Letters: Grammar schools

Schools to foster the nation’s elite

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The Independent Online

At last a serious newspaper has called for a rethink on the opening of grammar schools and selection by academic ability. The UK is about to spend £10bn to put on the Olympics, and yet all those who decry academic selection would never consider not selecting the very best elite athletes to compete in the Olympics.

Similarly, we must have an academic elite. I might have wanted to be a nuclear scientist or brain surgeon, but I did not have the brain power, but I don't resent those who do. For a country to prosper it must have an elite group who are academically gifted, and this group must be nurtured at whatever age and from whatever background.

For Nick Clegg, David Cameron, and the last Labour government to complain about the lack of social mobility is hypocrisy, when over the past 15 years, they have all hampered social mobility by trying to get rid of grammar schools. The only result has been to dumb down state education and deprive poorer children of the chance of a good academic education based on selecting the best brains.

By all means let us have a debate on whether 11 is the right age to make the selection, but unless we do nurture an elite then the UK is doomed to be a second-division nation.

Dudley Russell

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

My thanks to Chris Blackhurst for his excellent article (26 May). I was the only one of my friends who passed the dreadful 11-plus. Although it was unspoken, there was a "feeling" there all the time. One even called me "grammar-school boy". I have wrestled with my conscience for many years for my advocacy of the comprehensive system, but I too saw the hope of "something better and more equal".

However, we need grammar schools back for all the reasons Chris Blackhurst describes. After the article my conscience is a little clearer this morning.

Geoff Hallett



Although 11-plus selection has been said to be a more accurate predictor of future outcomes than GCSE or A levels, it is still a hopelessly inaccurate process on which to base the future of our children.

I am not an embittered 11-plus failure, having passed and acquired my statutory racing bike from my parents as a reward. My brother failed but it was a borderline failure. He and four other boys in similar positions were invited to County Hall for an interview. The interviewer asked my brother how many steps there were up into County Hall. Not having the faintest idea, my brother made a guess. He was awarded a grammar school place. The other four boys were not. My brother went on to graduate in dentistry. The four other boys would have gone to the local secondary school where headmasters were not unknown to refer to their charges as the "thickoes".

Another anomaly of 11-plus selection was the need to keep the ratio of boys and girls in balance. Girls generally outperform boys at that age, so it was sometimes necessary to award a grammar school place to a boy with lower marks than a girl. I presume that parents who wish a return to this system and who have daughters would be sanguine about this.

One of your correspondents described this system as an obscenity. I wholeheartedly agree.

M H Harvey

Reigate, Surrey


One benefit of the 11-plus, often overlooked, is the shared aspiration of parents and teachers in primary schools. Both doubtless regarded it as unfair that not all those bright enough passed it and went on to a better secondary education, but perceived it as attainable. This pull extended down as far as the reception teacher at my primary school, who regularly told parents that their five-year-old was "an 11-plus boy/girl".

David Ross

Petworth, West Sussex

Finance monster sucks life out of the real economy


Hamish McRae (23 May) misses a critical factor in the pressure on the the system of shareholder-owned companies. In the days when stockbrokers' offices were largely staffed by the idiot sons of wealthy clients, they at least recognised that they added no value to the process of trading and were content to rub along on the fat crumbs from their clients' tables. Since the deregulation of 1986, the roles have been reversed and clients must make do with what's left after the finance industry has stuffed itself.

In the Anglo-Saxon world, the easy pickings for those controlling the finance industry have sucked in the best graduates in science, engineering and mathematics, leaving few to build the productive industries of the next generation. Financial engineering has reached the stage where real investment in real industry has atrophied. Unless controlled, the monster must eventually die when it has sucked all the life out of the real economy.

Peter English

Ruthin, Denbighshire


Your leading article on 23 May must be welcomed by many who do not normally regard ourselves as right-wing, but are sceptical that there is a growth alternative to deficit reduction.

The claim is that if there was more borrowing and spending the stimulus to the economy would be so disproportionate that the amount of debt would actually go down rather than up. Notice the uncanny similarity to the claim from the other side of politics that if tax was cut the incentive to work would be so disproportionate that the revenue of the exchequer would go up rather than down.

President Ronald Reagan took that advice and cut taxes at the same time as increasing military expenditure, and the enormous increase in federal debt is generally blamed for the market crash of 1987.

