Letter: Education for a rich elite

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The Independent Online
Sir: You are right (leading article, 21 April) to suggest that politicians are only pretending that education is their first, second and third priority.

If it really were, not only would they think their ideas through more clearly, but they (and you) would devote some space to the plight of tertiary education, public spending on which (excluding tuition fees and maintenance grants) puts the UK second from bottom among OECD nations.

You are also right to dismiss simplistic appeals for a return to selective schools. However, you are wrong to imply that selection no longer exists, or that current selection criteria are defensible.

Figures published last week reveal that whereas a majority of the young people from the most affluent neighbourhoods enter higher education, only 10 per cent of young people from the poorest neighbourhoods do so.

This is because the schools serving richer neighbourhoods (particularly the public schools) operate their selection primarily on the criterion of affluence. We have moved from a system of higher education which was small though largely meritocratic to one which is larger but increasingly elitist. This is an issue which no party is addressing squarely.

P K BURGESS

President

Association of University Teachers

London W11

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