Letters: Why abolish excellent schools?


Tuesday 15 May 2012 19:50 BST

Laurie Penny in her article on private schools (12 May) makes a number of very good points. It is true that in our current society it does matter how much money your parents have, and that this money can buy a pupil the best teachers and the smallest classes.

Surely the solution to this problem is not to abolish the excellent private school system, which churns out the brightest and most able pupils in the country – as pointed out in the article – but rather to take the lessons learnt in independent schools and apply them to state schools. Smaller class sizes and better trained, better paid, more enthusiastic teachers are both more effective, and cheaper, than spending millions of pounds on new school buildings and computer systems that look brilliant and yet have no impact on what stays in between a child's ears.

The "social capital" mentioned in the article, essentially a belief in one's own abilities rather than some mystical right connected to one's parents' financial endowment, is only exclusive to private school pupils because the state system is not set up to provide it. I fail to see how the abolition of private schools proposed can hope to remedy this situation.

Oliver Jackson


The article by Laurie Penny on private education contained a photograph of some pupils at a private school with the caption "Money can buy the best teachers and the smallest classes". The part about smaller classes may be true but there is utterly no evidence that teachers in private schools are better. They simply have an easier job: smaller classes and cherry-picked pupils.

The fact that staff in my school regularly achieve top GCSE grades from children of all abilities and motivation suggests an astonishing level of teaching skill. Private school teachers are better? I would love to see how well they would cope in a mainstream comprehensive like mine, where I have outstanding teachers performing daily miracles.

I'll never know of course: in seven years as a headteacher I have not received a single application for a teaching post from a teacher in a private school. Clearly they have no incentive to take on a more challenging job.

Ben Warren

Headteacher, Summerhill School, Dudley, West Midlands

Laurie Penny failed to make clear the main reason why so many public school pupils reject their privileged background. This is the social divisiveness that this system inculcates.

In no way is this alleviated by private schools creaming off the brightest children from the state sector in order to make it appear that there is some justice in this system. Until all of us decide to use the schools in our locality and demand the standards all children deserve, social divisions will continue to be exacerbated.

I wonder how the new head of Ofsted feels about this built-in inequality; we certainly know about Mr Gove's view. He'd like to privatise the lot. How come I voted Lib Dem to join in this appalling policy?

Robert Hammersley

Cuckfield, West Sussex

Laurie Penny notes: "But this year when, yet again, around 50 per cent of Oxbridge undergraduates will be chosen from a private school system that educates just 7 per cent of the population, I won't be surprised." She might be surprised to learn, however, that in fact at Oxford only 42 per cent of the latest intake of UK students came from private schools, and Oxford has had a majority of state-educated students for many years.

Her article comes on the heels of a report showing that only a minority of state-school teachers even know that more than 50 per cent of students at Oxbridge are from the state sector. With articles like Ms Penny's relying heavily on negative stereotypes of Oxbridge, it's hard to blame teachers in the state sector for not encouraging more of their brightest pupils to apply here.

We at Oxford are more determined than ever to continue our outreach work with teachers and schools, but misperceptions and incorrect facts about admissions are a hurdle we must struggle to overcome.

Mike Nicholson

Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Oxford University

British Jews eager for peace in the Middle East

I was shocked and appalled at Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's unsubstantiated remarks concerning British Jewry: "Large numbers of enlightened British Jews see the double standards and object to Israel's intransigence. It must be so hard to do what they do, behave with integrity and empathise with those they are instructed to hate." (Opinion, 14 May)

Where does she get her evidence that British Jews are "instructed to hate" Palestinians? It appears that it is Alibhai-Brown's readers who are being instructed to hate Israel!

A 2010 survey of the community revealed that four-fifths of respondents said that Israel plays a central or important role in their Jewish identities, while, significantly, Jews in Britain clearly desire peace, and are eager to see the Israeli government take steps to achieve it – this in spite of the Palestinians refusal to negotiate and continual bombardment.

Carolann Martys

Haslemere. Surrey

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is to be thanked for her strong criticism of Israel's policy of "administrative detention", internment without trial or release date, on the basis of secret evidence.

Israel pleads in mitigation that it is only following the lead given by the British during the mandate period. Britain at that time was the colonial power and administrative detention is the resource of choice for colonial powers. Thus does Israel conform to type.

