Friday's Letters: Debate heats up over the coldest winters ever recorded

YORKSHIRE'S lowest temperature ever was recorded at Topcliffe on the morning of December 3, 2010, at minus 19°C. Meteorologists and statisticians were excited, with some justification. This was truly a memorable day!

However, I can reveal that my great-grandparents lived through many winters that were much worse than this. The winter of 1895 was one of the coldest and snowiest of the last 200 years, and the north east of England suffered extreme temperatures unrivalled by anything in our lifetime. The Yorkshire Post archive (on microfilm) tells of many harrowing escapades and tales of survival.

The villages of Barningham, Newsham, Hope, Scargill and Holgate were cut off for weeks by seven-metre snow drifts. In Swaledale, level snow was chest high.

Temperatures plummeted to minus 24C in Masham, and minus 20C through a large swathe of Yorkshire, including Sledmere, Thirsk, Hawes, Leeming, Northallerton, Wensleydale, Bedale, West Burton and Malton.

Going further back through the archives of the Leeds Mercury, I find that in 1881, Thirsk endured a temperature of minus 22C, while York was not far behind at minus 21C.

It was even colder in 1860, through the Christmas holiday, when it was minus 23C in the Derwent Valley and minus 20C in Darlington. Horses were seen with icicles hanging from their mouths.

These reports were authenticated as far as it was possible to do in those days, but we know that most thermometers were privately owned, and did not conform to the rigorous standards which are in force today.

Indeed, the Stevenson Screen, the criterion of modern weather recording, was not introduced until 1863, and not universally accepted until after 1900.

So, this week's record temperatures can be accepted. Under current criteria, there has never been such a cold night – ever!

From: Roy Bedford, Manor Rise, Walton, Wakefield.

Education's vital role in democracy

From: Dr Christopher Gifford, Dr Richard Hayton, Dr Andrew Mycock, Dr Pete Woodcock, University of Huddersfield.

THE huge rises in tuition fees and the removal of government support for teaching across a range of subject areas will leave students with huge debts while limiting the choice and creativity of university courses.

These cuts will enforce the marketisation of English universities in a manner which will compromise their ability to maintain their enviable reputation for world-class teaching and research. They will also compel many students, fearing a life-time of debt, to choose courses on economic rather than intellectual merits.

This is somewhat surprising and contradictory considering the claims of both coalition partners during the last election that they seek to fix Britain's "broken politics". The public university system in this country is an essential component of democratic public life and the study of Politics, in particular, plays an important role in shaping civic society both on campuses and in communities.

Politics graduates provide expertise in areas of public life such as local and national government, education, the third sector, and the media as well as in private business.

Universities, colleges and schools have worked hard in recent years to encourage young people to engage civically, volunteer and develop political literacy. The impact of youth democratic engagement work is only now beginning to be realised. It would appear however political literacy and active citizenship are not seen by the coalition Government as important in secondary, further or higher education.

It is likely that the Government will remove the statutory status of citizenship education within the National Curriculum and local authorities will be forced to withdraw funding to youth councils and other democratic engagement initiatives.

The Political Studies Association noted that applications for Politics courses in higher education were in "rude health" and rose again this year. This indicates that students appreciate and value the range of skills, knowledge and expertise developed through the study of politics at university.

However, the proposed higher education reforms risk deterring future generations from studying less vocational courses in the humanities and social sciences.

More than most, Prime Minister David Cameron and Minister of State for Universities David Willetts should realise the value of studying Politics at university as they both did so themselves at the taxpayers' expense. It is therefore somewhat ironic that they are architects of reforms that could compromise the chances of others to study Politics in higher education and thus further weaken the vibrancy of our democracy.

Graduate tax is fairer way

From: Neal Frankland, Carleton Park Avenue, Pontefract.

A GOVERNMENT that proposes that support for teaching in our universities should be cut by 80 per cent, and that graduates should spend 30 years paying off the whole cost of their degree, clearly cares little for the future of our country.

The replacement of a system built on public investment by a market in higher education will create a situation in which many students are either put off going to university altogether, or forced into the cheapest course, rather than the one best for them and for our society.

It is evident that the cuts to teaching grants are more severe than those planned for other public services, that if there were less income to be replaced then such a rise in fees would not be being contemplated, and that, even in the Government's own terms, the short-term desire to reduce the deficit does not justify this long-term change in higher education funding.

It is also apparent that there are fairer ways in which graduates might share the cost of higher education, the graduate tax proposed by Labour for example that would ensure that the highest-earning graduates make a fairer contribution, and that middle income graduates are not, as they will be by this Government, disproportionately disadvantaged.

