Letters: How the 11-plus helped everyone


At last, someone is openly saying what I've been saying for many years: getting rid of grammar schools has stifled social mobility (Mary Ann Sieghart, 21 May; leading article, 22 May).

I was lucky enough to have benefited from such an education after passing the 11-plus in 1960. Among my forebears were servants, gardeners and hairdressers: all with a modicum of native wit; none with the financial circumstances to further their education beyond 13. I was the first in my family to do so, going on to university and becoming a further education lecturer, where I hope I enabled others to expand their life chances.

Did the 11-plus cause social divisions? Everyone had a crack at it; we all understood its value; it attempted to aim at a level playing field. Those who didn't pass went to a technical school, with its bias towards accountancy and secretarial subjects; or a secondary modern school, with its emphasis on crafts, building subjects and cookery. But there was an opportunity to transfer to the grammar school at 13-plus and 15- plus.

Technical and secondary modern schools aimed to develop practical and entrepreneurial skills. I have since met many of my age group, for whom more academic learning may well have been anathema, who have become far more successful that I have.

The 11-plus attempted to launch youngsters broadly in the right direction for their talents. It wasn't a flawless system, but surely a better one than we have now where all those whose parents cannot afford to send them to be privately educated are lumped together in huge schools which deliver a watered-down academic syllabus. That syllabus, to my mind, fails both the academically and the practically gifted.

Monique S Sanders

Ladybank, Fife

Pete Barrett is right that grammar schools do little for social mobility (letter, 22 May). However, comprehensives also do little, as better-off parents can afford to buy houses in the catchment areas of the more successful schools. In fact, upward social mobility is only likely when there is an expansion of middle-class jobs, as there was in the 1960s and 1970s. Once upward mobility for some is only possible by having downward mobility for others, it becomes very difficult.

A more achievable target is to narrow the gap between rich and poor, thus making the lack of social mobility less damaging to social cohesion. A substantial increase in tax rates on wealth, income, financial transactions and capital gains could raise tens of billions of pounds per year. If we used this money to create jobs, particularly in areas such as social services, probation and policing, and provide better support for sick and disabled people, we would have a happier, safer and fairer society.

Richard Mountford

Hildenborough, Kent

Destructive peer-group pressure is the most decisive force in the emasculation of comprehensive schools. I know; I taught in one.

For years the dismantling of any effective disciplinary system has allowed disaffected groups and their "rights" to extend their domination of classroom and playground, under the command of the most aggressive and selfish bullies. Sooner or later, few unaligned peers dare to show a desire to work.

In such a desperate situation the grammar school represents a blessed refuge for those who want to learn and for those who want to teach. There seems little alternative in a nation where learning for its own sake is now regarded with mistrust or contempt.

Martin Murray

London SW2

Whatever you do, don't mention the Olympics

The restrictions around Olympic branding are more than "overzealous" (report, 21 May); they are unworkable and ridiculous. As a web hosting company, we have no intention of suggesting that our service is in any way endorsed by the Olympics, yet we are unable to offer our services as being specifically relevant to businesses looking to stay online during the Olympic period.

The Government has told businesses to be aware of strain on internet infrastructure as staff have to work from home and the world's largest media event takes place in the city, and yet are not allowing businesses to provide solutions. We can't even advertise that we will help London's businesses stay online during "Summer 2012" or "the Games" without falling foul of the guidelines.

Creating a problem and then preventing the market from selling a solution, to protect big-ticket donors, is not in the national interest.

Dominic Monkhouse

Managing Director UK, PEER 1 Hosting, Southampton

In the light of Locog's "overzealous" approach, am I allowed to say that my company will not be supporting the *l*mp*c G*m*s?

David Ridge

London N19

Music must start somewhere

Is the presentation of classical music in the modern media only irritating, as Peter Sheeran says, or depressing as Sheila Thomson claims (letters, 22 May), or does it have a useful side?

Those who enjoy classical music most likely learnt to enjoy it as I did, by being introduced to short melodic pieces when very young and gradually learning to enjoy more complex work. Not all are lucky enough to have that early start. Where can adults with no classical musical background begin?

Not by being thrown in at the deep end, but with Classic FM and other light programmes. Even those who watch the bizarre Maestro programme to see the celebrities might enjoy a piece of music and want to know more.

