Letters: If private schools close the state sector will quickly be overwhelmed

Pupils at Fettes College, a private school in Edinburgh, wearing their distinctive school blazer - Getty Images
Pupils at Fettes College, a private school in Edinburgh, wearing their distinctive school blazer - Getty Images

SIR – There are two or three aspects of the private schools debate that nobody seems to be thinking about (Letters, December 3).

While the image of private education is driven by a few premier league schools such as Eton, most private schools are smaller and more modest. Lumping them all together as enemies of the state is unhelpful.

Most independent schools are modest places with a clientele of hard-working middle-class families who make sacrifices to pay the fees. The majority will be increasingly squeezed in the current economic climate, especially at independent schools outside London and its main commuter belt.

By 2025, when VAT cold be introduced by Labour, parents will already have endured two years of high inflation, and this will be the last straw for many. As an education consultant, I estimate that a quarter of private schools could lose so many parents that their finances will be undermined. The published accounts of most charity schools show that they work to modest margins and have very limited cash reserves. With a few exceptions, only the premier league and London schools have the sort of financial strength that could see them through years of tax attacks.

All of this will push very large numbers of children into an unprepared state sector. At national level it could mean a hundred thousand extra pupils or more, but the impact will be local and dramatic. In a country town the closure of an independent school could overwhelm the local maintained schools and their teaching staff. Class sizes would be hugely enlarged, to the detriment of the existing students as well as those joining, and teaching and learning will suffer, as will wellbeing and mental health. And when private schools close, they do so without warning.

The other big question that nobody is addressing is what exactly a school is, for VAT purposes? How can HMRC differentiate between a school teaching sport at the weekend and a local sports club charging for weekend football coaching, or between extra-curricular activities at a school and those taking place at Scouts and other youth organisations? And how do we deal with academy trusts, which are also independent organisations and charities?

The whole thing is a can of worms. The next government will have enough to worry about without opening it.

Simon Shneerson
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire

SIR – For years people have looked puzzled when I say we put eight children through school, knowing we had only four. Now, suddenly, everyone is aware of the arithmetic.

Although not particularly rich, we did in this way hand quite a lot of already taxed income to the Government, without acknowledgment, thanks, or mitigation.

Field McIntyre
London SW3

Sympathy for strikers

SIR – I have sympathy with both the nurses and the postal workers planning to strike (report, December 4).

My former postman, now retired, told me that at one time people in the Royal Mail worked their way up, so all the senior staff had started off as ordinary postmen doing the rounds. He said that in recent years managers have been recruited from outside the business, so have no idea how long it takes to deliver letters. As a result, they impose unrealistic targets, so it is impossible to complete a round in the allocated time.

As for nurses, you have reported that NHS managers’ pay has gone up over the years twice as fast as that of nurses, so is it surprising that they are planning to strike?

Andrew Rixon
Hertford

SIR – I read with interest that Currys has dropped Royal Mail as a delivery service during the busy Christmas period (report, December 4), due to the unreliability of delivery. I predict this will be the first of many companies to do so.

Barry Gray
Bournemouth, Dorset

Properly addressed

SIR – Gabriella Swerling’s report (“Calling judges ‘Sir or Madam’ banned from courts”, December 3), reminded me of when I was shorthand writer to Judge Edward Clarke in the early 1970s. A witness said to him: “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to call you.”

Judge Clarke: “That’s all right, I’ve been called everything from Governor to Your Majesty – I answer to them all.”

Mary Sorene
Kenton, Middlesex

SIR – I was most amused to read Joshua Rozenberg’s remark (report, December 3): “Many magistrates will tell you that they have often been called ‘Your Holiness’ by confused defendants or those hoping for a more lenient sentence.”

Rev Anthony Appleby
Exeter, Devon

Rector’s ruin

SIR – Many years ago my mother was invited in for sherry after church by a retired admiral (Letters, December 3). Noting her eye on the decanter, he exclaimed: “We’ll have the decent stuff, that’s for the Rector.”

Philip Barber
Lieutenant Commander RN (retd)
Havant, Hampshire

Onshore wind energy

SIR – We are writing concerning the importance of maintaining the Government’s policy on onshore wind development (“Supersized wind turbines could be built in England if onshore ban ends”, report December 3).

In 2012, with the support of the then prime minister David Cameron and chancellor George Osborne, working with colleagues across the Parliamentary party, the government – reflecting widespread public concern – developed policy to thwart the threat of industrial wind turbines being peppered across the countryside.

Doing so catalysed the development of our world-leading offshore wind industry. Not only is offshore wind more efficient because of the concentration of large numbers of turbines in a single location, but it has also saved thousands of birds and bats that might otherwise have been killed by land-based turbines. The current policy has protected the integrity of the English landscape; saved communities from loss of local amenities; and avoided additional transmission and distribution costs, which would have increased every energy bill.

