Sir: Rachel Wolf argues that in education policy ‘the trend, from Kenneth Baker onwards, has been towards giving schools autonomy and promoting a system where parents choose schools’ (‘Bad grammar’, 17 September). Unfortunately, freedom from local authority control has been replaced with unprecedented central interference and control. For teachers, the burdens created by Ofsted inspections far outweigh those imposed by councils. In real terms, education spending has doubled since the introduction of the national curriculum in 1988, yet academic standards have at best stayed still.
Wolf cites the success of a few academy chains, ignoring the indifferent performance of most. Her hero Michael Wilshaw has admitted that academies are no better at rescuing failing schools than those under local authority control. The grammar-school issue is almost beside the point: politicians have been shuffling the deckchairs for long enough. Several primary school heads I’ve talked say they don’t have time to even read all the guidance they receive — let alone act on it.
I shall leave the final word to Nick Davies, writing in the Observer 16 years ago: ‘The great irony is that David Blunkett sits in his office, lost in admiration for the success of the private sector, entirely failing to understand that the secret to that success is his own absence from their schools.’
Prof Tom Burkard
Sir: Can those who claim grammar schools lead to greater social division explain why their abolition many decades ago made not the slightest difference to social division? Could it be that the two are unrelated?
It takes a village
Sir: I wish Geoffrey Wheatcroft every success with his village campaign to save his local pub (‘Local heroes’, 10 September). It can be done, and in this village we have done it. Three years ago the Fox and Hounds, which like Wheatcroft’s Packhorse had been a pub for at least a couple of hundred years, was put up for sale with a view to developing it for housing.
The village didn’t want this to happen, and a band of dedicated supporters got together, had it registered as a community asset, formed a village co-operative and raised £250,000 to buy the freehold. This from just 185 inhabitants, who then put in hours of work to help refurbish.
We have found an excellent couple to run the pub and it is now a flourishing enterprise. It serves magnificent food, not only to locals but to a clientele from miles around, and the bar is once again buzzing. So take heart all you threatened villages. If a community our size can do it, so can you.
Alas for the Aga
Sir: Mark Mason’s article on the alleged shortcomings of the Aga (‘Aga can’t’, 17 September) reminded me of my own saga. When my now-wife moved in I had an ancient Aga in my kitchen, a cat and a large pile of unopened brown envelopes, including fuel bills, in the hallway. I loved that Aga. It was a fine companion: a bit world-weary, bits of it didn’t function any longer; it had an endearing unpredictability.
It was a great comfort in a cold north Yorkshire winter. My elderly cat adored it. We luxuriated in the kitchen of an evening, the two of us, radio and wine to hand.
The error of my ways was pointed out to me by the newcomer. The ingrained remains of a thousand roast dinners, the unpredictable correlation between quantities cooked and time required. The relationship between the size of my direct debit to the energy supplier and the fact that I was heating the rest of the town by opening windows in the warmer seasons.
Sensing defeat, I resolved matters by rejecting all the arguments against my Aga, but making the concession that there were environmental grounds for replacement.
It went to a good home, I hope. Two men came to dismantle it and take it away. My cat and I watched in shared forlornness as the kitchen slowly lost its warmth. A shiny new cooker arrived. I never knew its name.
Sir: Having tackled HS2 (‘The vanity line’, 27 August), Ysenda Maxtone Graham might be kind enough now to turn her attention to Crossrail 2, which is currently very much under the radar. My home town of Wimbledon is facing the destruction of its town centre and years of upheaval to accommodate this equally pointless project.
Sir: One of the strangest major alterations to history, of which James Delingpole complains in his review of Victoria (Arts, 17 September), makes the Queen’s coronation exactly contemporary with the death of Lady Flora Hastings. The Queen had acceded to the throne in 1837 and the Hastings scandal came in 1839. Lady Flora died on 5 July of that year.
Rock on, Heri
Sir: Heavy metal singer Heri Joensen makes a powerful case for whale hunting, but is wrong to assume that his music would not appeal to Spectator readers (‘Save the whale-hunt!’, 3 September). I enjoy heavy metal and particularly liked ‘Rainbow Warrior’, Mr Joensen’s musical denunciation of environmental eco-fascists.
David T.C. Davies MP