Last week, the Sunday Times published a letter from a group of concerned individuals – it included Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector, so you know where they are coming from – advocating the reintroduction of grammar schools. This is a recurring piece of educational nonsense (no one pledges themselves to lead the fight for new secondary moderns), to which I wrote a letter of reply:
The idea of re-establishing grammar schools is (as Tim Vine said of crime in multi-storey car-parks) wrong on so many levels. There is no evidence that it would raise quality. The leading international systems are all nonselective. Northern Ireland, which has retained selection, falls behind England in PISA ranking; indeed, selective areas of England perform to a mediocre standard, and have a particularly poor record in staying-on rates. The idea that grammar schools favour working class children has been disproved. Research from the Institute of Education shows grammar schools increase inequality, and in selective areas, poor children do particularly badly at GCSE. The idea that creating selective schools aids choice is plainly nonsense: the moment selection is introduced, parents who wish their children to go together to a local comprehensive school have that choice removed. And they can’t choose a grammar school if they’ve ‘failed’ the 11+.
There is an increasing consensus that educational policy should be guided by evidence rather than by passing enthusiasms or saloon-bar wisdom. In this case, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests re-introducing selection would be a mistake.
This was not published. I don’t mind about that – I am not the country’s leading educational thinker, and there are fine organisations working to defend and develop state education in better ways than I can. What I was upset about was that there was no reply at all on the grammar school theme, apart from a minor squib about the success of Indian kids getting in to them. I am sure that the editor will have received a substantial number of letters of response, yet not one was chosen for publication. In my view, a serious paper – especially one with claims to be the national paper of record – should not be setting hares off and then allowing no space for rebuttal. It’s not quite at the same thing as a personal right of reply, but in some ways it is more important. We’re talking here about the future of generations of children, rather than the reputation of one individual, and that shouldn’t be left to the unchallenged rambles of saloon-bar reactionaries.
There’s a bit of a phoney war going on about the extraordinary Sea of Red memorial at the Tower of London. It’s an art construction that plants one poppy for every British and Commonwealth person who died in the First World War – over 800,000 of them. I rather like it, and so do the public: there are reports of queues across Tower Bridge to see it. This has not stopped the Daily Mail from taking the opportunity of a rather precious review to do its normal ‘right is patriotic, left is treacherous’ rant.
Hmmm. Let’s just remind ourselves that the owner of the Daily Mail was a great admirer of Hitler, and that the Daily Mail published articles in favour of the fascist Mosley. Let’s remember, too, that when those who fought in the Second World War were asked to vote on the country’s future, they gave a resounding victory to the Labour Party. And can I add a small footnote of my own. Checking through the bookshelf of an aging relative, I came across a reproduction of a 1941 edition of Picture Post, a historic magazine. It reports the following:
“Tom Hopkinson, the editor of Picture Post in 1941, wrote later ‘Early in the war a dispute arose between those who said Britain should have war aims, and those who said “get on with the fighting and think about that afterwards”. Churchill was against talking about war aims, fearing the argument might breach national unity. But papers such as Picture Post, which was receiving hundreds of letters from men and women in the armed forces, knew what they were thinking. They were ready to fight, but wanted to know what they were fighting for. One of the things they were not fighting for was two million unemployed living on £2 a week or less (the situation at the outbreak of war in 1939).’
Now then. You can go on the web to discover that £2 in 1939 was worth £117.40 in today’s money. Today, Job Seekers’ Allowance will yield “up to” £72.40. And, even using the flaky official figures, there are still 2m unemployed. So it may be worth remembering not just those who were killed and injured in the war, but the hopes they were fighting for. And still haven’t got.
Just a brief note to widen an amusing exchange between me and some old school mates. Sharing the normal geriatric distaste for media and managerial cant, we competed to name the introduction to a TV or radio show that would make us reach for the off-switch in the fastest time.
My early entry – which I actually heard a few years back – was “And now, live from Slough …”. I don’t know what the programme was, because I had switched off/over before it became evident.
The actor Chris Addison tweeted a good example – “In this show, I’m on a mission … “ – which is a fair warning to you that some semi celeb with not the slightest claim to expertise in anything apart from drawing attention to themselves is about to mess up a history or geography programme. “I’m on a journey …” is another nominee for awfulness.
Another pal suggests that the most depressing words on television are.. “and my Special Guests tonight are Gwyneth Paltrow, David Beckham, and Billy Connolly”. But he reports a local contact who believes – probably out of wicked bias – that “the most depressing thing on television is any news item introduced by the words “David Cameron today joined the debate on …”, asking “whether there’s anything this shiny-faced spiv doesn’t have some fatuous or populist opinion on?”.
And then there is “On FM, the Daily Service”.
What would make you leap for the zapper ? Any entries ?