Letters: Grammar schools, engine of social mobility?

These letters were published on the 23rd December edition of the Independent

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It was refreshing to read Owen Jones’s thoughts on grammar schools (“Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system”, 19 December). Having attended a grammar school I have serious doubts about the fairness of this system.

I failed the 11-plus but I had parents who knew the system’s weaknesses, so they appealed and I was permitted to attend grammar school on the basis that my parents suspected I was a late developer and my performance in the 11-plus was not a true reflection of my potential. They turned out to be right; I went on to do well at GCSE, even better at A-level and I graduated from a Russell Group university. Other late developers may not have been as fortunate as I was.

Should we not be focusing on better education for all and not just those who are able to display their talents by the age of 11?

Rebecca Valentine

Edinburgh

As an ex-grammar school pupil of working-class origins, I question Owen Jones’s article. If we take the 1944 Butler Education Act as a start point and 1976 as an end point for grammar and secondary modern schools, why is the only statistic relating to the success or failure of grammar school pupils of working-class origin a 1954 government report?

By 1954 only four school years starting their education in 1944 would have done A-levels and six years would have done O-levels. That’s on the assumption that the impact of the Butler Act was effective immediately. Is four years or less a sufficiently large sample to make judgements on the impact on the working class when grammar/secondary modern education ran for over 30 years? Surely we need to know what happened after 1954.

If grammar schools failed the working class from as early as 1954 why did so many working- class parents want their children to attend them? From my father’s perspective, and probably that of many other parents, it was so I wouldn’t end up in the same kind of job as him.

Michael Serginson

Milton Keynes

Owen Jones attacks school selection by ability, which exists only in a few small corners of this country,  as “anachronistic and iniquitous”. Yet he says nothing about the selection by wealth and cunning (as described by a recent Sutton Trust report) which exists throughout the comprehensive system he so admires, almost everywhere in Great Britain.

Why does an egalitarian radical oppose school selection by the ability of the pupil, while defending school selection through the bank account and postcode of the parent? I genuinely do not understand.

Peter Hitchens

London W8

It is very sad that even Owen Jones, while recognising that the real issue is social inequality, prefers to follow Sir Michael Wilshaw in venting his wrath on the relatively few remaining grammar schools, rather than the so-called public schools, with their absurd charitable status, that are the much more powerful obstacles to social mobility.

Keith Aspley

Edinburgh

 

Nigella sets out to rescue her brand

The jury accepted the Grillo sisters’ side of the story. That is where we are. Nigella Lawson now begins a PR campaign to salvage the value of her brand. This is the same as salvaging her reputation.

The campaign has already started: Ms Lawson tells us the legal system is in need of reform. That she was unprotected in the witness box. In fact, she had the conventional protection of a court of law: the trial judge decided if questions could be put to her or not.

The stakes were high for the Grillo sisters: liberty or otherwise. They based their case on the private behaviour of Ms Lawson. The trial judge clearly saw some relevant and probative value in questions being put to Ms Lawson about this private behaviour.

The British people accept that we are all equal before the law. Money and fame do not change the rules.

Ms Lawson talks about being isolated and vilified in the witness box. In fact, she had access to top legal and PR advisers, not to mention the public support of the Prime Minister. The Grillo sisters had only their force of character.

David beat Goliath; we should rejoice that our legal system allows that to happen.

Anthony McCarthy

Kirkby, Merseyside

Now that the trial of the Grillo sisters has been concluded, I trust that, in these straitened times, HMRC will vigorously pursue the matter of unpaid income tax on the £685,000 worth of “benefits in kind” provided by their employers.

Trevor Downer

Swanmore, Hampshire

Regulators cannot please everyone

As one of my predecessors said, you don’t do this job to become popular, so the criticism in Chris Blackhurst’s Midweek View (18 December) comes with the territory. We take such criticism seriously but the article made a very partial interpretation of some recent cases and unfortunately accepted some very contentious claims.

If we are to do our job properly, it involves making tough decisions, and at some point you’re going to displease companies or other parties.

In all of the cases mentioned, we’d have certainly had a quieter life if we’d taken a different decision. But one theme throughout the history of the Competition Commission and its predecessor, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, is that people have trusted us to make our decisions independently and objectively – even if they don’t always agree with the outcome. The current regime was designed to enshrine the independence of the competition authorities. It’s for the Government to set the framework, not us, but this Government and its predecessors have recognised the importance of ensuring that such decisions are made objectively. The danger of greater external involvement or even interference is that these decisions start getting influenced by special interests.

That certainly doesn’t mean we are above scrutiny. Anyone who has witnessed one of our decisions being challenged line by line in the Competition Appeal Tribunal would know that their scrutiny is very thorough. The tribunal has ruled against us on one or two points in recent cases; we’re far from untouchable.

Our most recent survey of our stakeholders has shown that they continue to retain faith in our decision-making process. I have no doubt that this will continue when we join with the Office of Fair Trading to become the new Competition and Markets Authority next year.

Roger Witcomb

Chairman, Competition Commission,  London WC1

Chris Blackhurst suggests that UK regulators have failed to make consumers’ bills cheaper. While I can’t speak for other sectors, in the 10 years that Ofcom has regulated the industry the price of core telecoms services for fixed and mobile have consistently fallen to levels which stand up well in comparison to anywhere else in the world.

And while consumers have enjoyed new and better services such as faster broadband, average expenditure is actually lower than it was 10  years ago.

Blackhurst also recalls a conversation with a grumpy executive from a mobile phone company, bemoaning the regulation which has contributed to these outcomes. He doesn’t recount precisely what the anonymous exec was complaining about. Perhaps it was our decision to make calling freephone numbers actually free from mobile phones. Perhaps it was the clampdown on mis-selling mobile contracts. Perhaps it was reducing hidden mobile phone charges or tackling in-contract price rises. Or it might have been our insistence on near-universal 4G UK coverage.

If so, I think it merely demonstrates that we are doing our job.

Ed Richards

Chief Executive, Ofcom

London SE1

One day of the year to stop and think

The self-serving attitude of Gudrun Parasie’s letter stunned me. Because she couldn’t get to St Paul’s on Christmas Day, she would like buses, trains and even Eurostar to run for the convenience of foreigners who were “incredulous” that they would be stuck for 48 hours.

We have 24-hour supermarkets, and shops open on Sundays, in fact a 24-hour society. Please can we preserve Christmas as a day to stop, think and enjoy life. Lockdown? Bring it on.

Carol Wood

Bristol

Vulnerable to silly jargon

I think last Saturday might have been the hundredth time I have come across the phrase “most vulnerable” in my Independent. The impression is almost always that this ill-defined group are subject to a constant barrage of financial attacks from politicians desperate to win over “hardworking families”. Any chance of a moratorium on such silly slogans?

And why do we still have a definition of “poverty” that would allow the rate to remain unchanged even if every single income were to be quadrupled overnight?

Keith Gilmour

Glasgow

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