Letters: Wilshaw is right - grammar schools didn’t work

These letters appear in the Tuesday 17th December edition of the Independent

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Tory views of grammar schools have long needed challenging; well done Michael Wilshaw (“Double blow to Tory hopes of a new dawn for grammars”, 16 December).

Of course, as David Davis says, many working-class students achieved success in such schools, and were given opportunities of advancement, but how many were denied one, and instead, given an inferior education in a secondary modern, because a test at the age of 11 had designated them as having no potential? In comprehensive schools, created in the knowledge that students’ intelligence and potential continue to develop after 11, all pupils get an “opportunity”.

Examination results were not as good as they should have been; in my two-form entry grammar school, half of the pupils were immediately written off and put into the B stream, where the teachers were even less enthusiastic, the subjects, naturally, “less academic”, and the results woeful. Wilshaw’s analysis, for once, can be supported by most teachers.

The recent laudation of grammar schools was to be expected because it is increasingly being realised that their return is the whole point, along with personal political ambition, of Gove’s examination reforms; schools with only 20 per cent of their pupils capable of examination success will be forced to adopt less rigorous curricula, whilst schools with 80 per cent will force out the minority so they can concentrate on topping spurious league tables.

Disappointingly, the penny has yet to drop in all political circles, hardly surprising, when so few of our opposition politicians are able to respond to such Tory propaganda, because of their own education in private schools.

Bernie Evans



Poor Sir Michael Wilshaw. How naive. Surely he knows that reactionary, Luddite, mostly Tory MPs, especially Gove, armed with divine intuition and no professional qualification or experience of education, know the “truth” of any educational issue better than scientific research or the overwhelming consensus of qualified, professional educators.

Their messianic mission is to set back the educational clock on the axiomatic principle of “what was good enough for me must be right for everyone else”.

Keith Farman

St Albans, Hertfordshire


Perhaps social mobility has slowed because most of the talent has already moved up.

Robert Davies

London SE3


Voice of sanity amid the ‘war on drugs’

Your Thursday edition included a piece by Owen Jones commending Uruguay’s sensible decision to bring cannabis production, distribution and sale under the control of the state, thereby pulling the carpet from under the murderous crooks who – a futile global “war on drugs” notwithstanding – have grown fat and powerful off the trade for half a century.

Ironically, in the World section of the same edition, a brief paragraph quotes the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board as warning that Uruguay’s decision would “endanger young people” and “contribute to earlier addiction”.  The INCB’s claim might carry a bit more weight were it to explain how this might happen, when the sale of this product is being transferred from street-corner dealers to licensed outlets.

It’s high time that we ignored the many and powerful interests vested in the “war on drugs” (including the UN’s INCB?) and focused instead on managing drugs through state-controlled sale. 

Can we see some intelligent debate on this please, at both the national and international level?  Because the “war on drugs” was lost decades ago, yet the solution is staring us in the face: legalisation. 

Richard Trotman

Penistone, South Yorkshire

Uruguay is the first country brave enough to point out that the emperor wears no clothes. The days when governments can get away with confusing the drug war’s tremendous collateral damage with a comparatively harmless plant are coming to an end. If the goal of cannabis prohibition is to subsidise violent drug cartels, prohibition is a grand success. If the goal is to deter use, cannabis prohibition is a catastrophic failure.

Consider the experience of the former land of the free and current record holder in citizens incarcerated. The United States has double the rate of cannabis use of the Netherlands, where cannabis is legal. The global criminalisation of people who prefer marijuana to martinis has no basis in science. The war on cannabis consumers is a failed cultural inquisition, not an evidence-based public health campaign. Not just in Uruguay but throughout the world, it’s time to stop the arrests and instead tax legal cannabis.

Robert Sharpe

Policy Analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Washington DC

Owen Jones argues for a Uruguayan-type change of policy to legalise cannabis use, possession and supply. I may be about to change my long-held grumpy views, in part thanks to the succinct summary of Prohibition in Bill Bryson’s book One Sumer: America, 1927.

What unlearned lessons: the rise in official and unofficial violence; the public hypocrisy; the inability to enforce effectively; the unintended consequences of increasing the thing being controlled; the opportunities for fortunes to be made illegitimately and poverty to be increased legitimately. It’s time to rethink – thanks, Owen and Bill.

Dan Mace



Snarls and snubs of the rich and famous

Last week we observed photographs of Michelle Obama being supposedly “unamused” at her husband participating in a selfie photo with Cameron and Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Another photo shows Miliband supposedly resenting Clegg being acknowledged by Clinton. Only the most gullible of readers will have believed that a split-second photo capturing a facial expression is an indication of true feelings in either case.

A similar distortion was displayed in ludicrous headlines suggesting that Andy Murray was to “snub” the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards evening in London. Murray is focused on his annual Christmas training regime in Florida, in preparation for his attempt to win the Australian Tennis Championship. He is at the peak of his career and will no doubt have offered his apologies to the BBC. To suggest that his dedication should be interpreted as a snub is an example of the media distorting the facts in order to get a sensational headline.

Euan Holt

Quorn, Leicestershire


The tree that  purifies water

More than 25 years ago the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) published an article in their Unasylva magazine (no. 152: 23-28) about the tree that purifies water. The tree in question is the same Moringa oleifera referred to in your science piece on 9 December.

I came across the article when researching a book about God’s Trees: Trees, forests and wood in the Bible, which was published in October. The seeds of a related species, Moringa peregrina, which occurs in the Sinai, have the same water-cleansing properties and may help explain the perplexing incident of Moses purifying the bitter waters of Marah by throwing in a piece of wood or tree as recorded in Exodus 15:22-25.

Professor Julian Evans

President, Institute of Chartered Foresters

Ellisfield, Hampshire

Barbarity of gender segregation

It is a rare pleasure to find myself agreeing with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, David Cameron and Michael Gove – that segregating audiences by sex at university events if the speaker asks for this is totally unacceptable. Would the CEO of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge, support a speaker who asks for blacks and whites to sit separately? Gay people and straight people? People of different religions? Believers and atheists?

Universities are supposed to be places of enlightenment, not of medieval ignorance and barbarity.

Stanley Knill

London N15


Do go to Wikipedia and see that the University of al-Karaouine in Morocco, possibly the oldest university in the world, was started in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman. End of argument?

Henrietta Cubitt


The law according  to Terry-Thomas?

Being an “incorrigible rogue” has come off the statute books (report, 13 December). Has being a bounder, a stinker, a shower and a cad ever been on the statute books? The answer is probably not, as they are subject to light-touch regulation.

Angelo Micciche

St Erth, Cornwall


Clegg’s hirsute christmas

Nick Clegg’s Christmas card shows him wearing a false Santa Claus beard. It appears that at year end he is intent on underlining just how far he is from the traditional Liberal with a genuine beard.

Keith Flett

London N17