The Spectator

Letters | 6 April 2017

Also: private school myths; Miliband and refugees; the SNP’s votes; Brexit, So, audioguides and Thomas

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All-round education

Sir: While much of Ross Clark’s analysis of the direction that independent education has taken is spot on (‘A hard lesson is coming’, 1 April), he could not be more wrong on one issue. Many (or even most) parents who choose a private education for their children do not do so simply to achieve top academic outcomes: one look at the results league tables would disabuse him of this notion. What the average independent school does deliver is a rounded education (drama, sport, singing, D of E, CCF, debating and so on) with an emphasis on self-reliance, character and values, and competitive reward systems which acknowledge success rather than mediocrity.

If state schools matched these elements, they might genuinely signal the end of the road for the independent sector.

N.H. Eeles


Private school myths

Sir: The average fee for a private day school is £13,500 a year; for half of schools the fees are less than that. A third of pupils have some kind of fee reduction, and the average independent-school family is a middle-class dual-income household, where the salary of one parent pays the school fees (‘A hard lesson is coming’, 1 April).

Recent Sutton Trust research confirmed that parents who want their children to go to the best state schools are paying a huge house-price premium — so these days, even good quality state education costs parents a great deal.

Last year, independent schools spent £33 million on means-tested free places (100 per cent bursaries) and an additional £31 million on means-tested fee reductions of over 75 per cent. At Oxford University, 30 per cent of entrants in receipt of a bursary (students with a household income of £16,000 or less) were educated in private schools.

Most independent schools are charities and make only a small surplus every year (for evidence, see the Charity Commission annual returns). Most do not have extensive grounds or facilities. So although the media tends to focus on large and famous boarding schools, these are not typical.

Barnaby Lenon

Chairman, Independent Schools Council

London SW1

The refugee question

Sir: We all know what promotes trade, self-reliance and independence: property rights, enforceable contracts and law enforcement. In his letter of last week on solving the refugee crisis, (Letters, 1 April) David Miliband did not mention these — perhaps because he sees clients and dependents when he looks at poor countries.

Instead of promoting those facilitators, he wants subsidies, as he makes clear in his letter. This is not an attractive stance for a failed politician paid by an NGO at the rate that he enjoys.

Andrew Smith

Epping, Essex

Mismatched fighters

Sir: Like Damian Reilly, I used to be a boxing fan in my younger days and watched many greats of all weights of the Ali era (‘Fighting chance’, 8 April). Even then I disliked the increasingly frequent mismatches, where ‘opponents’ were used as cannon fodder by well-known boxers. Having seen at first hand the effects of brain damage, I feel more strongly now. Consider the litany of boxing champions who have succumbed to conditions caused by repeated blows to the head. That is bad enough, but at least in boxing, opponents cannot be held down and repeatedly punched in the head. Cage-fighting may excite, but it is not sport; it panders to the spectators’ testosterone-fuelled bloodlust.

Floyd Mayweather has a great record — but his opponents listed by Reilly were well past it or of limited skill. He is cynical enough to only take on opponents he is sure he can beat. McGregor will get a good payout, but if he were any good he would have made it to the boxing ring already.

John Van der Gucht

Cross Hills, Yorkshire

So over it

Sir: I felt great relief at reading John Newman’s letter on the trend for starting sentences with ‘So’ (Letters, 1 April) and realising I was not alone in being driven mad by this substitute for ‘Well’. I recently counted five during one interview.

Another horror is being told we’re ‘heading through’ the week ahead by weather forecasters, who, I’ve noticed, seem very prone to mangling the language.

Paul Whitfield

Mickleton, Glos

Audioguide delights

Sir: I warmly endorse Ysenda Maxtone Graham’s views on the pleasures of the gallery audioguide (‘A word in your ear’, 1 April). In addition to the benefits she describes, I would add the vital role played by the commentary in blocking out the remarks that so many feel impelled to impart to their companion or to the world in general on touring an exhibition. Gushes regarding ‘fearless use of colour’ or boasts of the ‘of course this doesn’t compare to the one we saw in the Ca’ Rezzonico’ variety can be muffled out of consciousness.

Peter Stoker


The hospital of St Thomas

Sir: I would not for one moment dare to challenge Dot Wordsworth on any syntactical or grammatical point; however, I remember most distinctly being taught by our rather pukka chaplain at school that the apostrophised form of Thomas did not take the ‘S’ (Mind your language, 1 April). As Dot cannot be wrong, I wonder if this can be a quaint middle-class affectation, rather like saying loo or ‘Harfordshire’?

David Whitby

Lechlade, Glos