Flawed league tables give a false picture
Dear Editor, Choosing a secondary school for a child is surely one of the most difficult decisions parents have to make and they rely upon the league tables to guide them on a school's performance.

How can parents trust the league tables when they are not based on the real facts of the situation.

My school, Priory School, is a proudly multi-ability school in the independent sector. We were, therefore, immensely proud when last summer 96 per cent of our pupils attained five or more A*-C grades, including English and Mathematics, in their GCSEs.

Your readers will imagine our dismay to see that our score had dropped to 89 per cent in the school league tables published last week.

On investigation it appears that the DCSF bases its figures on the number of pupils on the school's register in January 2007. Two pupils left our school during the spring term but they are included in the DCSF calculations as fails, even though they did not attend the school at the time.

To include pupils who are no longer at the school, and to register them as fails, is surely a ludicrous basis for calculating a school's performance. We could not possibly have obtained good grades for the two pupils who did not actually sit in our examination room or put pen to paper.

We are extremely disappointed and angry that our pupils' considerable achievements last summer have not been recognised because of a statistical bungle which misrepresents the facts.

My advice to parents is to ignore the league tables and go direct to the schools themselves, who are best placed to explain their performance.
 ELAINE BROOK, Headmistress, Priory School in Edgbaston

One of the last heroes
Dear Editor, I am very sad to hear of the death of Sir Edmund Hillary. He was definitely one of the world's greatest heroes and, in the old-fashioned sense, one of the last. No celebrity or person of greatness in today's world, except for those who reached the Moon perhaps, can equal what Sir Edmund achieved in 1953

During the 1990s, I corresponded with the leader of the 1953 Everest expedition, Lord John Hunt, after attaining his autograph on my copy of his book Ascent of Everest.

I attended his Memorial Service at St George's Chapel, Windsor in 1999. That was a service to behold, with trumpets and choirs sent from the heavens it seemed. The only other I can equate it with is that of Lord Lichfield, at Lichfield Cathedral, a few years back.

I have no doubt that Sir Edmund's will be very similar and I hear the New Zealand authorities are planning a state funeral for him.

When Sir Edmund reached the top of Everest, the cynics stated there was not much else to explore. Then human kind reached the Moon and it was hailed the last unexplored place anywhere. Now I read and hear that the sea holds mysteries, the like of which humankind has not experienced.

I am sure when Sir Edmund reaches the big debating chamber in the sky and meets his old pals from the 1953 Everest expedition, he will be promoting a long list of achievements which humankind still hasn't begun to think about on Earth. May Sir Edmund rest in peace - a great man indeed.
IAN PAYNE, Walsall

An alternative for voters
Dear Editor, I am exploring various ways of persuading more of the electorate to take an interest in the politics which govern them and to increase the turnout at local and national elections.

Of a number of ideas discussed already, one way forward has been to call for the inclusion on all ballots of a provision for a "none of the above" option.

This process, known as 'positive abstention' (PA), enables all those, jealous of their hard-earned privilege, to cast a vote which best indicates their dissatisfaction with the slate of candidates and manifestos presented, but whose only recourse is now to spoil their vote, vote for a no-hoper or stay away.

The number of votes cast in an election does include the number of spoilt papers, but this figure is rarely published even though it says more about the general level of disenchantment than the parties care to admit.

The inclusion of a 'PA' option in Australia is quid pro quo for making the vote compulsory and, whilst it can produce problems for returning officers, it is very largely appreciated by the franchise. The attraction of the provision seems to lie in the right to reject an entire slate of candidates on the grounds they represent no more than the selection made by their respective parties rather than being drawn from the electorate they are supposed to represent, this being a widely held belief among non-voters in the UK as well.

