From: David H Rhodes, Keeble Park North, Bishopthorpe, York. THE school examination results have been announced and no doubt many students are rejoicing in what they have attained through very hard work.

Congratulations to them. This does, however, bring an air of confusion as to the genuine merit and value of the grades attained. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that 50 years ago only a percentage of examinees were passed in each grade, A, B, etc. If so, it would have had the benefit of stricter marking and no added points for crude expressions.Universities would have had a better selection process as there would have been limited numbers in each grade and thus quality would stand out. No examination board could ever set papers year in and out of exactly the same difficulty, thus the percentage gain would have smoothed out such anomalies. The fact that, in recent times, A*s have been introduced to distinguish better grading because of better pass rates year on year, might suggest that slightly increasing the difficulty of the exam papers may be a way forward.

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The Government, and especially Education Ministers, revel in the results at this time of year.Why then is there no mention of the fact that about 50 per cent of our pupils still can’t manage five GCSE passes? This means that years later, Tony Blair’s wish for 50 per cent of students to enter higher education is not being met. May I suggest a pass in both English and mathematics at GCSE level be a pre-requisite before A-levels be taken. From: Mrs Judith Robson.

Leeds Road, Selby. CONCERNING the letter from Miss Judith Wood, (Yorkshire Post, August 23), headlined “A system that worked”, from 1958 until he retired in 1969, my late husband, John Whitehead, was headmaster of Allerton Grange School in Leeds.During these years he built up what had been a secondary modern to a fully comprehensive 10-form entry, aged 11 to 18 years school. The system catered for all abilities, from remedial to top-flight university level.

All children were given the opportunity to reach their own potential whatever the level. The curriculum included PE, housecraft, needlework, woodwork, metalwork, physics, biology, chemistry, as well as English, maths, languages, etc. All pupils had “hands on” experience which enabled them to choose a career, be it practical or academic.As David Wright pointed out on the same page, we need fewer of the “Mickey Mouse” degrees but more practical qualifications. From: Mrs Jean Lees, Upper Batley Lane, Batley. I HAVE just read Lord Baker’s article, “Why our children need the return of technical colleges” (Yorkshire Post, August 16).

Why has it taken someone so long to bring this into the open for people to discuss? I went to school until I was 13, actually left a week before my 14th birthday and went into a mill office and learnt all the office skills at work. That was in 1942, and I became the book-keeper and wages clerk.We went to night school for English, typing, book-keeping and shorthand and got a certificate with yearly marks. My son went, aged 15, as an apprentice heavy goods vehicle mechanic and went to night school for technical drawing and other subjects until he had finished his apprenticeship. There are many young people who would make plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, mechanics if they were guided into it. They can’t all keep up with computers and university life, but there can be job satisfaction completing a job well done – if they have the right start. From: D Downs, Mountbatten Avenue, Sandal, Wakefield.

AT long last, the Prime Minister has acknowledged as a tragic error, the reduction of the competitive element in school sport (Yorkshire Post, August 25). Can he now go further and admit to removing the competitive spirit in schools generally? Our Olympic sportspeople have achieved their success not only by personal and family sacrifices, but also by taking advantage of the relatively enormous increase in Government investment in these most talented of sporting youngsters. Can the Prime Minister now admit to the error in maginalising our brightest students and increase the investment in their future?We would then improve our commercial, industrial, scientific and professional status in the world and perhaps improve the calibre of our future politicians and other personnel in governing authorities. Sad indictment of council’s culture policy From: Alice Sheepshanks, Arthington, near Leeds. AS the air reverberates with the sound of rock from the Leeds Festival, at Bramham, I sorely lament the lack of some culture and hope most sincerely that next year it will be possible for Leeds City Council to support the Leeds Shakespeare Festival again. It is so important to cater for all tastes, and not just to bow to the lowest common denominator.I believe wholeheartedly that Shakespeare can be appreciated by all ages and classes, particularly if performed by this most skilful and dedicated troupe, the British Shakespeare Company.

I have taken my two children (now aged 12 and 14) to the performances at Kirkstall Abbey since they were quite small. They adored the spectacle, the language, the plot – it was a marvellous opportunity for them. I feel desperately sad that this year they can wander about at Bramham and listen to the thundering sound of Metallica and Tenacious D (which they love) but The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream are out of the question.What a sad indictment on Leeds City Council.

Giving to charity with the aid of the tax man From: Graham Richards, chair of the Yorkshire Institute of Fundraising, Skelton on Ure, Ripon. I WOULD like to thank Conal Gregory for his excellent article on the benefits of tax-efficient giving to charities (Yorkshire Post, August 23). I am pleased to report that the message is getting through, as the number of people using these schemes is rising continually. However, I would like to add four further points to Conal’s article.Firstly, he mentions the benefits to higher-rate tax-payers who can claim back the difference between their gift and the basic rate claimed under gift aid. There is nothing to stop these people also giving this money to their charity, as it will not have cost them any more to do so. Secondly, when filling out an annual tax return, there is now an option to donate to charity all or some of any tax return you are due.

Thirdly, making a gift in your will to charity is not only tax-efficient, it could also enable you to make the biggest charitable gift you ever make, especially if you are cash poor, but asset rich.The great thing is that you will never miss the money, as it only gets paid after you no longer require it. Lastly, there is one other area where the Government could make a big difference to donations to charity. Under the old “deed of covenant” scheme, companies could make donations for which the charities could claim back the tax. Sadly, under gift aid, this is not the case.

