The Spectator

Feedback | 25 June 2005

Readers respond to recent articles published in <i>The Spectator</i>

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Sixth sense

Anthony Seldon is quite right about exams (‘More exams, less education’, 18 June). A-levels since 2000 have encouraged hoop-jumping, no more so than in his own subject, history. But he is wrong to be so resigned about AS-levels; contrary to assumptions made by leaders in the overwhelming majority of schools, there is no need to submit pupils to these exams at 17, which has created the tyrannical sequence of 16, 17, 18+ exams which he so deplores. At Radley we have used our independence to avoid AS-levels at 17; we do all the exams, AS and A2, at 18+ as if they were the old A-levels. Our boys have an old-fashioned Lower Sixth summer term to spread themselves intellectually and to play their games. In the Second Year Sixth they are more mature, they have a perspective across the whole of their sixth-form work, they have had two months’ more teaching unencumbered by Lower Sixth exams and retakes, and they do very well in consequence. Nor is there an excessive burden of exams at the end.

We recommend this unorthodox approach; it is a lead Anthony Seldon should consider following.

Andrew Reekes

Radley College,


I heartily endorse Anthony Seldon’s article. For ten years I taught at a college of further education, a state grammar, and an independent girls’ school. My subjects were variously International Baccalaureate, GCSE and A-level economics, also A-level business studies. For three years I marked A-level economics for Edexcel.

What Mr Seldon writes is true. Further, in my case, I met a wall of resistance from bright pupils whenever I tried to encourage them to think independently outside the exam curriculum. Intellectual corruption infests the ministry, the exam system, the schools, and the work of teachers and pupils. With this comes the corruption of discipline. The role of the teacher in the life of the pupil is not properly understood. I left the profession three years ago.

Peter Harrison

London SW13

Sex and Google

I add to the Google debate so well described by John Naughton (‘The engine that runs the world’, 18 June). As of today there are 7,110,000 references to ‘children, sex, photographs’ (which I didn’t open), many of which advertise ‘free sex pictures’ and the like. Google’s motto is ‘Do no harm.’ When I wrote to Google some time ago noting that such pictures are a crime in the UK and must be scenes of torture as well, they answered, ‘We don’t censor.’ But they have removed items to which Beijing objected.

Jonathan Mirsky

London W11

Levin’s mighty pen

Can there be anything sadder than Elisabeth Anderson’s Diary news (18 June) that Bernard Levin is to be remembered with a flat stone? Flat? I was a humble sub-editor on the Daily Mail when Bernard would sweep into the office, in a splendid operatic cloak, to deliver his theatre reviews (always concise, always beautifully constructed). I was also the unfortunate subeditor on the night that Bernard decided that he would prove that, with the judicious use of the semi-colon, an opening paragraph could extend to anything he wanted. This was in the days when the opening paragraph was set in a larger type than those that followed.

Result: Bernard’s introduction swallowed up all the space allowed for his review, leaving no room at all for whatever followed. How we solved this problem I can’t remember: probably the use of descending point sizes that became a vogue around that time in Fleet Street. Whatever, Bernard still turned up with his magnum of champagne specifically ‘for the subeditors’ that Christmas.

Flat? Not Bernard Levin!

Neil Swindells

By email

Dangers of dope

David Hockney’s letter (18 June) is a good deal further off the mark than Eric Ellis’s original article. To us in the decadent, morally relativistic West, 20 years might seem rather harsh for smuggling marijuana. But that was the law of the country Schapelle Corby was visiting. As they say, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. What’s more, his assertion that marijuana is harmless, based on his personal experience, is risibly feeble. Next he’ll be telling us that, as he’s been smoking tobacco for 50 years, it too must be harmless. Marijuana contains a number of carcinogenic and mutagenic chemicals, and in any case is normally smoked with tobacco, whose inimical character must be known even to so generous an apologist as Mr Hockney. But marijuana’s more insidious effects, those on mental health, are now at last beginning to gain prominence. I can attest to these unpleasant and dangerous effects, from personal experience.

Edward Collier



Gay means bad

I have just read Rod Liddle’s splendid piece on Millwall’s being guilty when proved innocent (‘A city above suspicion’, 18 June). Alas, he is slightly out of date. Just as ‘evil’ and ‘wicked’ mean good in some quarters, in similar quarters — mostly young males — ‘gay’ means ‘bad’, as in rubbish.

Stephen Paxton

Hampton Hill,