Your editorial makes good political sense in the short to medium term (“Our schools need radical change to overcome elitism”). If enacted, its proposals could begin to erode some of the unjustifiable privileges enjoyed by independent schools ever since Clement Attlee’s Labour government bottled out of integrating them into the state system at the end of the Second World War when their fortunes were at a nadir. But the “radical” proposals are not radical enough. State acquiescence in private education cannot be justified on ethical grounds. Education and health are fundamental rights; no one should have favoured treatment or be deprived of good provision on the arbitrary grounds of income or social class.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria
Your editorial rightly criticises the tax status of private schools. One unwanted consequence of their demise, however, would be the unleashing of many rather incompetent teachers who wouldn’t have a clue how to manage difficult pupils within the state sector. I speak from the experience of having children educated in both systems, and 40 years of teaching and leading local authority schools.
Hilary Richardson (Mr)
Andrew Rawnsley writes that, faced with a winter of strikes, “the government is minded to try to butch it out” (“This winter of discontent will harden the feeling that Tories have broken Britain”, Comment). The refusal of some ministers to negotiate pay offers will, indeed, result in disruption to normal and Christmas activity, but the refusal to let the health secretary, Steve Barclay, negotiate with the health unions will result in deaths. One side want to talk to stop that happening. The other side have decided that it is a price worth paying in a ghoulish calculation that they can turn to their political advantage.
Walmer, Deal, Kent
Testament of a great memoir
Rachel Cooke writes that Vera Brittain’s name “has certainly faded since the late 1970s” (“A strange sisterhood”, New Review). Yet Testament of Youth is one of the most significant, widely read and acclaimed First World War memoirs, has never been out of print, continues to inspire young readers and has produced a film starring Alicia Vikander and Kit Harington. Brittain’s life and work have been the subject of BBC documentaries, biographies and even Mastermind. A forthcoming opera at next year’s Buxton International Festival is loosely based on her life.
Food banks can’t do it all
Miranda Bryant’s powerful piece on “Food bank Britain” showed how desperately poor people are coming to food banks in ever-increasing numbers (Special Report). Food banks are now distributing about twice as many parcels as they were this time last year, and demand continues to grow. However, they can never be more than sticking plasters.
They keep the most destitute alive but cannot, despite their best efforts and the tremendous support they receive, resolve the problem.
The UK poverty crisis can only be addressed by government action involving at minimum an end to benefit caps and sanctions and a real increase in the amounts paid to a level where people can live without depending on charity. This will cost serious money. Government must be prepared to establish the necessary taxation.
A river runs through it
Rowan Moore is right to highlight how the Thames is “London’s greatest opportunity”, and the importance of investment (“How the Thames was sold down the river”, New Review). And, if you look down the river to the estuary region, that’s exactly what’s happening. The Thames runs through some of the most deprived parts of the country. These are areas with huge potential that the Thames Estuary Growth Board is unlocking by attracting global investment and creating partnerships that upgrade infrastructure and provide opportunities, revitalising communities. Backed by government, this programme is anticipated to generate 1m new homes, 1.3m jobs and £190bn for the economy by 2050, along with the UK’s first hydrogen ecosystem saving 5.9 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year.
The potential is enormous and it would be mistake to think there’s no plan or strategy for the Thames estuary. We’re ready to deliver.
Kate Willard, chair, Thames Estuary Growth Board, London WC2
Pupils don’t need to worship
The Department for Education spokesperson is wrong to suggest that collective worship in schools can be justified on the basis that it provides an opportunity “to reflect on the concept of belief and the role it plays in society” (“Schools call for end to ‘archaic’ daily worship following UK census results”, News). That is one of the roles of religious education. The Commission on RE, of which I was a member, called for an education in religion and world views that is “objective, critical and pluralistic”.
It is difficult to see how that can be achieved when there is a legal requirement for compulsory, daily collective worship that is “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”. The commission’s recommendations should be the basis of changing the law. Collective worship in community schools should be replaced by assemblies that promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.
Dr Joyce Miller
Stephen Pritchard is right to mention the neglect in recent times of the oratorio A Child of Our Time by Michael Tippett, the composer with whom I was closely associated for the last 24 years of his life (“It’s a wonderful life for some”, New Review).
This work’s relevance to many situations in which people have been victimised made it popular among black people in the US, poor people in Brazil and, in Japan, relatives of those lost at Hiroshima.
But things are about to change. Schott is re-publishing Tippett works gradually in new editions on computer. Highest on the list is a new production of his last opera, New Year.
It’s a feature of musical history that composers have been neglected, only to be rediscovered long after their deaths. This was the case with Purcell, Monteverdi and Handel, whose place in musical history is now firmly established. And that’s part of the fascination of music.
• The heading above the letter about Vera Brittain was amended on 12 December 2022 to correctly refer to Testament of Youth as a memoir, rather than a novel.