In order to have this and other electoral reform debated sanely, and appropriate action taken, I invite all interested to contact me on 0121 7835067.
 N WORRALL, Yardley

A fine way to cash and carry on
Dear Editor, I read with some astonishment that Asda are to fine drivers £60 for parking in disabled spaces. At our local Asda branch at Minworth a whole row of disabled bays was roped off during the run-up to Christmas for the use of their home delivery vans. Frequently one or more of the disabled bays are used by these vans, including today at 9.30am. I have complained about this on several occasions to no avail. Does this mean that Asda will now be fining itself or are their van drivers registered disabled?
NORA OWENS, Erdington

Baths must fit today's needs
Dear Editor, The on-going press coverage of Moseley Road baths has been very skewed towards the Victorians. They created this fine municipal centre so that people could wash, keep clean and enjoy the pleasure of jumping into a pool wearing those strange Victorian swimming costumes.

It is an example of Victorian architecture but, dare I say it, we are not short of examples of Victorian architecture in Birmingham - the city is full of them.

The real - and much neglected issue here - is what does the community want. I suspect that preserving Victorian architecture will come a long way down the list.

Much higher will be the need for a modern, fit-for-purpose leisure facility - a place for exercise, fun, a safe, clean, pleasant facility.

A place for those who did not use the old baths with their cracked tiles, old-fashioned changing facilities and unimaginative swimming provision - a place for a broad range of young, old, fit, fat, families, single people etc.

There is a broader issue. This is a community asset - a building in the middle of Balsall Heath which is itself a flourishing community with one of the best examples of a participatory, involved, vociferous communities in the city.

It is near Moseley which again has a disproportionate number of vociferous people and an active neighbourhood group. With imagination it can also be adapted for other community needs and uses alongside the baths - meetings, places for voluntary groups, etc etc, and can be an asset to the many rather than the few.

In short, a re-designed modern building would be a more attractive and well-used solution.

But don't ask me - ask the people. It's time for more community consultation on this issue.

The founding Victorian city fathers are famous for doing away with the past and creating facilities that were fit for the purpose of the people of those times.

Moseley baths need to be fit for today's purpose.
STEVE BOTHAM, Chairman, The Chamberlain Forum

No defence at all, Mr Hain
Dear Editor, Precisely which Cabinet role, that of Secretary of State for Works and Pensions or that of Secretary of State for Wales, has exerted such pressures on Peter Hain and created a situation by which he seems to have lost the ability to offer administrative control over his private office?

To offer the defence of "it's a cock-up" or that of "I gave my campaign for office within the Labour Party second priority" is to offer no defence at all.

As someone who has stood for election at local government level, I am only too aware of the need to comply with the rules of declaration, as do all candidates whether they stand in elections to parish councils, metropolitan councils, county councils or the House of Commons. Peter Hain has operated in the world of politics longer than most and is certainly not a novice where electoral practices are concerned. Whatever the outcome of the investigations by the Electoral Commission or the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, two issues arise from this sorry saga.

Firstly, that Ministers need to concentrate on one Government department rather than trying to combine the work of two - whether that be of Works and Pensions/Wales or even that of Regional Ministers.

And secondly, that in not showing greater expediency in the administration of his private office, Peter Hain's wish to be deputy leader of his party was not genuine and more of a case of just going through the motions.

That for me, really does say it all about the Labour Party of today.
PAUL BURKE, Sutton Coldfield

Patient neglect
Dear Editor, I was very disappointed to hear how David Cameron has jumped on the bandwagon by attacking people claiming incapacity benefit.

Doesn't he think we have suffered enough, without having thinly-veiled accusations directed at us that we are making fraudulent claims?

Most people claiming these benefits would dearly love to be able to work again, and if he had done his research properly (as anyone with aspirations of becoming Prime Minister should), he would have found that a large percentage of claimants are experiencing mental health problems which, due to a serious under funding in this branch of the NHS, have not been treated effectively.

With many mental illnesses, quick treatment is essential.

Instead, patients are faced with long waiting lists and in the meantime are put on medication which can make them dependant, or cause them to be incapacitated by drowsiness and loss of concentration.

Any politician who is serious about reducing the £12.6 billion bill for incapacity benefits should address this deficiency first.
A N BROOK, Halesowen