I am no doubt in a minority among New Statesman readers in agreeing with much of what Michael Gove wrote about academy schools (NS Debate, 14 February).
However, in lauding the successes of “sponsored” academies, Gove skates over one fact: that his biggest innovation has been to introduce the non-sponsored “converter” academy. On the basis of little more than a good Ofsted grade, thousands of schools have been cast adrift from local authority support and in effect handed over to their governing bodies and their head teachers. Heads retire, governing bodies change, and “outstanding” schools can quickly become problematic.
Most English secondary schools now have neither a local authority nor an academy sponsor that can be held accountable for underperformance; for these schools, the buck stops only with the overburdened bureaucrats of the Department for Education. That’s a high-risk form of “independence”, likely for many to evolve into heavy-handed centralism.
Lewes, East Sussex
Michael Gove (NS Debate, 14 February) wants “our state schools to compete on equal terms with private schools”. Our local leading private school, the King’s School, charges fees of £8,000 a term for day pupils. Kent County Council’s budget for secondary education is £382m and provides for 170,000 pupils – roughly £2,250 per pupil a year. Considering what an amazing job our schools do on barely a tenth of the private schools’ budget, I’m sure that if Gove were able to manage merely to treble what we spend on the state sector our schools could easily compete on equal terms.
Interesting that Michael Gove cites “provision of character-building extracurricular activities” as one of the positive features of public schools. A shame that the Extended Schools programme, which enabled state schools to provide just such activities, disappeared without trace in 2010. A shame, too, that as secretary of state Gove has presided over extraordinary cuts to local authority funding for youth work.
Michael Gove’s rose-tinted view of so-called public boarding schools sits uneasily with Winston Churchill’s 1930 observation that boys were “flogged until they bled freely, while the rest sat quaking, listening to their screams”.
If the state school system were to copy some of the basic features of private schools more children would be given a better education: a school uniform; the requirement to be present for the register; zero tolerance of bad behaviour, truancy and disrespect; strict attendance from 9am until 4pm; the prohibition of sweets, cigarettes and mobile phones.
These, and not the sense of “privilege”, are the real benefits of private education that could easily be emulated by the state sector.
Of tribal bigots
Richard Evans (“Before the war”, 17 January) dismisses as “absurd” my argument in Standpoint that the British war effort in 1914-18 was morally justified. In passing, he makes a gratuitous point of sneering at the self-importance of me and my “tribe”.
A tribe is a social group. Except where it is bad by definition – say, the tribe of child abusers – it is generally and rightly thought to be illiberal to denigrate a whole social class. Such indiscriminate denigration is an instance of what we call “bigotry”. But with which tribe does Professor Evans identify me? He knows that I belong to the tribe of academics, but then so does he. He also knows that I belong to the sub-tribe of theological academics, who are specified by the fact that they’re religious, probably Christian. Evans’s bigotry, then, is certainly anti-religious, probably anti-Christian. Fortunately, he is shrewd in lining up the objects of his prejudice; for had he chosen Jews, blacks or gays, it would have cost him his job.
Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology
University of Oxford
Poor Rafael Behr! How he praises Labour for GOTV – getting out the vote – in Wythenshawe (Politics Column, 14 February). Labour did win the by-election, but on a pathetic 28 per cent turnout. What has happened to the noble legacy of those suffragette martyrs? What has become of Gladstone’s bustling, thrusting hustings?
Apathy won by a furlong in Wythenshawe. And that bodes ill for the future of parliamentary legitimacy.
Godfrey H Holmes
“Granite-topped” Burrow Mump (“The storm factory”, 14 February)? Igneous activity to steam the Somerset Levels dry? Like its big brother Glastonbury Tor, the Mump is a mix of Lower Lias clays and limestones.
It appears you need another reminder that your readers don’t all live in north London. The phrase “it takes no longer to scramble up the muddy slopes of Burrow Mump than it does Primrose Hill” means nothing to me.
I am home on maternity leave following the birth of our twins. Alice O’Keeffe’s short, snappy and thought-provoking weekly columns (Squeezed Middle) are exactly what I have time to read at the moment. The column allows me to feel connected and considered.
Maria Larsson Ortino
My family and I have been buying the New Statesman for many years and we read your magazine avidly. I would like to know why, other than the occasional article by Bim Adewunmi, you do not have more black writers?