Letters: Grammar schools

Pros and cons of the grammar school effect
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The Independent Online

Like Chris Blackhurst (Opinion, 26 May), I was a working-class lad who passed his 11-plus and was sent (very much against my wishes) to the nearest grammar school in rural Cheshire. Unlike Chris, this experience instilled in me a hatred for the educational apartheid system that claims to be "meritocratic" yet in reality only upholds the nepotistic advantages of the better off.

The myth of so-called egalitarianism spawned by grammar schools is repeated by those very few working-class lads and girls who "made it" in business, politics or the media. Yet their "success" was based on a pathetic emulation of public school pretences, the gowns and honour boards that Chris was blinded by. These lower middle- and upper working-class kids couldn't afford the fees of "real" public schools so adopted the next best thing.

Yet, the teachers and pupils I came across truly believed they were something special, that they were the vanguard of Middle English Tory go-get-em values.

My two daughters attended the local comp where the set system defies the myth that all kids are lumped together and educated badly. Unlike Chris, I only wish the bulldozers would come and demolish my old "alma mater" and replace it with a school that provided all kids with an equal opportunity to succeed in life regardless of their background or economic status.

Phil Thornton

Runcorn, Cheshire

Chris Blackhurst presents a subtle analysis of the impact of grammar schools on society. His most telling observation relates to his eventual interface at university with young people educated in the independent sector. He felt their equal in every sense. The grammar schools at that time provided an education and social experience the equal of private schools, which greatly broadened the social base for the education of academically inclined children. Unfortunately, today that base is under 10 per cent. This is a far cry from more than 30 per cent in the era of Barrow-in-Furness grammar school.

The "bog standard comprehensive" has resulted in an equalising down rather than the "something better" sought by the likes of Mr Blackhurst and me. Hence the chasm that has opened up between the 7 per cent educated in the independent sector and the rest of society.

David Bracey

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

So we all want more social mobility, right? Well, if grammar school places are to be limited to the top 20 per cent, or 30 per cent or 40 per cent, what must be understood is that mobility will have to be a two-way process. For every bright working-class child who earns a place at grammar school, there will be a less-bright middle-class child who, despite all their own and their parents' best efforts, fails to reach the required standard, and who will have to join the majority of their peers at the local secondary modern. And the higher the proportion of places are offered at grammar schools, the greater the concentration of problems will be in the secondary moderns.

Although a selective system would send most young people to secondary moderns, I don't hear many calls for their return. Unless most young people and their parents say they'd actually prefer a secondary modern education, it's hard to justify a policy of sending most youngsters to such schools.

Marjorie Clarke

Totnes, Devon

Supporters of grammar schools do not appreciate the inaccuracy of the selection process. In 1968, I joined a comprehensive school made by adding a new grammar school to a secondary modern. So I knew which of my pupils had passed the 11-plus.

The first pupils to take external exams were all 11-plus failures. Five went on to take A-level physics. All passed, two with A grades. I doubt whether we are much better at the selective process these days.

D Williamson

Workington, Cumbria

Muddled thinking about nature of'gay marriages'

As a former superintendent registrar, I am very familiar with the law concerning marriage and civil partnership (leading article, 25 May). I have been alarmed by the muddled thinking on "gay marriages" on the Government website and in letters I have had from my own MP (Tory) and 10 Downing Street.

I was very involved with the implementation of civil partnerships in Bath and North-east Somerset, and delighted in the joy and pride with which many couples were able to make a legally binding contract with each other.

It would now appear that many people feel that civil partnerships are second best; how tragic. What society needs are stable relationships which can have the security of legally binding vows. Civil partnerships have the same conditions as a marriage, have the same preliminaries as a marriage, and confer the same rights and responsibilities on the couple as marriage.

The only difference I can determine is that a civil partnership does not have to be physically consummated, and they are unable to cite adultery as grounds for divorce.

I feel really sad for those couples who were so sincere and so delighted with their civil partnership that it is now looked on by "liberal" people as a second-best thing. I also fear that it is too late to change that view.

