Letter: 'Officers' and 'other ranks' in the education system

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is ironic that John Rae, a former headmaster of Westminster School, should argue in favour of greater 'comprehensivisation' in our education system, from his background of having successfully perpetuated the 'officers and other ranks' approach ('The wrong debate about the wrong exams', 4 September).

He now says, while advocating the abolition of A-levels:

It does not matter if that means our brightest children do not reach such high standards as they now attain in their A-level specialist subjects.

I wonder what he said, from 1970 to 1986, to parents of able children at Westminster about the value of A-levels.

The choice is surely not between A-levels for a small minority while 'other ranks leave at 16 and swell an uneducated workforce', vs an examination system that fails to stretch the brightest children. It must be possible to devise a system that caters for the needs of those who currently find their best expression in the A-level system without failing the group that John Rae chooses to call the 'other ranks'. Only then will we have achieved a truly comprehensive education system.

Yours faithfully,


Hagley, Worcestershire

4 September