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30 August 2023

Letter of the week: Curriculum for transformation

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

Your leader of 25 August concludes with a call for a “genuine transformation” of the education system in order to make it more equal. However, before any transformation can be effected, we need to abandon the idea that the chief purpose of education is competitive personal advancement, and replace it with the idea that education is a public good which benefits us all. As to what measures would be genuinely transformative:

1. Make fee-paying schools illegal, except in special circumstances, and end selection at 11. Finland has done this without detriment to its standards.

2. Abandon the academy system, restore accountability and ensure that, as far as possible, all schools have an academically and socially balanced intake. 

3. Turn teaching into a profession, rather than a skill best learned “on the job”.

4. Abandon the obsession with public examinations and replace them with continuous assessment carried out by teachers properly trained on how to do it.

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THANK YOU

5. Rebalance the curriculum away from “Gradgrindery” and towards creativity.

6. Fund education properly.
Michael Pyke, the Campaign for State Education, Lichfield, Staffordshire

Education, education, education

There is a stubborn attainment gap between private and state school students (Leader, 25 August). Educational inequalities are rising, not falling. That gap will never be closed until resources and other conditions for state education match those for independent education.  But let’s be honest, that will never happen without an impossible degree of socioeconomic change. The gap can only be closed by the abolition of either private education or state education. Should we scrap one, or even perhaps the other?
Prof Colin Richards, former HM Inspector of Schools, Spark Bridge, Cumbria

The use of “reforms” to describe the actions of Michael Gove while education secretary is a misnomer. I seem to remember his imposition of a 1950s prep school curriculum being compared to Lucrezia Borgia’s effect on home catering.
John Gibbs, former headteacher (1983-2014), Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

Lorna Finlayson presents “a case for student salaries” (Diary, 25 August), but aren’t they exactly what previous generations had? Back then they were called grants. 
Steve Morley, Hampton, Greater London

Testimonies

That was a brilliant piece from Pippa Bailey on the Plymouth Brethren (Cover Story, 25 August): a great blend of investigation, narrative and testimony. More like that, please.
Josiah Mortimer, Brixton, Greater London

I withdrew from the Brethren in May 1998. Twenty-five years later, despite professed great changes within the church, we still have two daughters and six grandchildren who are prevented from having a normal relationship with their grandparents.
Ken Wallis, Western Australia

Poor conservation

Suella Braverman was bound to be not “an asset to the Prime Minister, but a liability” (Politics, 25 August). The Public Administration Select Committee said the leaking of restricted material, which she admitted, should have been punished by a “significant sanction”. With such a record it is unsurprising that she is attracted by the idea of withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, drafted by her distinguished predecessor, David Maxwell Fyfe. Tories are supposed to improve the institutions under which we are governed, not undermine them.
Alistair Cooke, House of Lords

A more fitting tribute

As someone who lost many family members, I was involved in assessing the shortlisted designs for the Holocaust memorial and learning centre, to be located in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament (The Public Square, 25 August). Some were beautiful, eloquent and unobtrusive, so I was appalled when David Adjaye’s hulking monstrosity was chosen. It would dwarf the other memorials there. Why not a statue of Miep Gies, who at immense personal risk, sheltered the Frank family in Amsterdam?
Vera Lustig, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Democracy’s not for everyone

Robert Kaplan’s “The Struggle for Order” (18 August) demolishes the ridiculous idea that democracy is suitable for all societies: it can’t even supply competent governance in the US and UK. And he is right to point to overpopulation as a primary cause of the biosphere crisis, which will involve mass migrations greater than those we get worked up about today.
Dr Geoffrey Harper, Hereford

Expensive tastes

Would that I were sufficiently down and out to afford £4.90 for Camembert (Down and Out, 25 August).
Chris Faux, Totteridge, London

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This article appears in the 30 Aug 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Tax Con