Israel boasts that its illegal wall has given it unprecedented security. So it is stretching credulity to believe its protestations that the prisoners it holds within its territory, in violation of the Geneva Convention, are a security threat. Rather they seem to be political prisoners, held because of their beliefs.

In our view the behaviour of Israel with respect to the political prisoners does not conform to Jewish ethics or values; and those who paint Israel's critics in this matter as anti-Semites show the bankruptcy of their arguments.

Diana Neslen

Jews for Justice for Palestinians

London W9

Send Stubbs to Liverpool

While I share some of Mary Dejevsky's concerns that Tate Britain may have "lost its way" (2 May) it is erroneous to conclude that the opening of branches at St Ives and Liverpool has somehow weakened its impact. Quite the reverse, in fact, though St Ives had the advantage of a strong "school" around which to build a semi-permanent display.

Alan Bowness, the Tate's former director, who deserves credit for laying the groundwork for Tate Modern, made a critical error in failing to devolve responsibilities for parts of the Tate's permanent collection to Liverpool, being content to operate it purely as a venue for temporary exhibitions and related outreach activities.

Whereas the Science Museum has well-defined specialist branches in York (rail), Bradford (media) and most recently Manchester (science and industry), Liverpool's Tate appears to have no permanent curators, only exhibition staff and related functions. In these straitened times it would make good business sense to devolve collections (and their curators) to a lower-cost environment such as Merseyside rather than struggling to house them in London.

So, for starters, why not bring the full range of the Tate's holdings of George Stubbs to Tate Liverpool on permanent display, where they could be enjoyed along with their counterparts at the Walker and Lady Lever art galleries?

John Edmondson

Wirral, Merseyside

Blame the banks, not Labour

Recent letters (2 and 3 May) have ascribed all the economic difficulties inherited by the present government to the actions of the previous one. This is wrong. All countries have experienced problems, including the US which during the period was governed by Bush administration – and ours were far from being worse than everybody else's.

The writers of these letters ignore the statistics: public-sector net debt as a percentage of GDP fell (41.9 per cent to 35.7 per cent) between 1997 and 2007 and the current budget deficit as a percentage of GDP, from 2.7 per cent to 0.3 per cent. These improvements, and others, were wiped out only in the years 2008-11 by the reduction in GDP and by the measures necessary to counter the world's worst economic crash since the 1930s.

This crash was caused not by our government or anybody else's but by a spectacular malfunctioning of the world's financial systems. Where the previous government can be criticised is that it failed to regulate those systems enough to prevent that malfunctioning.

Yes, these dangers should have been spotted – but name the politician then in opposition who criticised the Government for under-regulation of business and argued for more rules and controls.

John Elwin

Cheadle, Cheshire

In praise of real local government

As Mr Sedgwick-Jell may well know (letter, 9 May), his excellent prescription for local-government reform closely follows the unitary authority scheme in Derek Senior's memorandum of dissent from the majority report of the Royal Commission on Local Government (1969).

Urban parishes should certainly play a minor but important role, as rural parish councils already do, maintaining open spaces for recreation, vetting applications for permission to develop in the locality, keeping footpaths clear and drawing attention to highway and street lighting defects – these are some of the more important tasks, all or mostly undertaken by the councillors themselves and without remuneration.

Parish councils are the only part of local government that should be celebrated rather than reformed.

K P Poole


Now we are all criminals

I have learned today that if I smoke in my car in Ireland I can be arrested and fined. I have also learned that I will have to be a millionaire to drink in Scotland, and will soon have to be one in England too. All this against a backdrop of huge international crises, wars, starvation, unemployment, pollution, disease. It is good to know that the various governments are so serious about protecting their population from themselves by criminalising everyday behaviour.

D J Owen

Wexford, Ireland

Economic case for gay marriage

Philip Hammond says we should focus on things that matter, such as jobs, rather than on legislating for gay marriage. More gay marriages mean more wedding celebrations, stag nights, hen nights, boost to the fashion industry, bling, honeymoons, taxis, car hire, wedding presents, and a possible boost to the housing market. Mr Hammond should be promoting gay marriage if he is sincere about helping the economy.

Paul Mason

Teddington, Middlesex

Cricket score

Maybe William D Hall (Letters, 15 May) should consider that perhaps cricket writer Stephen Brenkley, in counting 75 years from 1947 to 2012, was using the Duckworth-Lewis system.

David Markham

Canberra, Australia

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