Letters: Grammar schools

How the well-off exploit grammar schools

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The Independent Online

Mary Ann Sieghart thinks that more grammar schools will improve social mobility (21 May). There were very few working-class children in the grammar school I attended in the Sixties. When my daughter attended a grammar school in the Nineties, we appeared to be the only parents who lived in a semi-detached house.

In Colchester there are private schools dedicating themselves to getting children through the 11-plus, thereby achieving a free public-school type education for their middle-class children.

Politicians have been messing around with the organisation of secondary schools for 60 years without achieving much in terms of social equality. Middle-class parents will continue to manipulate the system to the advantage of their children. Yo-yoing between selective and comprehensive secondary education is unlikely to change much.

Pete Barrett



In areas where the obscenity of the 11-plus still exists Mr Gove has given permission for the grammar schools to build extensions, depriving the neighbouring schools, already comprehensive in name only, of yet more academically able children.

After over 40 years of teaching in secondary modern, grammar and comprehensive schools there remains no doubt in my mind that it is the last that are best placed to meet the needs of all their pupils, when each child can work at the level best suited to its needs, perhaps in a top group for English but a less demanding one for maths.

What is the rationale for teaching children of different abilities in separate buildings? There is no educational reason. There is a snobbish one: the wish to keep "nice" children as far removed as possible from "problem" families

The 11-plus left 80 per cent of 11-year-olds labelled stupid for life. To this day I come across people who are embarrassed to admit that they "only" went to a secondary modern. Many years ago I sat the 11-plus and went to a grammar school. The gulf that opened between those of us who passed and those who didn't was never quite closed. Even at the time I could not understand why we could not all continue to be taught in the same building for the second part of our education as we had, pretty successfully, for the first. I still don't.

Patricia A Baxter

Royston, Hertfordshire


Pupils eligible for free school meals have a lower prospect of attending a grammar school in the UK than do pupils from more privileged backgrounds. Until that is changed, it is hard to see how grammar schools will do anything other than perpetuate the considerable social, economic and educational inequalities that bedevil our nation.

Dr Richard Harris

School of Geographical Sciences and Centre for Market and Public Organisation, University of Bristol


If it is considered to be in the nation's interest to identify at an early age potential international athletes, footballers, and musicians and then to nurture their talents at specially equipped centres of excellence, regardless of any feelings of failure in the minds of their less gifted contemporaries, then why on earth cannot a similar philosophy be applied to the selection of the academically gifted?

John Kenny

Acle, Norfolk

Classical music flourishes in spite of the media


I enjoyed Philip Hensher's article "Will nobody mourn the death of classical music?" (19 May) and understand the sentiments behind it, but think that he is drawing the wrong conclusion.

I agree that the representation of classical music in the media at the moment – as something to "relax" to (Classic FM), talk over (BBC), master without talent or hard work (Maestro etc) – is irritating, but I do not think that people are taken in by this any more than they are by the fake reality of the talent shows.

That the talent is there was surely demonstrated by the Young Musician of the Year broadcasts, and to bemoan the fact that the winner received "only £2,000" seems churlish to me.

The English Symphony Orchestra runs orchestra courses for children of all abilities and backgrounds during half-term. During a recent one a stout attempt to rehearse a movement from Schubert's 5th Symphony had eventually to be abandoned (to the relief of many). The following day one of the parents told me that, as she went to put her nine-year-old to bed, she found this message stuck to the bedroom door: "Am not asleep, am listening to Shoe butt." That's the spirit – and it needs to be nurtured rather than abandoned.

Peter Sheeran

English Symphony Orchestra



A peep into the future of classical music . . . .

My local recital, by an esteemed artist such as Peter Donohoe, me sitting at the back of the church, behind a sea of grey hair, wondering where all the young people are.

Listening to Radio 3, now pretty much identical with Classic FM, with chart favourites, phone-ins and celebrity presenters.

Tuning in to the Young Musician of the Year, now reduced to finals only, the actual performances drowned out by the shrieking voices of glamorous presenters. The Proms, mostly introduced by celebs such as Alan Titchmarsh, with whole evenings devoted to Dr Who.

Top 20 charts for classical music taken over by Andre Rieu and so-called "opera stars" like Katherine Jenkins, who has never sung in opera in her life. but can manage an aria in her way.