Our universities must remain public institutions, receiving significant public funding, in order to remain world class, and to remain open to everyone.

Concerns over academies

From: Deborah Long, Woodside Park Drive, Horsforth, Leeds.

WITH reference to the letter from Lord Hill, Schools Minister (Yorkshire Post, November 30), it is worth pointing out that despite what he states, there is no evidence to show academies raise standards in education.

In fact far from it – Ofsted just this month rated 53 per cent of academies no better than satisfactory in the last 12 months. This compared with just 35 per cent of other state schools.

So, why would any government want to convert thousands of state primary and secondary schools into academies? And more importantly, what is the rush? Serious changes into our children's education should be considered carefully.

Parents should be consulted meaningfully with all the pros and cons before the school takes the step to become an academy. There is no going back.

Lord Hill then states that the opening of free school should be celebrated. This type of school has been heavily criticised in Sweden and the United States for under- performing and not being fit for purpose. They have a high teacher turnover and are proven not to be effective for students with Special Educational Needs. With evidence like this, who would want their child to go to one?

Also, there is no new money for these schools. Creating them simply reduces the funding available to all the other schools in area. So who wins?

Certainly not the majority of parents and children, as a poll carried out earlier this year showed: 96 per cent of parents want their children to go to a good local school within the local authority (Ipsos/Mori).

By the way, his final comment about children from poorer backgrounds not going to Oxford or Cambridge should be looked at from the financial angle.

Add on to the current tuition fees for an undergraduate at Oxford (3,225) the extra college fees, currently about 2,000, plus your accommodation and cost of living (9,000 on 2009 figures) reaching a grand total of 14,225 per year. This just may have an effect on who applies.

To return to the controversial subject of academies and free schools; they are basically independent state schools, free of local authority control and therefore free of local accountability. This accountability should not be relinquished lightly.

Blow to older students

From: May Field, Mill Lane, East Halton, Immingham, North Lincolnshire.

NICK Clegg's manoeuvring has missed one point completely. Up to one third of students are mature students aged 25 and over. Mature students return to education for many reasons, but all are very committed and are always welcomed by tutors as they bring a different perspective to a topic.

But mature students usually have additional financial responsibilities, such as a mortgage and /or family. And mature students don't get any extra financial assistance.

Tripling the amount mature students will have to pay will put a return to higher education out of reach.

This will mean a huge number of mature students will not return and this will hit universities financially.

Furthermore, as mature students, as well as usual students will be paying three times as much for the educational service provided by the universities, they expect a three-fold increase in the quality of service.

And if this isn't forthcoming, they'll be eligible to prosecute – through Consumer Direct – under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

So while students are likely to suffer from Nick Clegg's manoeuvring, the universities are likely to be a lot worse off.

TV concerts are not services

From: Alan Marsden, Pledwick Lane, Sandal, Wakefield.

I DISAGREE entirely with Shirley Garnett's letter (Yorkshire Post, December 3). Aled Jones organises a lot of religious stuff on the BBC. He may be good at organising a hymn singing concert at the Albert Hall, but that is all they are, concerts. He is also good with school choir competitions, but how often does he present straight hymn singing in church, culminating in a priest's blessing?

Our expense

From: Colin Cawthray, Elmete Drive, Roundhay, Leeds.

THE old saying, "We stand for coal dropping on our heads", comes to mind when you read that our MPs can claim 20p per mile for cycling to work.

Wakefield Labour MP Mary Creagh claimed 3 mileage for cycling to work. Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett claimed 20 for the window cleaning of his office. Is he incapable of getting a sponge and doing the job himself?

The only answer they come up with is "the rules allow it".

Identity crisis

From: W.Lakin, Bracken Park, Bingley, West Yorkshire.

I DRIVE regularly to other parts of the country and I am quite struck by the fact that the only county not marked consistently by boundary signs is Yorkshire.

Couldn't our local authorities work together to rectify this omission? Given that the county-wide authorities for South and West Yorkshire and Humberside no longer exist, might not the best signage just read "Yorkshire", or perhaps more grandly "The historic County of Yorkshire".

Special delivery

From: Howard and Christine Frost, Chellsway, Withernsea.

DEEP snow. Roads and pavements like ice rinks. No refuse collections. No mail deliveries for a week. Yet every morning without fail the Yorkshire Post is delivered to our door on time. A big thank-you to all those who have made this possible.

Warm affront

From: Ruthven Urquhart, High Hunsley, Cottingham.

SOS from the heights of East Yorkshire. Anyone else not got their fair share of global warming?