Why girls do better
Sir: Isabel Hardman notes that girls now outperform boys at every level in education (‘The descent of man’, 3 May), implying that this is a symptom of a wider cultural malaise.
In fact, boys lost their edge in 16+ exams in 1970, long before their advantages in other areas began to disappear. ‘Child-centred’ reforms were already well advanced when the infamous Plowden report was published in 1967, and informal practices such as ‘discovery learning’ and ‘whole language’ gave girls a decided edge. This was conclusively demonstrated in trials conducted between 1997 and 2005 by the Scottish Office. Children who were taught to read with a rigorous phonics programme outperformed controls by such a wide margin that New Labour was forced to abandon its vaunted National Literacy Strategy. But even more significantly, boys outperformed girls: they clearly thrived in a formal setting where learning objectives were clear and consistent.
Unfortunately, child-centred practices are so deeply engrained in our teacher-training industry that attempts to replicate the Scottish success in English schools have not been uniformly successful. Nor does it help that our 11+ English reading tests reward emotional intelligence: in 2009, 23 out of a possible 50 points were awarded for correctly predicting how fictional characters might have felt or acted.
Prof Tom Burkard
Renewables are the future
Sir: I don’t always agree with everything in The Spectator, but I have always respected your views. Until I read your irresponsible editorial (‘Green and unpleasant’, 3 May). Climate change is not a bandwagon but a reality. What you dismissively call ‘the green industry’ is not racketeering but people trying to do something constructive.
I have farmed on Bodmin Moor for 54 years. I have a virtually invisible wind turbine and a completely invisible field array of photovoltaic panels, which between them generate the equivalent of 35 houses’ annual electricity consumption. We have also driven our electric van 24,000 miles at no cost (and with no carbon emissions), except for a new set of tyres. To achieve this I have mortgaged my house and it will be a long time before I get my money back, but I believe it is the right thing to do. Renewables are already contributing 15 per cent to the National Grid — not ‘pitifully little’ — and they must be the way ahead. The target for 2020 is 34 per cent. To promote the continued use of fossil fuels is Luddite and dangerous.
The parking tax
Sir: I was bemused to see Cllr Devenish boast that Westminster has the lowest council tax in England (Letters, 3 May). He failed to mention that the shortfall is made up by parking charges paid from the pockets of visitors and residents alike. This year, weary motorists will be paying Westminster City Council £52 million, and the cost of a resident’s parking permit is up by 23 per cent since 2012. This money contributes to the £111 million Westminster has spent on emergency housing in hotels since 2010, an issue directly attributable to this government presiding over the lowest level of housebuilding since the 1920s. One hopes readers in Knightsbridge and Belgravia will carefully consider the option of electing a rather more recalcitrant set of Labour candidates later this month.
Labour candidate, Knightsbridge and Belgravia, London SW1
My fury at Morley
Sir: In his review of my book In Search of Gielgud: A Biographer’s Tale (‘Hamlet without the prince’, 3 May), Keith Baxter presents a distorted view of crucial elements in the story. My fury with Sheridan Morley was not, as he suggests, provoked by Gielgud’s decision to nominate him as his authorised biographer, but by his disreputable behaviour in trying to prevent mine from being published. Nor did I try to ‘elicit an interview with the great man’, since Gielgud gave his initial blessing to my alternative biography on the basis that I would not need to do so. Baxter also suggests that Morley was ‘regarded with real affection within the profession’. This was by no means a unanimous sentiment. His fellow critics certainly saw him differently, as one told me after reading the book: ‘Every single theatre critic I know had an “event” with him, though yours seemed particularly personal and agonising. Well done for putting it on the public record.’
Ukip’s moral position
Sir: Hugo Rifkind tries to imply that Ukip is racist at heart (‘Why do racists like Ukip?’, 3 May). He rightly argues that ‘anti-immigrant sentiment is horrid, damaging and terrifying’. Ukip would agree, because what is central to its message is opposition to unrestricted immigration. For as long as the UK is a member of the EU, we have no control over our borders or who moves here from other EU countries. Ukip is not anti-immigrant, but anti-unrestricted immigration. This is a moral and honourable position to take and cannot be described as racist. The other political parties can always choose to follow suit.
Religion for atheists
Sir: Arthur Gukhasian writes (Letters, 3 May) that ‘we can’t be a Christian country just because we don’t like the alternatives’. But why not? There are no degrees of falsity in religions — all are equally false — but there are many degrees of nastiness. In the scheme of things, given that some kind of faith for most people seems to be an evolutionary necessity, the Via Media Anglicana of the Church of England is positively charming and to be cherished. Faute de mieux, why can’t we atheists embrace and defend her?
Julian Malins QC