And the last resort, complete amateurs on TV, with egos huge enough to let them believe they can actually conduct an opera after a few hours' instruction, never having seen an orchestral score, and having no knowledge of music theory, transposing instruments or singing techniques.

Depressed? I am. Make the most of it while it lasts, and keep playing your CDs.

Long live Philip Hensher!

Sheila Thomson

Bungay, Suffolk


Cameron's lecture to the Greeks


One of the key tenets of euroscepticism, as practised down the years by Conservative politicians including David Cameron, has been abhorrence of interference in domestic politics by foreigners. Yet David Cameron, as leader of a predominantly eurosceptic party and Prime Minister a country not even in the eurozone, sees fit to lecture the Greek government and people by saying at the Nato summit: "They can vote to stay in the eurozone and meet their commitments, or they can vote to give up on their commitments and effectively give up on the eurozone."

John Slinger



It is becoming increasingly clear that the parties of capitalism are losing the political argument for their "austerity" programmes. In their millions the people of Europe are rejecting this capitalist retrenchment strategy. The free market only allows the rich the exclusive control of capital and the chance to withhold it if they don't feel that investment is in their private interests. The people of Europe are now running out of the capacity to suspend their disbelief.

The time is right to move on from the limp responses of Blue Labour, the "not-so-hard and not-so-deep" school of opposition to austerity. Let's make a full-bodied demand for nationalisation, for control of the banks and the great utilities. The austere and the avaricious have no answers.

Daniel Pitt

Mountain Ash, Mid Glamorgan


Austerity? Let the rich lead the way. The message to Greece should be: "Sort out your tax collection or leave the euro." A corrupt Greece will always be a drain on the rest of Europe, regardless of austerity measures for the less well-off.

John Greenwood

Loughborough, Leicestershire


A new era for lobbying


The resignation of Peter Bingle from Bell Pottinger Public Affairs marks the end of an era in lobbying. This, following directly on the Government's failure to introduce a statutory register in the Queen's Speech, should prompt the government relations industry to think about what a modern profession should look like.

I have always believed in an approach based on strong professional ethics and sound communications skills. Lobbying and all forms of government relations in the UK should be based on well-researched arguments cogently expressed, not old-school nods and winks. This is the only way to rebuild public confidence and to give our clients the best possible service.

There is currently a Mexican stand-off in which government, business and the media are afraid to communicate, with unhealthy consequences for democracy and the economy. A government relations industry that works on the basis of being ethical and effective will be vital in solving this problem.

Stephen Day

Managing Director, Portcullis Public Affairs, London W8

It's just sex, not race

Unfortunately, a racist tone is being given to the recent case of young white women being exploited by a group of men of Pakistani origin. While the case was undoubtedly horrifying, this has nothing to do with racism.

Men, being what they are, will continue to look for sex where it is available. Just visit Thailand or the Philippines: you will find the streets full of British white men over 60 years old, each with a young Asian girl on his arm, and this is not racist either. So let us refrain from sweeping statements that raise tensions in the community.

Ramji Abinashi

Amersham, Buckinghamshire


The prices of politics


David Bartlett (letter, 21 May) suggests MPs should embrace regional pay for themselves. Perhaps they could all specify individually what they require to be paid, including expenses, when they stand for election. That way, the voters could decide whether they were worth it. The electorate in regions far from the South-east might be minded to pay less, and the body which expensively oversees MPs' expenses could be abolished.

Julian Gall

Godalming, Surrey


Olympic branding


The Olympic branding crackdown's sense of proportion is more lost than your item (21 May) suggests. The 2006 Act lists "protected" words including "games", "London", "summer", several ways of writing this year's date, and the colours of medals. Even the word "medal". Cramps a writer's style somewhat. Maybe this letter breaches the code.

Denis Ahern

Stanford-le-Hope, Essex


May blossom

Francis Kirkham (letter, 19 May) says hawthorn produces blossom only on two-year-old wood, so annual cutting prevents blossom. For over 30 years I have cut my hawthorn hedge at least twice a year. Every year without exception I have had blossom.

Peter Ball



Wrong man

I enjoyed Howard Jacobson's Ruritanian comparison (19 May), particularly "... dashing Rupert Rassendyl" – presumably the younger brother of the more famous Rudolf.

Michael Watson