Letters: Private schools take the cream


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The Independent Online

Your article on scholarships to independent schools for bright children from poor homes (3 November) failed to make one resoundingly obvious point clear: every time a bright child is selected to attend an independent school, the result is one less bright child in a state school. This perpetuates the current two-tier system.

This happened to me last year: a very musically talented girl in my school managed to gain a scholarship to an independent specialist music school. I can understand the reasons for the move – the independent school could offer her the chance to work with many other very musically able children in a way that my mainstream school could not.

However, the girl in question was bright, motivated, polite, hard-working and came from a supportive home background. Trust me, this is the easiest "5 or more grades A*-C" type of child you are ever going to get! The fact that she left my school means, bluntly, that an independent school's selection damaged my state school's league table results.

If government ministers wish to subsidise children from poor homes so that they have the chance to attend independent schools, why does it have to be only academically bright children? Why not pay for independent schools to take on some challenging children – those with limited academic ability, low aspirations and poor motivation? We read every week in the press how badly such children do at school. It would be fascinating to see if independent schools could do any better.

Ben Warren

Headteacher, Summerhill School, Dudley, West Midlands

Anthony Blane (letter, 7 November) is undoubtedly right when he calls for the abolition of private education. The privilege conferred by having enough money to pay for private education is the single most divisive factor in British society and the reason the class system persists.

Desirable as this abolition would be, the law of unintended consequences would cut in. Rich parents would send their sons and daughters to the many excellent exclusive private schools abroad, especially in the United States, where private education is a big and lucrative industry.

At the moment, our rulers usually have Eton and Oxford on their CVs. I am not sure how much better it would be if one could only get on in British public life by having the door-opening provenance of Andover and Yale.

Chris Payne


Roy Mitchell (letter, 5 November) cites three reasons why parents choose private schooling. Unfortunately, he missed a fourth, which is that the local state secondary school to which my daughter went was so poor that we felt there was no alternative.

We wrote to the head telling him of our decision and explaining why. Not only did we not get a reply to our letter, none of my daughter's teachers were told she was leaving. I think that says it all.

Jack McKenna

Southport, Lancashire

A victory for world peace and real ale

Waking at 4.30am, I switched on the BBC, and on hearing the news of Obama's victory, found myself in tears – of relief. At least for the next four years the world will not be blown up.

Christopher Walker

London W14

Yes you can... close Guantanamo, stop sending drones to slaughter innocents in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and freeze US military aid to Israel until they agree a fair, durable peace with Palestine.

Martin Wallis

Shipdham, Norfolk

One might wish for more radical policies, but President Obama's election victory will at least safeguard one important advance of his first term in office. Namely, the White House micro-brewery that he has started. One wonders when No10 will follow his example.

Keith Flett

London N17

Wind trumps scenery

A lot of discussion in the press over the weekend about the future of wind power, perhaps inspired by Hurricane Sandy.

The UK consensus seems to have swung decisively against wind farms, both offshore and on land, which I find worrying and radically out of sync with what's happening in the world beyond Middle England. Opinion changes radically in support of the same technology, a few thousand miles east in India, where wind energy is apparently very popular and in great demand.

I was drawn towards that comparison, by a recent discussion I had online, with a gang of my old shipmates, comparing the impact Sandy has had on the USA, with that of hurricane Bhola, witnessed in the Bay of Bengal in 1970. Both storms tragically claimed lives, but the ratio of fatalities was around 5,000:1. Which might go some way to explaining different priorities, when environmental issues are discussed.

In a straight battle between wind and scenery, given time, wind will flatten just about any view. Trouble is, opinions are as variable, chaotic, inconsistent and unpredictable as weather.

Anthony Brooke


I live surrounded by fields, in Suffolk, with splendid long views, but must strongly disagree with Terence Blacker's arguments against wind turbines in the countryside (23 October).

If we are to avoid destroying our grandchildren's planet, and still maintain their living standards, we must accept changes. I would be very happy to see wind turbines in the fields in front of my house, though I do admit they are probably more efficient out in our wind-swept seas. They are no more a blot on the landscape than the windmills of old.

Indeed, I consider them quite elegant examples of modern engineering. I was also pleased when I saw a field covered with solar panels, backing up the eight I have on my house.

Nothing has stayed the same since our ancestors chopped down the forests and supplemented their hunting with agriculture. Cobbett complained that our wide fields were being chopped up by hedges during the enclosures. Motorways now carve up the countryside more aggressively than any wind turbine.

We have two ways to help save the planet: have fewer children, and reduce burning of fossil fuels.

David Foster


Strengths to lead the Bank

I am surprised that Steve Richards (29 October) has been briefed by unnamed sources that Lord Turner lacks the combination of policymaking and organisational skills necessary to be an effective Governor of the Bank of England.

My direct experience is the opposite. I was a member of the CBI's management committee when Adair Turner became that organisation's director-general. His day and public job was to be an effective spokesman for British business; in this role he was both effective and courageous. His private role was to take a failing organisation, and change its management structure and attitudes, its ICT, its property arrangements and its finances; in this role he was radical and innovative, and made the CBI fit for the future. Without his leadership it might well not have survived.

So his alleged weaknesses are in reality formidable strengths.

Philip Goldenberg

Woking, Surrey

Who will speak up for patients?

Your editorial "When medicine can no longer help" (6 November) brought back memories of my days as an active member of a Community Health Council (CHC) a decade or more ago.

I can recall visiting one small community hospital where the answer to the question "What is your resuscitation policy?" was "We resuscitate staff and visitors." It took a visit report and discussion at a meeting of the board of the NHS trust, where as CHC chair I had speaking rights, to get this reviewed and changed.

I am not clear what mechanisms exist now to deal with such issues in the absence of CHCs. Who in England could ask the question and who follow up the answer?

Donald Roy

London SW15

Police silence protesters

I believe that you should give more prominence to the fact that public order legislation is being used to crush political dissent. Since when has it been an offence to barrack politicians ("PM heckler gets community service", 3 November)?

What is more appalling is the police's apparent enthusiasm to use this legislation to silence legitimate protest.

Finlay Fraser

Cottingham East Yorkshire

Philanthropy unrecognised

In reviewing Eminent Elizabethans, John Campbell finishes with a spiteful quip against, "poor Prince Charles, who has no major achievements to disparage" (Tuesday Book, 6 November).

Campbell fails to recognise the outstanding work of the Prince's charities and his tireless support for urban and rural regeneration, not to mention his initiatives in organic farming and the built environment, which – whether one agrees with him or not – surely mark him out as one of the few great philanthropists of our age.

Dominic Kirkham


Get out of there

The MP Nadine Dorries has clearly lost control of her senses, having decided to leave for Australia to appear on an apparently popular TV show, not only because she has vacated her responsibilities to her constituents and to Parliament, but also because she misguidedly seems to think she is a celebrity.

Laurence Williams

Thetford, Norfolk

Useful wars

David Penn wonders why David Cameron has yet to learn why military adventures may not be a good idea (letter, 6 November). Sadly, our Dave has already discovered that getting involved in someone else's conflict, as in Libya, has done him no harm whatsoever.

Peter Coghlan

Broadstone, Dorset

'I name thee...'

If John Wess (letter, 7 November) can't find a boy's name by looking at Eddie Stobart lorries he's not looking hard enough. How about "Eddie"? If he's not keen on that there's always Norbert Dentressangle.

Mark Redhead