To be anchored, onshore turbines require hundreds of cubic metres of concrete, leaving the land they occupy permanently affected. Twenty turbines take up roughly 240 acres as they must be spaced apart. A change of policy would undoubtedly result in high-grade farmland being permanently affected at a time when we are acutely aware of the importance of food security. In addition, the environmental costs of turbine construction and fitting means that the “payback period”, the time before they become environmentally beneficial, is frequently underestimated and invariably unstated by their advocates.

In practice, the majority of people who don’t want wind turbines to destroy their locality would be powerless to stop them. Before the moratorium, notwithstanding planning consent for wind developments being denied by local authorities, planning appeals approved wind developments in spite of local opposition, with the inspectors citing renewable energy targets as being more important than planning considerations. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that it was – and would be again – virtually impossible to defeat applications through the planning system. Surely, the views of local people and their elected representatives should be the defining determinate in all such matters.

Onshore wind remains unpopular and local opposition is likely to be intense and politically damaging. Widely cited polling (paid for by the Renewable Energy Foundation) is often cited by advocates of a change in policy. However, analysis of this polling reveals that only 29 per cent actively support the building of onshore wind farms near them, and among people who own their property the figure falls to just 21 per cent.

Onshore wind may appear economically desirable at a time when the price of gas – used to determine the “reference price” for subsidy under Contracts for Difference – is high. However, gas shortages are invariably followed by gluts. Consequently, we could well end up paying subsidies over decades to energy companies keen to cash-in on what they know are short-term conditions.

Though there are profits to be made from onshore wind installations which would enrich a few now, the communal cost for generations to come that such industrialisation of the countryside brings is surely too great for Conservatives to bear.

Sir John Hayes MP (Con)
Sir Geoffrey Cox MP (Con)
Sir Edward Leigh MP (Con)
Rt Hon David Jones MP (Con)
Rt Hon Sir Gregory Knight MP (Con)
Rt Hon David Davis MP (Con)
Sir Christopher Chope OBE MPed (Con)
Sir William Cash MP (Con)
Adam Holloway MP (Con)
Andrew Lewer MP (Con)
Andrew Percy MP (Con)
Bob Blackman MP (Con)
Caroline Johnson MP (Con)
Craig MacKinlay MP (Con)
Dr Daniel Poulter MP (Con)
Greg Smith MP (Con)
Ian Liddell-Grainger MP (Con)
James Gray MP (Con)
James Grundy MP (Con)
John Stevenson MP (Con)
Julian Lewis MP (Con)
Richard Drax MP (Con)
Sammy Wilson MP (DUP)
Baroness Nicholson (Con)
Lord Horam (Con)
London SW1

There’s a darker side to Jane Austen’s world

Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor) and Sir Thomas Bertram (Harold Pinter) in Mansfield Park, 1999 - Alamy
Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor) and Sir Thomas Bertram (Harold Pinter) in Mansfield Park, 1999 - Alamy

SIR – Writing about The Confessions of Frannie Langton (Arts, November 29) Tracy Borman says that “Jane Austen would neither approve nor recognise” her turbulent world.

But what about this from Mansfield Park, when Fanny Price leaves the sweeping terraces of her aunt and uncle’s country house for her family’s cramped and squalid house in Portsmouth: “She sat in a blaze of oppressive heat, in a cloud of moving dust; and her eyes could only wander from the walls marked by her father’s head, to the table cut and notched by her brothers, where stood the tea-board never thoroughly cleaned, the cups and saucers wiped in streaks, the milk a mixture of motes floating in thin blue, and the bread and butter growing every minute more greasy than even Rebecca’s hands had first produced it.”

When people dream of going back to inhabit Austen’s environment, this is not what they imagine. Even the sunshine in town is “a totally different thing” from rural sunshine.

Bernard Richards
Brasenose College, Oxford

It’s hard to forgive church closures in lockdown

SIR – I agree with the Rev Simon Lane (Letters, December 1) that the closure of churches during the first lockdown was a major error.

I am a convert to Catholicism and have not yet returned to Mass, in common with roughly half the regular congregation. Rolling over in front of a government edict and shutting the doors of our sacred spaces, at a time of great spiritual need, is something many of us are struggling to forgive. And, actually, wondering why we would even bother.

Sandra Hancock
Starcross, Devon

SIR – Our church in London (Letters, December 1) is a thriving centre of modern worship, with a congregation of more than 100, made up mainly of young families.

Our church in Dorset is a centre of traditional King James worship, with a congregation of six.

There could be many reasons for the differences but perhaps the church is just reflecting the different demographics of the urban and rural.

Tim Wright
Rampisham, Dorset

SIR – I have been a volunteer at HMP Berwyn Category C adult male prison in Wrexham, North Wales, since it opened in February 2017.

At weekends, the number attending Catholic Mass has increased from half a dozen to about 60 or 70. Coffee, tea and biscuits are provided after the service, which is the time for a valuable chat with the dozen or so chaplaincy volunteers. We are definitely thriving.

Dr Brian Wareing
Penyffordd, Flintshire

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