s judgement over the last year of several good schools in Doncaster is based on an inspection model which is not, to quote the jargon, ‘fit for purpose’. It is, in truth, a deceitful means of reducing school budgets as part of this Government’s cutbacks. The easiest way to achieve this is to denigrate the performance of older teachers/headteachers so endlessly through the grinding misery of inspection-driven tickbox completion, and at times hopelessly inaccurate 25 minute observation feedback sessions, that they feel compelled to retire. Sadly for society, Ofsted operates on the false premise of establishing tickboxes for the input of everything and the outcome of little that is truly educational. Older teachers have become victims of the political zealots and inexperienced policy wonks feverishly creating this new educational world (ultimately involving the withering of free state education). It is based on little more than endlessly repeated soundbites emanating from London (e.g. ‘wasted learning time’ and ‘expectations not set high enough’ are the mantras most often used currently by the inspectorial bullies earning handsome rewards for their private sector employers). By replacing such experienced teachers, themselves capable of independent thinking but more importantly blessed with the priceless ability to inspire learning in children and young people, with newly qualified teachers might seem a cute fix. However latest surveys show younger teachers are leaving in droves, many after less than five years of teaching experience. Headteachers fare no better in this brave new world. Those who put up a fight for educational quality, get the bullet first; those who tug their forelocks and put on Ofsted’s ‘new clothes’ last a little longer, getting their bullet slightly (often one inspection) later, as their reward for misjudged expediency. Should any reader now be wondering - yes, I have a confession to make, and must at this point declare an interest. My wife is a primary school teacher with 35 years of dedicated service to the parents and children of this town.
Neil O’Loughlin, Boulton Drive, Old Cantley
There are so many issues
The coalition Government’s decision to extend the spare room subsidy rules (bedroom tax) from private tenancies housing benefit claims into all housing benefit claims, including those for social housing, seemed both fair and logical. There is however a large moral and practical issue. Tenants in privately rented accommodation who claim housing benefit, if penalised for living in too large a dwelling, can almost always move to somewhere smaller. Council and housing association tenants rarely have the option to do this, as there is a huge demand for one and two bedroom social housing and only a tiny supply. Restricting the housing benefit award of a claimant who had been offered the tenancy of a social housing home of adequate size, but who has declined to move, is reasonable. Effectively forcing someone out of an established social housing tenancy to meet what might well be only a short term need isn’t reasonable at all.
Mick Andrews (UKIP), Thorne Road, Doncaster
A misuse of the system
I am a senior citizen who uses public transport on a regular basis, both on buses and rail within South Yorkshire, and know that I will have to pay to travel by rail within this region from April this year. I would like to let people know who use the Doncaster to Sheffield rail link, and all the stations between, that at busy times the offer of free rail travel is often available. There are no ticket barriers at any station between the two and I watch people get on and off without paying most days. I know they have ticket inspectors on trains and also occasionally in the underpass at Doncaster, but at busy times the on-board train inspectors can’t get through the train quick enough to check each passenger and if they do, the person pays and does not get away without paying this time. This very rarely happens because of the short times between stations. I know this because I rarely have my pass checked. Having spoken to many fellow travellers, they agree with my observations; travel from Sheffield you walk straight onto platforms as there are no barriers and it’s the same at Doncaster but at Leeds it is more difficult because ticket barriers are in operation. The rail companies must be losing thousands of pounds by not having inspectors at stations. I am appalled how easy it is to flaunt the system and if it is happening on this route, what must it be costing in lost revenue to rail companies nationwide? They say S.Y.T.E. can’t afford to subsidise senior citizen rail travel passes any longer; I think they should look at the rail company cut backs over the years with reducing staffing levels to save money, particularly at ticket barriers at all stations. I don’t mind paying my rail fare but I do mind the flagrant misuse of the present system by others.
Brian Nicholds, Sprotbrough