Letters: the very belief that poorer pupils do less well is what limits them

7 April 2018

9:00 AM

7 April 2018

9:00 AM

Self-limiting beliefs

Sir: As someone who spent much of his working life teaching at Eton and Harrow, it was amusing to learn from Toby Young (31 March) that privately educated pupils achieve better exam results than pupils in other schools because they came into the world equipped with high IQ genes which, together with parental background, guarantee success, with the school adding little. If only we teachers had known!

If genes are as important as Toby, Robert Plomin and others insist, it does ask questions of the drive to improve social mobility. If schools are limited in the difference they can make, do we fuss too much about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ schools? The genetic research Toby quotes implies that pupils with low-income parents tend to have fewer of the high IQ genes and will therefore do less well in exams. But masses of research shows that this belief is itself an important reason why low-income children do less well in schools in Britain and the USA than in the Far East. In China and Japan there is an assumption that all children can do well. Those who are less able simply have to work harder. They do work harder, and these countries have a much shorter tail of poor performance at age 16 than we do in the UK.
Barnaby Lenon

Mutual flourishing

Sir: In portraying global Christianity as a religion of two extremes (‘A tale of two Sarahs’, 31 March), Ysenda Maxtone Graham perpetuates a fundamental error common to all the major churches, namely the polarisation of partisan conflict above the teachings of Jesus. While it is clear that her sympathies lie with the warm inclusivity of a particular brand of Anglicanism, it is worth noting that liberal Christianity is only accepting of those with whom it agrees. The introduction of women to the Episcopacy was delayed in 2012 because there were many in the Church of England who wanted no accommodation for traditional Anglicans, viewing their opposition to the ordination of women as misogyny rather than an adherence to the Apostolic Succession.

The resulting settlement and the Five Guiding Principles passed by General Synod calls for ‘mutual flourishing’. This is more in tune with the spirit of the New Testament. When the Apostles complained to Jesus that someone from outside their group was teaching in his name, Christ reminded them ‘whoever is not against us is for us’ (Mark 9:40).
Andrew Gray
General Synod (Diocese of Norwich)

What makes a boat British

Sir: In pointing out that our problem with fishing is that ‘we simply don’t eat what we catch’, Martin Vander Weyer (Any Other Business, 24 March) explains that ‘a high proportion of fish and seafood from British boats is exported to the EU…’. Well, yes — but a high proportion of ‘British boats’ are not British. Many of them are owned by Spanish, Portuguese, Danish or Dutch skippers, so it is hardly surprising if they land their catches elsewhere in Europe.

In 1988 the British Parliament passed the Merchant Shipping Act, in which it provided that boats registered as British must be 75 per cent British-owned. This legislation was challenged, and the relevant clause in the Act was deemed invalid as it was contrary to EU law. It is therefore no longer possible to separate British boats from other UK boats which are not British.

The Marine Management Organisation confirms that ‘a UK vessel will be classified as any vessel that is UK registered, irrespective of ownership’.

Unless Martin can identify British boats from another source, what we need to do before 2020 is to find a way of classifying British boats as British and, from that base, seek to build up the numbers of our ‘diminished’ fleet.
Ian Campbell
Bordon, Hants

Unusual evensong

Sir: The church at which I attend, in the small village of Coleman’s Hatch in West Sussex, has sung evensong (BCP) once a month, and each month a different anthem is sung (Notes on Evensong, 24 March). For a small village, this must be unusual, if not unique.
Godfrey Dann
East Grinstead, West Sussex

Taki misremembers

Sir: Taki’s memory of our interview at his house in New York in 2006 and of what I wrote in my biography of Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel is inaccurate (High Life, 31 March). I wrote down verbatim, in long-hand in a red A4 notebook, everything he told me — the same method I have used for all the thousands of interviews I have conducted for 24 books. I can show Taki my notes. A mark indicates that I reread to him his quote that I used in the book.

His row with Conrad Black was not, in fact, about Israel but about his criticism of President Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, the American oil trader. Taki knew that Black was furious. When he was told by his secretary that Barbara Amiel was on the phone, my notes record Taki telling me that he had shouted at his secretary, ‘Tell that fucking bitch that she has no right to fire me.’ I included that in my book and until now Taki has never protested.

As he told me in 2006, he then picked up the phone to Amiel and was invited out for lunch — again, precisely what is described in my book. Taki wrongly thinks the book said ‘Barbara Black high-hatted’ him and that she was ‘trying to make trouble’. Instead I described the opposite. I showed how Amiel sought to make peace, which he agrees was the purpose of the call.

In other words, my description of his interview was accurate and his memory of what is in the book is wrong. And then he uses his mistakes to disparage my book about Prince Charles. I am puzzled by his conduct. Too many martinis, possibly?
Tom Bower
London NW3

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