Letters: Round up all the usual grammar school lobbyists


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The Independent Online

Are those of us who work, proudly, in the nation's comprehensives never to be spared the endless nonsense about grammar schools, aired this time by Mary Ann Sieghart (21 May)?

Whenever they want to punish schools and teachers, the grammar school lobbyists normally trot out a list of countries (Canada, Finland, Japan, Korea etc) where children reach higher levels of attainment or where social mobility is higher than in England, not mentioning that these countries operate systems of fully comprehensive education rather than a form of selection.

Ms Sieghart did not even refer to empirical evidence from around the globe, preferring to rely on anecdotes and gut instincts to convince readers that a return to selection at 11-plus will "change the shape of the establishment in one generation".

David Willetts, then the Tory education shadow secretary, got it right in a speech in 2007 when he roundly opposed selection on the grounds of the "overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it".

Chris Dunne

Headteacher, Langdon Park School, London E14

When considering in your pages the nation's social and economic ills, and recent endorsements for selective education, I noted with interest your positive "Trending" write-up of Finland (23 May).

They have some of the brainiest students in the West, products of an education system with the goal of equity, with "no nationally standardised tests, inspections or league tables, no private schools or private universities and no fees. Competition is frowned on, co-operation is king." So I'm sold. Can we Brits try it ourselves for 20 years and see how we get on?

Angelo Micciche

St Erth, Cornwall

The Independent has rightly called attention to the deplorably low level of social mobility, especially in England. All agree that education is the key.

I was at Manchester Grammar School, Taunton School and Cambridge University in the 1940s and 50s. All three institutions had a much healthier social mix than today.

At MGS, we had the direct grant system, at Taunton there were generous county scholarships and at Cambridge there were county, state and open scholarships. All these schemes were "needs blind" to boys (few girls, of course, but that is a separate issue) from modest homes who were able to pass the entrance exams.

Shirley Williams and, amazingly, Margaret Thatcher, both notable beneficiaries of the selective system, dismantled all this and we have watched inequality grow ever since.

We need no more targets, benchmarks, hand-wringing or wishful thinking. We need immediate action, the return of grammar schools to all counties, restoration of the direct grant (which would immediately democratise most of the independent school sector), and means-tested state scholarships awarded to high achievers for university education. Most importantly, Labour and the Liberal Democrats need to be brought on board.

Neither France nor Germany, under governments of both left and right of centre, has ever questioned the validity of selection, though neither made the terrible mistake of neglecting the non-selective school sector, as happened in the UK.

David Smith

Clyro, Powys

Malcolm Howard is mistaken in saying that "Shirley Williams... abolished grammar schools" (Letters, 24 May). The education secretary who introduced the comprehensive system nationally was Anthony Crosland in 1965, 11 years before Ms Williams got the job.

The education secretary who closed or converted the most grammar schools, from 1970 to 1974, was Margaret Thatcher.

Laurie Marks

Harrow, Middlesex

German taxpayer suffering pain of austerity cuts

As a German national and (former?) fan of the European Union, I find myself agreeing with Dominic Lawson's assessment of Germany's reluctant role as paymaster of Europe (22 May).

What is not often mentioned in this country is that while Germany as a nation is indeed rich and powerful – due mainly to its exports – German people as individuals are not necessarily wealthy at all.

The German population has gone through hugely painful "austerity measures", called "Agenda 2000", after the affluent Eighties, with severe cuts in welfare and social provisions, resulting in the closure of libraries, sports facilities and theatres, the reduction of public transport, a hefty extra charge to pay for every visit to the doctor, with many school buildings in extremely poor repair and some towns and cities not even able to repair potholes after the winter.

Worst of all, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them from the middle class, have been consigned to the scrap-heap of long-term unemployment on scanty benefits.

The German taxpayer, unwilling to finance growth programmes in other European countries, isn't necessarily sitting on comfortable savings and pension pots. Instead, he or she may well be sitting in a long row of others in the corridor of the unemployment agency, or outside the social welfare office to apply for help with buying the school textbooks the children will need after the summer holidays, yet again spent at home.

The feeling in Germany is, if we have to save and can't spend any money on our own disadvantaged people, why must we keep helping out others?

