Letters to the editor: Private Education

How class undermines the school system


What a great article by Owen Jones ("Private school parents are wasting their money", 13 October).

I doubt if there was ever a more deluded demonstration of "keeping up with the Joneses" than sending children off to private education.

If an area is good enough to live in, why is the local school not good enough for your kids? If the kids next door are OK for your kids to play with, why are they unsuitable as schoolmates?

Of course it is a class thing and Owen Jones is completely correct to say that they are wasting their money. As Owen Jones points out, a good education starts mostly at home.

As this recession bites, more and more children will find themselves coming out of private education and parents will be going cap-in-hand to headteachers of comprehensives requesting places. How will the little dears cope?

Robert Stewart

Wilmslow, Cheshire

Owen Jones misses the point. Most parents investing in independent education are not doing so to gain good exam results for their children. The majority of parents who come and see me, as the head of an independent school, tell me that, overall, they want their children to be happy and be free to learn without interruptions. They say that exam results don't matter, even though I know they will matter when their child is taking their GCSEs.

They do want their children to be confident individuals who are not scared to come to school and who learn to be able to interact with a wide variety of people.

As a comprehensive-educated student who went on to work in the state system for twenty years before becoming an independent school head, I know that there are many quiet kids who are interested in learning who have a very hard time in the state system. Many of these children pretend to be uninterested during the school day to avoid being bullied as a "swot" and do their work at home in the evenings.

The best way to get rid of independent schools is to make the state system so good that independent schools become irrelevant. This needs real investment to produce human-size schools with proper teacher/pupil ratios.

Owen Jones talks about the benefits of charitable status, but it must be remembered that the savings to the exchequer by the 7 per cent of the nation's students not using the state system are infinitely greater than any tax breaks gained by charitable status.

John Walmsley

Head, Sidcot School, Somerset

Owen Jones offers little evidence that fee-paying parents are wasting their money in not gambling on comprehensive education. Nor does he strengthen his denunciation of the links between class and educational achievement by invoking the spirit of privately educated Tony Crosland. I have often speculated that Crosland's hatred of grammar schools sprang from a sense that they allowed people without his advantages to climb to his level.

My wife and I are not children of graduates. Only one of our four parents even had a skill. We owe everything to grammar schools, and I doubt whether I would have got to Oxford from the comprehensive that my old school has now become.

Grammar schools are now a lost cause. What helped to destroy them was the fear of the middle classes that their children might fail the 11-plus. Now they have betrayed comprehensives too by buying out of them. If Tony Crosland had been a real socialist, he would have vowed to destroy every fucking private school.

Professor William Doyle


Credit for the DNA discovery

I agree completely with the points made by my old acquaintance Professor A C T North (letter, 10 October) about who was responsible for the partial structure of DNA, which led to the award of some Nobel prizes.

I remember sitting in the departmental library in the biochemistry department at Oxford when one of my colleagues came across holding a copy of Nature containing the famous letter proposing the double-helix structure of DNA. Shamefully, I remarked that it looked interesting and went on with what I was doing.

Recently I visited Cambridge and was startled to find that the Eagle pub has notices proclaiming that the "secret of life" was first revealed in its bar. What nonsense. There can be no question that the group at King's led by Maurice Wilkins made a major contribution, and it is unfortunate that in the frequent citations in the lay literature he is usually left out, and all the credit goes to Crick and Watson, worthy though they may be.

Professor Michael Tombs

Bromham, Bedfordshire

Disgusted by library closures

I am outraged Brent council's decision to close Kensal Rise library in north London ("Angry protests as Alan Bennett loses battle to save libraries", 14 October).

I taught in a special education unit in Brent from 1967 to 1971, during which time a nine-year-old pupil won a poetry competition organised by the public library service. I took him to his award ceremony, where he was praised and encouraged by the late and hugely missed Claire Rayner (and don't get me started on the NHS). He and his family loved all the "splother".

I have chosen my words carefully in order to preserve any residual respect I may have from any former pupils who may read this. I am devastated, disgusted and disillusioned by such thoughtless disregard for the love of the written word.