The thinking was that companies would give more, knowing they would benefit from the tax relief. Unfortunately, companies have not gone along with this and so the charities lose out.Making corporate donations tax-efficient for charities would go a long way to helping them survive these tough economic times. Signing up for hospital changes From: Dr Geoffrey Mitchell (Retd), Longcroft Park, Beverley. YOUR reporter Peter Dominiczak (Yorkshire Post, August 18), needs to be aware of what the Hull and East Riding public is being asked in the push by Hull ; East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust for Foundation Hospital status (FT). The philosophy of FT status is not open for discussion (despite recent independent evidence that FTs are not delivering higher quality care as a result of their FT status).An unsuspecting, confused public is being asked to “sign up” to membership (forms being sent out with outpatient appointments) as part of the process of application, with public consultation in danger of being a charade.

Only “signed up” members, public and patient, will have a vote. Staff will be automatically “signed up”. The electoral process for governors has not yet been defined, and management talk of “remedial action” if necessary, to meet required membership numbers for application to proceed, gives no reassurance that a democratic consultation is in process.Bracken danger From: Brian Sheridan, Redmires Road, Sheffield. I AM fortunate enough to live within a stone’s throw of delightful terrain which hosts heather and bilberry but, ominously, an increasing amount of bracken. So I was interested by Matthew Shaw’s letter (Yorkshire Post, August 20) urging us to protect desirable vegetation by “pulling up a few bracken fronds”. Surely it will take a lot more than that to affect the implacable advance of bracken. Moreover, Mr Shaw has a good knowledge of British flora so he will be aware that bracken is alleged to be carcinogenic.

It would be helpful if he or anyone else could apprise me of the time of the year when the carcinogens are most active and whether they are taken in by touch, inhalation or ingestion. Can I rummage through a mass of these ferns with impunity or should bilberry picking on my local crags carry a health warning? And if bracken is, indeed, harmful to the skin or lungs, shouldn’t we be wearing gloves or a mask when we pull up those few fronds? Fitter way to travel From: Colin Foster, Scalby Beck Road, Scalby, Scarborough.WHAT a splendid letter from JM Purves (Yorkshire Post, August 20) about whingeing motorists and their insatiable demands for road space. How many car journeys are wasteful and unnecessary when there are other ways of getting around? Even the recent rise in petrol prices does not seem to have greatly reduced the use of cars. As a lifelong cyclist, I can endorse Mr Purves’s promotion of the benefits of two wheels.

For those who are deterred from cycling by heavy road traffic, there are ways to avoid this. Our major cities – Leeds, Bradford, York and Hull – produce maps of safe routes for cyclists, as do some smaller authorities.These are available at libraries and tourist offices. I would also add a word of praise for the folding bicycle. I have had one for a number of years and it has enhanced my travel activities no end.

The best ones are not cheap, but they do fold up as small as hand luggage. For long journeys, they can easily be taken on the train or bus and used for the shorter trips to start or finish the journey. As a pensioner with travel passes and a folding bike, getting around is so easy for me that the expense and nuisance of owning a car is not worth considering. A daily bike ride also keeps infirmity at bay.Better value concerts From: Derek Hollingsworth, Roman Road, Darton, Barnsley.

ANYONE reading David Denton’s Classical Preview, (Yorkshire Post, August 15) might be excused for thinking that Sheffield City Hall’s 2008-09 season is offering Yorkshire concert-goers the best value for money available. The package offered has its attractions, but the best value for money is offered by the Kirklees sponsored concerts, in the respective town halls of Huddersfield and Dewsbury. Huddersfield has three price levels, covering about half the seating capacity, which comfortably undercut Sheffield.In Dewsbury, four out of five price bands are lower than Sheffield: something like 80 per cent of total seating.

If you book a season ticket for both venues, 13 concerts can be attended for 60. That’s 4. 62 per concert. The usual concessions are available on single tickets, rather similar to Sheffield, but Kirklees includes concessions for pensioners, unlike Sheffield. The season is based around first-class English orchestras, and the programmes have perhaps a little more spice than those at City Hall.

The price of progress From: RGN Webb, Nalty Fields Close, Illingworth, Halifax.IS it possible to regenerate Bradford? The “friends” of the Odeon make me wonder how the fine city was generated in the first place. Visitors to the Alhambra and the Media Museum are treated to a view of the crumbling Odeon, set off perfectly by the weed-infested piles of hardcore passing as car parks. The “movers and shakers” of Bradford’s glory days wouldn’t have let it stand in their way (it’s not even built of Yorkshire grit! ) The Odeon’s “friends” might usefully regard demolition as putting it out of its misery and imagine that its replacement may be even better loved and of some service to humanity.Are Bradfordians prepared to make truth of the Policy Exchange’s repugnant and risible document on the North? Fear of Obama as president From: Dr SU Ruff, Gowland Court, Ogleforth, York. WITH regard to your leader on Barack Obama (Yorkshire Post, August 26), you might all recall a personable young man in Germany, in 1930, to whom the phrase “stirring oratory, charisma and global popularity” (Edward, Prince of Wales) could equally well have been applied.