Judy Stone

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

The Government's "same sex marriage" consultation bristles with anomalies. On the very day it was launched, Lynne Featherstone, Equalities Minister, declared publicly she would press ahead regardless of opposition. Since MPs have a free vote, the outcome must logically remain open.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May ("It is time for gay marriage", 25 May), seems to define marriage in terms of feelings alone, and plucks the numeral two out of thin air, "If two people care for each other, if they love each other, if they want to commit to each other and spend the rest of their lives together then they should be able to get married and that marriage should be for everyone".

The Rev Richard James

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Proclaiming same-sex marriage as a matter "of conscience" is offensive and degrading. Was it a matter of conscience allowing women to work? No, it was a matter of law and equal rights.

It is made very clear in Article 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998: "Men and women have the right to marry and start a family. The national law will still govern how and at what age this can take place." Nowhere does it say men can marry only women, so this is not a matter of gay rights it is a matter of human rights.

Matthew Laughton


Find a decent way to sack workers

Where I work, in the real world of employer-employee litigation, employers reach a point where they wish to part company with an employee ("Cable forces Tory U-turn on workers' rights", 22 May). In 90 per cent of cases they can achieve that end, but sometimes it can be done only by provoking a conflict which will often involve finding fault with the employee. Sometimes very unfairly and unjustly, but the split provokes a fight and a compromise.

Employment, like marriage, is part of the bedrock of our lives. It is extremely important, and any termination should be achieved with politeness and courtesy. One should always approach such a problem in the knowledge that the person to be dismissed will have to go home and tell their partner and children that they have lost their job.

How much better would it be for an employer who wishes to part company to be able to say, "Here is the money you would have received if you had worked your notice period, and here is your no-fault termination payment. That should give you some time to go and find another job". If the proposed legislation is introduced it will improve the labour market and industrial relations and will do much to remove the stigma of and confrontation involved in employment termination.

Andrew Cohen

Guildford, Surrey

Rather than focus on the supposed difficulties of firing workers, the Conservatives should address the burdens placed on employers who want to hire new staff.

At present, employers who advertise jobs are faced with floods of applications, not least because of demeaning pressures placed on the unemployed. Just sorting through this paperwork requires costly administration for larger organisations. It deters smaller firms from taking people on.

Commercial employment agencies exist largely to filter out applicants for employers. Government should make it profitable for all employment agencies, not just welfare-to-work service providers, to act proactively and fairly on behalf of job-seekers, including those with less than perfect career profiles.

In right-wing terms, the employment market is inefficient because legislation and traditional practices deny job applicants, the sellers, opportunities to bargain fairly with employers, the buyers. The economic costs to the nation are huge.

Frederic Stansfield

Canterbury, Kent

A monumental Square clear-out

Your story on Leicester Square reopening (23 May) fails to mention that five monuments to famous artists and intellectuals have been removed. They are busts of William Hogarth, Isaac Newton, John Hunter, Joshua Reynolds and a statue of Charles Chaplin. Westminster council claims English Heritage are responsible for the artworks, but just who was responsible for the decision? Only Shakespeare remains, a listed statue. If a similar sort of thing had happened in Paris, it would be a scandal.

Niall McDevitt

London W6

It's being done

Maynard Hall (letters, 14 May) says there should be a national moratorium on wind farms until the industry has set up a fund to meet the costs of decommissioning when their planned life expires. It is normal practice for planning authorities to require a bond to be lodged for this precise purpose.

Stephen Lunn

Wolvercote, Oxford

Wrong signal?

I fear the Westminster Village (and Catherine Macleod) are getting too self-absorbed ("A good 'spad' is trusted by the Minister", 25 May). The alternative meaning, in railway accident terminology, is "Signal Passed at Danger".

Frank Donald


No to Eurovision

It is about time the UK pulled out of this Eurovision total farce. I wish the BBC would stop wasting our licence fee on this waste of a night. Terry Wogan pulled out and so should the UK.

Wendy Keelan

London SW16

Fickle fan

Andreas Whittam Smith's column (24 May) overlooked perhaps the most inauthentic aspect of Cameron's excessive glee at Chelsea's victory over Bayern Munich. Cameron claims that he supports Aston Villa.

Jonathan Aird

Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire

On a roll

I enjoyed your "Fifty Best Luggage" selection (26 May). But several hundred pounds for a suitcase on wheels? You'd really have to be off your trolley.

Rev Peter Sharp

Penrith, Cumbria