After 11-plus failure, tax concessions

31st January 1997 at 00:00
Michael Stoten's fascinating proposal (TES, January 17) for failing schools to be taken over by the private sector seems to give us all permission to think the unthinkable. The private sector seems increasingly attractive to desperate minds despairing of sensible solutions to the conundrum of standards, funding and parentalvoter desires. League tables seem to show that private education works. We should test that hypothesis. Mr Stoten's contempt for comprehensive mediocrity reminds us of the causes of that levelling out of diversity that he deplores.

While many parents and educationists can be found who urge us to increase the number of grammar schools, few seem to advocate the return of three or four times as many secondary modern schools. During the heyday of the 11-plus, fear of the secondary modern school haunted middle-class parents. Nevertheless, the memory of those days seems not to deter enthusiasts for secondary selection. Apparently the return of the secondary modern is a price worth paying for the availability of free exclusively academic schooling for children who shine at the right age. The reason seems to be twofold. Some parents went to grammar schools. Others escaped the secondary modern trap because their parents paid for education in private schools. It was inconceivable to them that their own children (or grandchildren) would not be received into either a state grammar school or a private school. History suggests their confidence was misplaced. And so comprehensive schools became politically possible.

We must not feed our fantasies on terms like vocational schools. These would be expensive and opportunities would be unevenly distributed. They present the insulting idea that if you are not bright you should do something useful.

The only way to make grammar schools politically viable is to provide the option which saved the less traumatised 11-plus failures before. The options available to them were the grammar school and the private secondary school. That ought to be everyone's choice in future. Mr Stoten and those who think like him seem to make the prospects unduly complicated. Why should it not be Government policy to grant massive tax relief to all parents whose children fail the 11-plus?

RICHARD WILKINS General Secretary Association of Christian Teachers 94A London Road St Albans Hertfordshire

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