Jan Cook

South Nutfield, Surrey

US arms prop up Bahrain regime

The USA's decision to resume some arms shipments to Bahrain is concerning, given Bahraini security forces' ongoing violent crackdown against protesters ("Arms shipments resume after US suspension", 14 May).

Despite US assurances that it will not transfer weapons directly used to abuse, kill and maim civilians, the US shipments send an alarming signal to the rest of the world that it is more interested in propping up the Bahraini regime with arms sales than in respecting the human rights of Bahrain's people.

In a couple of months, crucial negotiations to establish a global arms trade treaty will begin. The US has to get its house in order now, and explicitly state that it will not authorise the sale or transfer of weapons to Bahrain, or anywhere else, where there is a substantial risk that these arms will be used in serious violations of human rights.

Kate Allen

UK Director, Amnesty International, London EC2

Needless scare for tenants at risk

It is wrong to suggest that any change in the law made by this Government would allow councils to ship people at risk of homelessness to all corners of the country rather than offer them the help they need ("Housing crisis causes surge in sheds with beds", 10 May).

In fact, I will shortly consult on plans to ensure that the accommodation offered to homeless households meets robust standards. I think it deplorable that councils like Newham chose to frighten their residents by suggesting they would send them hundreds of miles away. The law is already clear that connections with family, friends, schools and jobs need to be taken into account. In order to put this beyond any doubt I will shortly be consulting on strengthened regulation on this issue.

It's absolutely right that everyone should have to live within their means, whether or not in receipt of housing benefit. That is why we have capped the amount that families can receive from the taxpayer to £21,000, a figure with which I've no doubt many of your readers will consider still pretty generous.

So rather than exporting the problem beyond their boundaries, I want to see councils on the front foot, making sure their most vulnerable residents get the help they deserve.

Grant Shapps

Minister for Housing and Local Government, London SW1

The secrets of German success

Hamish McRae is right about the causes of Germany's growth in GDP (16 May). It is not caused by cutting budgets, reforming labour laws or any other government tinkering. It stems from long-term investments in plant, technology, innovation and skills.

German companies build excellent products. They brand and market them skilfully. They sell them at premium prices to loyal customers. The customers recommend German products to new buyers. This commitment takes guts and microscopic attention to detail. And industries and supply chains must work in an integrated manner.

Britain has companies like this too. Check out the 20 years of hard graft and patient investment that John Bloor has made at Triumph. Perhaps if our governments had invested in John Bloor as much as they did in Fred the Shred, we'd be more like Germany and less like the USA. I can at least hope, can't I?

John Leigh

Timperley, Cheshire

Coalition split on hire-and-fire law

How is it that firing someone for having the "wrong face" enhances output? The Beecroft report exposes the real face of Cameron and his colleagues, in all their ruthlessness and disregard for basic human rights in the workplace. They believe all power rests with the owners of capital, while employees are viewed as nothing more than productive cattle. What kind of a society are we allowing these despicable people to create?

Christopher Munro


Vince Cable has spoken. Those willing to discuss relaxing employment law for smaller companies to facilitate more flexible hiring are "ideological zealots". And there is "no need to frighten the life out of people". That, to an unemployed person, the offer of a job with the possibility that it might not be permanent is a damn sight better than no job at all seems to have escaped him.

John Wells

West Wittering, West Sussex

Great idea for a concept

Why bother to pay an imaginary £8 entrance fee the Hayward Gallery's Invisible Art exhibition (letter, 21 May)? In Willie McCourt's 1976 book, The Harmony of the Universe, Mick Lafferty stages an exhibition of Totally Conceptual Art, and hands out pamphlets beforehand, describing in detail each of these "real" but just "not having any physical existence" artworks. The exhibition was deemed a resounding success although nobody even attended. As Lafferty stated: "Sure, wasn't it success enough that they could all just sit in the pub and visualise them?"

W J Kavanagh

St Dennis, Cornwall

Flagging interest

Low Interest rates? It must be quite clear to everyone after hearing the chit-chat at the economic summit between world leaders, that these people live in a world of their own. Since when has 15 per cent on a bank loan been a low interest rate?

R Lawrence

Ashford, Kent

Blair's new battle

You report that Tony Blair is ready to campaign against Scottish independence.Is he afraid that if Scotland backs independence in the referendum Alex Salmond might use weapons of mass destruction to take back Berwick-upon-Tweed?

Robin Spencer

St Andrews, Fife