Half the heat would be removed from the grammar schools debate if everyone stopped using the term “failure” for children whose abilities are less academic than those who pass the 11-plus selection.
I was thrilled when I passed back in the 1950s and at my grammar school (the same one that shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott attended a few years later) met and mixed with new friends, most of whom came from lower-middle- or working-class families, like my own. We could never have afforded private education. I am fully appreciative of all that I learned there, but I was, and still am, hopeless at sport and needlework, and am no good at all at plumbing or electrical wiring, which would be hugely useful skills to have – rather more so than rusty Latin.
So have ideas and technology developed since the 11-plus days that we recognise that all skills differ and all have their value and their place in today's world? Education, in all schools, from nursery to sixth-form, has also changed along with our ideas on many social issues. No one is a failure, or a success, for that matter, at the age of 11.
I’m usually sympathetic with the views of Janet Street-Porter (As a working-class person who benefited hugely from grammar school, I hope more children are allowed that opportunity, 14 April), but fear we’d fall out over promoting grammar schooling.
She tells of her own success at age 11 and her rite of passage into selective education; however, those of us – the majority – who flopped the 11-plus (11-minus in our case), were condemned to feel a sense of failure.
Fortunately, I was sent to one of the new-fangled comprehensives (Malory School, Downham), but one where well-defined streaming allowed me at age 14 to move into a more challenging intellectual environment within the same school.
But Janet and I can still agree on one aspect of secondary education: what I valued as much as my opportunity eventually to experience the intellectual challenge of grammar-like schooling was that I also had a good technical education – these were the days when government invested in facilities for teaching engineering, woodwork, cookery, etc.
Fitting the criteria
The gap in the centre ground of British politics (The country is crying out for an opposition worthy of the name, Editorial, 16 April) could be filled by an amalgamation of Labour and the Greens, although whether either party would want this is doubtful. Even if they agreed to it, they then would have to work out a way to get coverage of their policies in an overwhelmingly Tory supporting media.
But absolutely essential to their success would be finding a leader who looks like a headmistress (not, of course, a geography teacher, like Corbyn) or an old Etonian. A considerable section of the British electorate seems to accept nothing else. When they have this, they are satisfied, and do not trouble themselves about policies.
In defence of the NHS
Referring to your article about the NHS (Why can't we admit to ourselves that the NHS is one of the most overrated, inefficient systems in the world?, 14 April). I will tell you what makes the NHS special: it is the reinforcement of the concept of mutual obligation that it inspires. It is not run, at least in principle, as a vehicle for shareholder dividend, but for the benefit of all.
A burning problem
Owen Paterson’s calamitous ignorance and wilful disregard of the abundant objective evidence of environmental problems (Government ‘preparing to scrap EU’s green energy targets after Brexit’, 15 April), shared by many right-wing ideologues here and in the US especially, bodes ill for everyone.
“It's distorting the whole energy market. It's like the Sheriff of Nottingham – it transfers money from my poorest constituents to my wealthiest constituents, who are putting up pointless wind turbines heavily subsidised” says Paterson.
The market is clearly a failure in dealing with the problems we face because it is wholly controlled by vested interests which rely on causing further damage for profit – fossil fuels and nuclear are even more heavily subsidised than wind and impoverishing his constituents to much greater effect.