Letters - Talent spotting

Your analogy between the improvement in the speed of running the mile and the rise in passes and A grades at A-level (Leader, 23 August) is fatuous. The reason that "it is not suggested that the mile has since got shorter or that stopwatches have been rigged" is that these hypotheses can be disproved and alternative explanations are credible. By contrast, it is impossible to show conclusively that a child who has received her A-level results this month would, had she been reared, educated and examined under the regime of, say, 20 years ago, have then obtained a higher or lower grade. Too many factors have changed: teaching and examining methods, syllabus content, range of subjects available and teenage culture.

As well as being an incentive to learn, exams enable us to distinguish between students' abilities. The market place in higher education and employer recruitment both depend upon such discrimination. Your suggestion that a super-A grade should be rejected as elitist could be applied with equal validity to exam grades as a whole. If we gave A grades to all candidates, it would give full rein to your principle of "spreading talent more widely": we could have a good scattering of dunderhead surgeons and intellectual refuse operatives.

Ray Brown
Nedderton, Northumberland

David Miliband, the schools standards minister, trumpets education's ever-increasing success in developing students' intelligence. So, I assume that, in comparison with previous generations, today's young are more intellectually curious, more discerning, more engaged in the political and cultural life of their community; and that the infantilisation of our celebrity-crazed media is deeply repugnant to them.


Vera Lustig
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

This article first appeared in the 30 August 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Bush, the working class hero