My own rural library is currently under threat. So both for nine-year-olds and those almost 70 years old, the Philistines are at the gate.

Pauline Fox

(Known to the kids as Mrs Slater)


Julie Burchill can have a drink

I am the very person with those letters after his name Julie Burchill refers to ("Tell us to drink 'moderately' and we'll just crack open another one", 14 October). But, contrary to her assumption, I do not believe that I "can put a cap on the human instinct to get trashed from time to time that exists in many of us".

What I do believe is that people have a right to know, and scientists have a duty to inform them about, the level of alcohol consumption at which research shows the risk of experiencing harm from drinking increases. Perhaps some of us are not such fools as Ms Burchill thinks.

And, by the way, provided she is aware of the risks she is taking and provided she does not harm others in doing so, she is perfectly entitled, as far as I am concerned, to get "trashed" as often as she pleases.

Nick Heather PhD

Emeritus Professor of Alcohol & Other Drug Studies,

Northumbria University,

Newcastle upon Tyne

Royal Society report on MOX

Steve Connor ("Royal Society denies bias over Sellafield report", 13 October) accuses the Royal Society of bias and cherry-picking data in our Fuel Cycle Stewardship in a Nuclear Renaissance report, but it is his analysis that smacks of bias.

To do a report on any aspect of nuclear power without involving scientists with experience of the nuclear industry would be foolish. Our working group of nine contains two former employees of industry. To suggest that they carried undue influence over other working group members, a further review group and the Council of the Royal Society, who also assessed the final report, is simply untrue.

As regards the accusation of cherry-picking evidence, the report does acknowledge past MOX failures as well as highlighting success in France. The UK has a serious problem with the world's largest civil stockpile of separated plutonium. The best way to deal with this is by converting it into MOX fuel. This has been proven to work in France. It will be the job of the commissioners of any new plant in the UK to ensure that the successes are reproduced and the failures learned from.

Professor Roger Cashmore

Chair, Royal Society Working Group on Fuel Cycle Stewardship in a Nuclear Renaissance,

London SW1

When boys will be girls on the stage

Guy Keleny (Errors and Omissions, 8 October) made an unfortunate choice of play to illustrate his argument about the need for (some) gender-specific job names: "Actors and actresses are not interchangeable. Unless you are putting on a wildly experimental production, you will need an actor to play Romeo and an actress for Juliet."

That certainly wasn't the case when Shakespeare wrote the play. A boy who played Juliet at the start of his career might well have found himself beneath the balcony a few years later. Cross-casting of gender roles has never really left the stage – from pantomime to Deborah Warner's productions with Fiona Shaw – experimental, perhaps, but hardly wildly so.

Richard Crowest

Ashford, Kent

In brief...

Government ethics betrayed

One of the principles of a modern democracy is that elected politicians should run the country. Ministers are expected to be independent from any particular business interests.

Ministers are advised by civil servants. In the middle of the 19th century the Civil Service was reformed in order to eliminate graft, nepotism and patronage; exams were introduced and candidates were selected by interview.

I might be asking a bleedin' obvious question, but when was Adam Werritty elected? Or failing that, what exam did he pass and when was he interviewed for the post of "adviser" to the Secretary of State for Defence?

Welcome to Ruritania.

Richard Knights


When Lord Trenchard was the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in the 1930s his advice to any officer accused of malpractice was "Tell the truth immediately". In the light of recent scandals it is difficult to argue.

John Kenny

Acle, Norfolk

Rugby example

Rugby has developed into a hooligans' game for hooligans (letter, 14 October) only in England. The discipline shown by the other home nations, especially the young Welsh side, should be held up as an example to all our youngsters.

Alan Lewendon

Fordingbridge, Hampshire


Your report on confusing road signs (14 October) reminded me of an example I encountered at a T-junction in France. One way was signposted "Toutes Directions", the other "Autres Directions".

Mike Perry

Ickenham, Middlesex

Paper trail

If the paperwork Oliver Letwin has been dumping is not confidential, why isn't he putting in out for recycling?

Mike Shearing

Southall, Middlesex

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