Throughout my working life (including 21 years as a headteacher) politicians like John Major have failed to grasp the real truth about social mobility in our country, preferring prejudice and bar-room anecdote to empirically researched evidence (report, 13 November).
At the end of the Labour government in 2010, youngsters in the poorest areas of England were 30 per cent more likely to go to university than in 2004 (see 2010 report by the Higher Education Funding Agency for England). Second, 20 per cent of students educated in state schools between 2009-11 achieved first-class degrees in our top universities, against 18 per cent of those educated in private schools (see study by Bristol University in 2013). Third, despite this, only 58 per cent of state-school educated graduates secured a professional job compared with 74 per cent of their privately educated counterparts (see report by the charity upReach in 2013).
Or, to put it another way, even though Labour did take measures which closed the attainment gap, and even though state-school students performed much better at university than privately educated ones, when it came to getting the best jobs, networking trumped achievement. It’s called the English class system and sadly it remains as pervasive as it ever was.
Sir John is right to rail against the domination of the upper echelons of power by a privately educated elite. It is however quite disingenuous, not to say cheap, of him to blame this on the Labour Party; he must know who the real culprits are and if he really wanted to show some elder statesmanship he would name them.
Chris Dunne, London E9
I don’t understand all this fuss about social mobility. It is quite clear that through all ranks of society parents have one main aim: that their children should not end up lower in the ranking than themselves and ideally should end up ranking the same. If they are doctors they aspire for their children to become doctors and if they are hereditary landowners they aspire to sire hereditary landowners. When we had coal miners, they wanted their sons to follow them down the pits.
The mistake of many failed systems was to suppose that you need laws to keep people in their place. Here in Britain we have shown that we are perfectly capable of maintaining the social order of our own free will.
Trevor Pateman, Brighton
Terence Blacker writes (“The lost generation,” 12 November) that the idea that a child from a modest background can today break the cycle of generational underachievement is absurd. I agree, but in the same breath he approvingly quotes Alan Milburn to the effect that low expectations by schools and parents are a curse blighting lives all over the country.
If, as the rest of his article and much else clearly demonstrates, mobility between classes has all but ground to a halt, for disadvantaged children to have low expectations is the merest realism, and to encourage high expectations is to set them up for severe disappointment.
The expectations we really need to address are those of the political class which thinks it can preside indefinitely over a deeply class-divided society, and indeed deliberately increase inequalities.
Michael McCarthy, London W13
Fixing A&E isn’t going to be that easy
Sir Bruce Keogh’s review is another example of failure to address the current situation adequately. There is insufficient resource in the NHS to meet the demands made of emergency and unscheduled care by a public that expects a service-industry approach to a professional role. The introduction of walk-in centres met a supply-driven demand and had little impact on arrivals at A&E. The same with NHS Direct and more recently the 111 service. The demand for healthcare out of hours outstrips supply no matter how many tiers of supply one creates.
As an emergency-medicine consultant I discharge a proportion of patients, after assessment, without any ongoing treatment. Some I discharge without any laboratory investigation or X-rays, including at weekends. Does the lack of a prescription or other formal treatment mean they did not need to be seen by me at all? If that were really true one would have thought the efforts made (by various governments) so far to reduce A&E attendances would have had a tangible impact: it has not.
I am glad Sir Bruce is confident that NHS 111 and paramedic practitioners will successfully identify those patients whom I would diagnose as neither requiring investigation nor treatment if I were to see them and, as a result, be able to avoid bringing them to my attention. Forgive me if I do not share that confidence – but my background is in emergency medicine, not cardiac surgery.
Dr Sarah Spencer, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Nr Llanharry, Pontyclun
It is a scandal that the NHS is spending £482m insuring against medical-negligence claims (8 November). Why does the NHS feel the need to cover against such claims? Why not settle any claims out of the money it would save by not insuring? Surely £482m would go an awfully long way in settling the claims that should arise.
Norman Crossley Harlow, Essex
How the EU could help Egyptian women
The Thomson Reuters Foundation’s ranking of Arab states’ treatment of women makes for depressing reading (“Egypt – worst Arab country to be female”, 12 November). Independent readers in the UK might well ask themselves what they or the British government can do about this.
It’s true to say that legal and social changes in countries like Egypt to overcome gender discrimination and sexual harassment will be led primarily by Arab women’s rights activists. There are many of them bravely struggling for this in street protests, the workplace and the home already. But the UK can, and should, do more.
CARE International supported research led by women’s rights activists in Egypt, Morocco, Yemen and the occupied Palestinian territory. This pointed to two opportunities. Firstly, the UK and other rich donor nations should integrate women’s rights alongside other benchmarks on corruption and freedom of expression into their trade and aid relations with governments of the Middle East and North Africa. Second, they should let women’s rights and other activists who were at the forefront of the popular uprisings have a voice in setting those benchmarks and monitoring them. The EU already has such a framework on paper called More for More – more trade and aid for more reform. The problem is the EU isn’t implementing its own policy.
Howard Mollett, Senior Policy Adviser, CARE International UK, London SE1
You report that Egypt is the worst Arab country to be female (12 November). The overthrow of Mubarak and the “democratic election” of Mohamed Morsi has surely raised the question of what is the appropriate form of democracy to follow the removal of a dictator.
The first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all system clearly assists a minority organised grouping. Proportional representation is more appropriate and would undoubtedly help women to have a powerful and rightful voice in the future of that country.
Jack Penrose, Bristol
Outrageous block on Chilcot findings
First we learn that the Chilcot inquiry is being blocked by the refusal of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir John Heywood, to release key documents. The refusal is by a civil servant! Now we are told that it is being blocked by the US government! (Report, 14 November.)
Who runs Britain? Should the alleged foreign accomplices of those who allegedly lied to the British people and Parliament to start a murderous and illegal war be allowed to veto a British enquiry into the alleged crime?
Jim McCluskey, Twickenham, Middlesex
The strange case of Hercule Poirot
Gerald Gilbert is mistaken when he suggests Agatha Christie wrote the final Poirot novel a year before her death (14 November). Curtain was completed in the 1940s, when Christie was at her creative peak. She wrote it then to ensure she alone had control over the character’s destiny. The great dame then asked that the novel should only be published posthumously.
I suspect there’s an off-colour joke to be made about Mr Gilbert’s little grey cells, but I’m far too well brought up to make it.
Trevor Lambert, Shurlock Row, Berkshire
Crazy American movie ratings
How wrong-headed is an American movie rating system that means that there’s more gun violence in PG13 films than in those that are R-rated (report, 13 November), and that slaps an R-rating on the critically acclaimed film Philomena because of two non-sexual uses of the f-word? In this country Philomena received a 12A rating from the BBFC.
Only in America. . .
Martyn P Jackson, Cramlington, Northumberland
Respect the local culture
How ironic that Tessa Bennet (Letters, 14 November) should have to remind an Italian how to behave when abroad. Presumably he had never heard the phrase “When in Rome...”
Stan Broadwell, Bristol