Barristers should stay in court

July 4, 1997

HELENA KENNEDY's claim that "for centuries (the belief in the trickle-down effect of education in which resources are concentrated on an elite group) has blighted not just the British economy, but the whole of British life" (THES, June ) illustrates rather well that what has really blighted our progress has been the excessive involvement of barristers in government. Their eloquence, so useful on the hustings, is not always matched by understanding, so useful everywhere else.

One of the last things we need - along with charters for this, strategic partnerships for that, pathways to the other, and all the administrative paraphernalia to support them - is a situation in which large numbers of semi-literate, semi-numerate students spend years in state-funded and state-controlled education for no particular reason. Two things undermine our potential as a country. One is that too many youngsters do not leave primary education equipped both with a sound grasp of the three Rs and a taste for learning. The other is a pronounced anti-intellectual bias. This infects everyone, including Ms Kennedy, and means that even supposedly educational programmes on TV or reports in the press too often are sensationalist and an insult to the consumers' intelligence.

My own preference would be for concentrating resources on the first two stages of education, not least because otherwise tertiary education involves a good deal of teaching at lower levels. I would also like to see a shift away from state-run, college-based tertiary education and towards programmes of personal development which can be combined with employment. On the grounds that people tend not to value whatever is free and easy to obtain, and also because future resources may well not be up to it, it would probably be better if this did not depend on state funding. Instead we should look at, for example, offering tax incentives for those individuals and employers who provide or undertake additional education. An approach of this kind would be much more likely than Ms Kennedy's proposals to deliver tertiary education which would be valued by the recipients and of value to the country.

Penny Tucker

Thackham's Lane, Hartley, Wintney, Hampshire

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