In the past few days, there has been the claim that if firing workers was easier the effect on willingness to hire would be so disproportionate that unemployment would go down rather than up. Do the people who say these things not realise somewhere in their minds that their political prejudices are guiding their deductive thoughts?

Roger Schafir

London N21


Munich, ancient and modern


I was upset and surprised to read the garbled comparison between Chelsea and Munich (19 May) by John Walsh. While rightly praising the cultural attractions, social ambiences and visual delights of Chelsea, as a former resident of Munich, I must strongly object to the author's unfair portrayal of this magnificent Germano-Italianate cultural centre.

Is it really necessary to harp on about the terrible but mercifully short connection between Munich and the Third Reich but then forget to mention the comprehensive reconstruction of the outstanding architectural heritage of that city after the Second World War, in comparison with the Modernist monstrosities which have graced large parts of London since 1945?

Indeed it is the re-creation of its wonderful built environment which gives such a vibrant character to the everyday life of Munich, where good living and, above all, good design – as reflected in the outstanding new Museum of Modern Art – are considered essential.

Far from being a "conventional" or "ordinary" place, the unique combination of international cosmopolitanism and the best of vernacular culture has created a most exceptional ambience of tolerance and aesthetic sensibility; most certainly the equal of Chelsea or any European metropolis worthy of the name.

John V N Soane



The conception of marriage


I can't really understand the "equal rights" arguments for gay marriage, as advanced by Matthew Laughton (Letters, 28 May). Civil partnerships provide gay couples with exactly the same rights as married couples. But it seems to me that there is a good case for restricting marriage as such to heterosexual couples, in order to maintain the link between marriage and the conception, birth and nurture of children.

To offer an analogy from a more trivial area, is it contrary to the principle of equal rights that novelists are not allowed to enter their works for the Turner prize and that visual artists are barred from competing for the Man Booker?

Dr Robin Orton

London SE26


Princely tax-havens


Anthony Blane (Letters, 24 May) attacks Monaco and Liechtenstein as tax-havens and playgrounds for the super-rich, on the grounds that they are monarchies. But who gives protection to them? France and Switzerland, both republics, the latter not known for its transparency in international banking.

Until 10 years ago, France appointed Monaco's head of government, and if the Grimaldis could not come up with a male heir, the French president would have become the head of state, just as he is "co-prince" of Andorra, along with a Spanish bishop.

San Marino has been a republic longer than Italy, which surrounds it, but that has not stopped Italians from smuggling large wads of cash into "La Serenissima Repubblica".

Ken Westmoreland

Croydon, Surrey

Loyal football supporters


Aston Villa fan David Cameron is branded fickle by Jonathan Aird for cheering Chelsea (letter, 28 May). Surely all football fans take sides when their team is not playing.

If the mighty Brentford aren't involved, I support any of the other west London teams (Fulham, QPR, Chelsea). Then any London team against anyone. Then any southern team against northerners (I'm not parochial, I draw the line just above Birmingham). Then it's any British team against foreigners, with one exception: I support anyone in the world who is playing Liverpool.

Easy, isn't it?

Chris Stevens



Murdoch and Blair


During submissions to the parliamentary committee on media Rupert Murdoch was hit in the face by a custard pie. Those in charge of security at Portcullis House must have faced some serious. Now a man has managed to infiltrate the Leveson inquiry while Tony Blair was giving evidence. Why didn't those in charge of security at the Royal Courts of Justice learn the lessons of Portcullis House?

Nigel Boddy



Euro refugees

It would appear that the euro currency is inevitably going to fail. How ironic that this could lead to the UK becoming a "lifeboat" for the European community's wealthy few who will invest in sterling and UK property in order to avoid financial collapses in Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain and even France.

Dave Patchett

Birkenhead, Wirral


Whitsun insult

So the "Heatwave will end by the Jubilee" (report, 28 May). That will teach us to move back a bank holiday which marked the significant religious feast of Pentecost to a week later to indulge in vainglorious festivities. If it rains, will it be down to divine retribution ?

Colin Burke



Virtue punished

I hope they never do away with free banking (Philip Hensher, 26 May). For why should those who always remain in the black subsidise those who end up having to obtain an overdraft?

Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby Lincolnshire