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Tables don't add up

As Chair of Governors of Bexhill College, a further education ex-sixth form college, which came 14th in your A-level league table (EDUCATION, 25 November) I should like to emphasise to readers that this college, as well as every other ex-sixth form or general FE college, is non-selective.

Students are encouraged to take an A- or AS-level if they feel that they can pass at even a low grade, as this for them will be a great personal achievement. This policy depresses our league table position, but to us this does not matter, it is our students' individual success that counts. Even so, Bexhill College "beat" other colleges and all but two schools from both private and state sectors with sixth forms in East Sussex. Comparison with next door Kent, parts of which are demographically similar, is instructive. There are no ex-sixth form colleges there, instead selective schools with sixth forms have been maintained. As one might expect a good cluster of these schools appear in your "Best state schools A-level league table". But Bexhill College still did better than many selective schools in Kent.

Non-selective Kent schools take up lowly positions in the table, as one would expect under these circumstances, but every A-level result at whatever grade from these schools will represent a great personal success for each pupil and for their school.

DR KEITH FOORD

Battle, East Sussex

Working mums

Jerome Burne speaks of "the way that women and their mothering instincts have evolved to incorporate making harsh decisions", which frequently amounted to infanticide ("Working mums relax: you're doing fine", EDUCATION, 25 November).

It would be interesting to know how much actual control the women in the examples quoted had over the decisions they made about the fates of their children. Could it not also be argued that, instead of being the clear-eyed choices of empowered evolutionary mothers, these were decisions imposed by the wider family or community, entailing for the women concerned an agonising suppression of mothering instincts?

Finally, could we please dispense with this simple-minded division of mothers into either world-beating Amazons in full-time employment or stay- at-home self-sacrificing underachievers? Just as there are women who find raising children more satisfying and stimulating than their former lives of office politics, memos and meetings, there are also women for whom leaving children to go out to work is not a choice, but a necessity.

CLAIRE O'BEIRNE

Amersham, Buckinghamshire

The cost of expanding higher education

For an American college president on sabbatical in England, the public policy debate surrounding the expansion of British higher education ("British students pay the price of market forces", EDUCATION, 18 November) has been disappointingly familiar. Britain faces social and fiscal questions similar to those the United States first encountered a generation ago: how does a nation simultaneously expand access to higher education, maintain academic quality and secure the funding necessary to support students from different socioeconomic classes?

Americans have not addressed these questions with uniform success but there is much to learn from our mistakes and successes. If there is one overarching lesson, it is that the state alone cannot be expected to provide the resources necessary to educate a nation.

Universities must be permitted to charge more, and must do so without discriminating against British students. Undergraduates must be willing to bear a greater burden of the actual cost of their own education, and a combination of public and private sector funds must play a more determinative role in broadening access.

Britain urgently needs bright, diverse, multi-ethnic university graduates whose communicative, mathematical and information technology skills compare favourably with their European counterparts. Failure to act now, especially in light of the expansion of higher education in the US and on the Continent, will diminish Britain's ability to compete globally.

EUGENE M. TOBIN

President, Hamilton College (USA)

Women held back

NATFHE - the university and college lecturers' union - has been delighted at the lively debate produced by the publication of its pay discrimination league tables ("It's time for women to turn the tables", EDUCATION, 11 November). We are also looking forward to working with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and other higher education unions to try and reduce the incidence of sex and race discrimination in our universities.

NATFHE would argue strongly that women's unequal access to top academic posts is a serious form of sex discrimination. It should not, as suggested by Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe ("Your Views", EDUCATION, 18 November), be excluded from an analysis of pay discrimination. Pay discrimination may be either direct or indirect - the latter requires extra vigilance.

TOM WILSON

Head of NATFHE's universities department, London

Feelings matter

On behalf of the pupils in our large comprehensive, may I appeal to the general public to call for "feelings education" to take priority in the national curriculum?

For many years (before new regulations interfered) we gave regular opportunities for boys and girls to exchange their feelings about a whole range of personal and social issues such as drugs, parenting, relationships, careers. Since this work was given an importance at least equal to, if not more so than exam lessons, and the pupils were not lectured to, the teaching and healing they gave each other had an enormous affect. They thrived; their self- esteem blossomed, as did their ability to think and care for themselves, other people and their community.

Personal and Social Education (PSE) has been part of school time-tables for 20 or 30 years, but drug abuse, child runaways, broken relationships and much other evidence suggests that the work has been marginalised.

The implications of effective feelings education, worldwide, are worth considering. It would seem in mankind's best interests to prepare our school pupils for adult life by developing their abilities to care and think to a degree never before attempted in education.

ROBERT K McKECHNIE

Sidmouth, Devon

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