Letters: Forget grammar schools - help the non-academics

The following letters appear in the 17 October edition of the Independent

Independent Voices@IndyVoices
Friday 16 October 2015 17:47

The clamour for more grammar schools misses the point yet again. As a former maths teacher, I can assure your readers that 11 is too early an age at which to separate children. On the other hand, some sort of assessment at 14, when children should be deciding whether to follow an academic path or vocational path for years 10 to 13 (GCSE and A-level years), is more appropriate.

The academically able do well whatever the system; it is the academically low- and average-ability pupils, who have intelligence in other directions, who need the help.

Lord Baker is trying to deal with this problem by setting up a string of vocational colleges for 14- to 18-year-olds.

The ideal system would be to have a three-tier system: primary school – ages four/five to 10 (school years one to five); middle schools – ages 11 to 14 (school years six to nine) and high schools – ages 14 to 18 (school years 10 to 13).

The academically bright have always been socially mobile because they tend to go to university and have better job prospects. It is the non-academic whose social mobility we need to improve by giving them skills in various trades before they leave school.

I always remember a class of 10 boys I taught at GCSE. The bottom set, they couldn’t do maths to save their lives, but every one of them could have sold fridges to eskimos. They should have been out of school two days per week on sales apprenticeships.

Mike Jenkins

Bromley, Greater London

The decision to approve a so-called “satellite” grammar school in Sevenoaks is bad news.

Evidence shows that grammar schools are institutionally discriminatory and harmful to social mobility. Students from low-income families are disproportionately under-represented in these schools, as are disabled students and students from black and ethnic minority families.

Furthermore, grammar schools receive more funding than non-selective schools, taking much needed resources away from those in greater educational need.

Finally, a report produced last year, by the highly regarded Institute of Education, concludes that the earnings of former grammar school students are much higher than the earnings of those who attended non-selective schools.

For the Government to approve what amounts to a new grammar school by stealth, especially in a county with a massive educational attainment gap between its richest and poorest students, is totally unacceptable.

It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago David Cameron, in his speech to the Tory Party conference, declared war on institutional discrimination in society, yet now he hypocritically endorses a system based entirely on this damaging and unfair practice.

My worry is that this decision will open the floodgates to many more grammar school annexes and satellites across the country, serving only to increase educational inequality and restrict yet further social mobility.

Ian Driver

Broadstairs, Kent

How can we judge the success of grammar schools? By judging the far greater economic diversity of MPs’ backgrounds in the House up until 15 years ago.

Conservatives know that grammar schools work, as from 1970 till the 1990s they produced Labour and Tory leaders and ministers who didn’t go to Eton.

Jane Pickard


With the Sevenoaks school “annexe” it looks as though the Tories are trying to outdo Labour at going back to the Sixties.

David Ridge

London N19

Heathrow wrong, Gatwick right

Following Mark Leftly’s article “Air pollution is not the only issue as Corbyn takes off early on Heathrow” (16 October), I would point out that more fuel-efficient aircraft will not solve Heathrow’s air-quality problems, because it is not aircraft that cause the airport to breach legal limits – it is fumes from road vehicles.

Building a new runway at Heathrow will only generate millions of additional vehicle journeys and make the problem worse. Air quality was the issue that stopped Heathrow expansion in the past, and ultimately poor air quality makes it unlawful to build or operate a third runway at Heathrow.

The airport is simply in the wrong place and cannot escape its confines, being surrounded by some of the busiest motorways in Europe.

Gatwick, in contrast, has never breached legal air-quality limits and can guarantee that it never will with a new runway because it is located in a sparsely populated location. The airport’s location also means only a small fraction of the local population will be impacted by noise from a new runway, compared with Heathrow; and that aircraft can “stack” over the sea, rather than above densely populated areas.

Gatwick expansion remains the cleanest, simplest and most cost-effective solution. Crucially, a new runway at Gatwick faces few of the political, environmental and logistical hurdles of Heathrow. If given the green light, it would be operational in just 10 years.

Let’s just get on and build it, rather than circle in an endless, and ultimately fruitless, debate about expanding Heathrow.

Stewart Wingate

Chief Executive Officer, Gatwick Airport

West Sussex

The Great British Maths Problem

While I agree that numeracy is important for everyone, not just professional mathematicians, I think Rhodri Marsden (“Doesn’t add up”, 13 October) misinterpreted Nadiya Hussain’s comments in the finale of The Great British Bake Off about being unable to count.

I saw the show and understood her to be saying that she was so stressed that, at that point, her mind went blank and even the simplest maths felt beyond her. Throughout the show Nadiya accurately carried out calculations of weight, measures and times, and applied these appropriately to different sets and sizes of materials to produce lovely baked goods.

Perhaps more emphasis (especially at an early age) on practical applications of mathematics would lead to greater skill and confidence for many people.

Theresa Saxon

Glen Vine, Isle of Man

Leavis was no misogynist

Whatever the failings of the literary critic F R Leavis, he was not a misogynist. Lucasta Miller’s assertion, in reviewing Christopher Frayling’s book on Angela Carter (Radar, 10 October), that Leavis promoted “an exclusive canon of dead white males” is just plain wrong.

Here’s the opening sentence of his book The Great Tradition: “The great English novelists are Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad.” That’s two women, and two naturalised citizens of the UK, one of whom spoke and wrote English as a second language. I rather suspect that he would have admired the work of Angela Carter – who was, at any rate, ostentatiously aware of her own place in the great tradition.

Andrew Blake

Eastleigh, Hampshire

Curse of the phone zombies

Elizabeth Cain (letter, 15 October) rightly complains about our increasingly crowded pavements, with cyclists and joggers posing a threat to ordinary pedestrians.

She could have mentioned that other 21st-century public annoyance; the ever-growing number of people who shuffle along like zombies, permanently staring down at their phones, compulsively reading or sending the 800th text of the day.

Pete Dorey


Seeing the lights in the blackout

In reply to Penny Joseph’s question about whether the northern lights were visible in Sussex during Second World War blackouts (Letter, 15 October), my uncle and cousin – who were children growing up in Horsham during the war – both confirm that the aurora borealis was seen from their homes during blackouts.

Roger Hewell

Holcombe, Somerset

I remember a splendid view of the green and purple aurora borealis seen from Reading during the blackout, probably 1943 or 1944.

Alistair Milne

Caversham, Reading

Danger of bulky objects in motion

The Mayor of London is working on proposals for ensuring that lorries have all-round visibility to protect vulnerable cyclists.

Perhaps these proposals should be extended to tubby, middle-aged politicians playing rugby with vulnerable children.

Philip Goldenberg


Alternative energy source

If scientists think the megastructure spotted near the star KIC 8462852 is an alien power station, can I switch my tariff off-world?

Ian McKenzie


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