Andrea Turner

Whitstable, Kent

Bored Rooney has lost his spark

So Roy Keane feels that Wayne Rooney will have "a big problem with boredom, mentally trying to build up for a game" at the forthcoming European Championship, but that he is "pretty active, mentally" ("Hodgson must beware of Rooney boredom at Euros, warns Keane", 24 May).

Your chief sports writer, James Lawton, says that the main worry is a "rather grievous state of mind" ("Neville needs to find the key to Wayne's desolate world"). This does make one wonder why "joyless" Rooney was selected for the England squad in the first place, not least because the "haunting sadness" that apparently afflicted him at the World Cup in South Africa might well have a dispiriting effect on his team-mates. But if Rooney is as mentally active as Roy Keane claims, and if he is likely to be as impervious to the stimulus of videos, books and historic Krakow as James Lawton intimates, maybe he is up to engaging productively with a motivational psychologist.

It sounds as though it will take more than the ministrations of his former Manchester United colleague Gary Neville, who won't be able to devote all his time to cheering up Wayne, to generate the spark that would normally come from the excitement of representing one's country at a major tournament.

Professor David Head

University of Lincoln

Tate rotates its collection

In response to John Edmondson's letter of 16 May ("Send Stubbs to Liverpool"). I would like to clarify the remit of Tate Liverpool in terms of the display of the Tate Collection, and also the staffing of the gallery.

Tate Liverpool, which is the home of modern and contemporary art in the North of England, has a reputation for curating exhibitions of international significance, such as this year's Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings, and exhibitions in recent years of artists including Magritte, Picasso and Klimt.

In addition to our special exhibition programme, the permanent curatorial team at Tate Liverpool curate displays from the Tate collection and contribute to the research of new acquisitions.

Tate rotates the display of the collection at all its sites to give exposure to as much of it as possible. Our neighbours at the Walker and Lady Lever art galleries have excellent holdings in historic British art, hence Tate Liverpool's focus on works from 1900 to the present day.

Francesco Manacorda

Artistic Director, Tate Liverpool

An odd way to calculate odds

Much as I hate to disagree with two such august bodies as The Independent (Diary, 18 May) and the BBC, the chance of MP John McDonnell winning the Private Member's Bill ballot this year was 246-to-one.

Having won last year, the probability of the same MP winning this year is the same as for any other MP. Only if you name the winner in the first year before the ballot and the winner in the second year, again before the ballot, is it relevant to multiply the odds together.

A similar misapplication of probabilities had serious consequences when used in court in a notable medical case some years ago.

Dez Barbara

Wellesbourne, Warwickshire

We're nuclear but you don't qualify

On Monday, the Government handed out £350m in contracts to upgrade Britain's nuclear submarine fleet. The project will ensure, says Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, that the UK will have nuclear weapons of mass destruction "into the 2060s".

On Tuesday, Britain was one of the six states – five of which have nuclear weapons – in talks with Iran about its nuclear energy programme. Urged on by Israel, another nuclear state, they were trying to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. There's nothing like having the moral high ground is there?

Sasha Simic

London N16

Cut the sugar and reduce diabetes

As a type-2 diabetes sufferer, I am extremely concerned by the National Audit Office's report ("Diabetes timebomb: Only half of NHS patients receiving acceptable care", 23 May). Eighty per cent of type-2 diabetes can be prevented with the right lifestyle. The Government must take urgent action on obesity. Strong measures, like those proposed in my 10-Minute Rule Bill, to reduce sugar in soft drinks will finally stop the diabetes epidemic.

Keith Vaz MP

House of Commons

Thanks a million

Your article on the increased risk of heart attack from calcium supplements (24 May) has a common omission, the absolute risk. If the risk goes up by 100 per cent from one chance in 10 million to two chances in 10 million it's still not a big worry, but from one to two chances in 100 would give cause for concern.

Richard Dajda

Royston, Hertfordshire

Well out of line

The Health Secretary clearly needs to get online. For several years, it has been possible to book my GP appointments, repeat prescriptions and nurse-led clinics online 24/7. He should be promoting best practice, not sitting on his hands waiting for others to do it.

Steve Horsfield

Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

Pay peanuts...

Since the bankers insist that they have to pay huge salaries and bonuses to attract the stars of world finance, can we assume that J P Morgan offer only the statutory minimum wage?

Ian Hall

Portland, Dorset