Letter: Teachers need sound policies, not Mr Blunkett's soundbites

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Sir: Your contributor Judith Judd ("Children worlds apart in success at schools", 7 April) asks whether teaching methods similar to those employed in Hong Kong and Taiwan would work in Britain. She cites a study that suggests they would not. This ignores that they once did, although "educationalists" have forgotten, or do not know, what education was like in Britain before the comprehensive system was introduced with the abolition of selective grammar schools.

Until 1915, I was at a primary school (then called "public elementary") that lay just on the boundary line between a middle-class residential area and an extremely slummy one. The school population was thus a social mix throughout, by chance, not design. All classes were of 60, but there was never any indiscipline or trouble. The form teacher taught the whole class for a year in all subjects. By the time I left I was, as were nearly all of my class, thoroughly at home with fractions, percentages and decimals, and with mental arithmetic. All the boys in my class could read and write, and I think most spelled correctly. On the whole, my schoolmates spoke much more grammatically, in playground as well as in class, than many do today.

Motivation was strong in most of my schoolmates, eager to get to a grammar school by a scholarship. All that was needed was provision of more scholarship places. This admirably efficient educational system was destroyed by the introduction of the "comprehensive system" of huge and therefore often ungovernable masses of children, the nonsensical advocacy of "mixed ability" teaching, and the distractions inevitably present in "co-education," especially after the school leaving age was raised to 18.

This last should have accompanied a provision that earlier leaving was available to those who could pass a test of numeracy and literacy of good standard; this would have avoided the presence of bored and disruptive seniors idling away their time until they became 18. The comprehensive idea should be renamed "the reprehensible system".

Yours truly,

I. A. SHAPIRO

Birmingham

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