Doing well at things

I have had the privilege of meeting numerous successful people in the jobs I have done over the years. Like many I have enjoyed watching sports stars, hearing fine musicians, reading great authors and seeing good entertainers. One silver thread runs through the success of all of them. Hard work.

If you want to write well, first read well. Then try writing, strenuously seeking to improve how you write. If you want to perform in the Olympics, choose your sport and spend every available waking hour practising and building your physique and technique. Take advice on how to compete with the best. Know two things. Being the best may be beyond you, but being very good is well within your abilities. If you really want to reach high standards you can do so. You will not reach high standards without belief and commitment.

I find the debate about academic selection curious. Most in the debate accept academic selection at age 18. No-one suggests sending people to top universities who do not have some GCSEs and A levels to a required standard. Most accept vigorous selection for developing football, cricket, ballet,music and other cultural talent. We start training our top musicians and dancers early, and give them a rigorous regime that the rest of us would not want. In return for a privileged specialist education we expect the best of them, and winnow out those who do not make sufficient effort.

The mistake is in thinking the grammar test is a single life changing event which means if you fail that prevents you having a good future. Some of the best entrepreneurs I know failed at school. Some of the top footballers would probably not have made it to grammar schools. Life is full of challenges, selections, opportunities and disappointments. Some people who were rejected by the Academy or turned down by the publisher eventually publish stunning books that many people want to read.

I love cricket but I never made it to a high standard team because I spent my youth reading books and trying to write better essays rather than practising my bowling. I like to go and watch people who are a lot better at cricket than I am. I am not jealous of them. I do not say we should stop selecting because it discriminates against mediocre cricketers like me. I praise them for their well honed skills, like watching their games and return to my job to do what I have trained myself to do to professional standards. I also enjoy playing cricket myself against people with similar limited levels of skill and competence who like me have not trained themselves to professional levels.

It is high time we accepted that life is riddled with selections. No one of them will prevent us achieving something or having a good life. Our present schooling system is riddled with selection by family income. The better off can afford to send their children to fee paying schools. The bit better offs can buy homes in the catchments of better state schools. Why should this type of selection be preferred to selection by ability?

You have only failed when you give up and have failure in your heart.


  1. Jerry
    September 11, 2016

    “The better off can afford to send their children to fee paying schools.”

    Indeed, and some waste their money doing so, other than it allows their child enter what used top be called “The Old Boys” network… On the other hand less well off, but gifted, children often miss out on such education due to the lack of scholarships and/or selection etc.

    1. Hope
      September 11, 2016

      JR, you are quite wrong about students not having the correct grades for university. Part of your govt’s social mobility nonsense is exactly that. Russell Group Universities accept students from poor backgrounds with lower grades. You might recall how private school children were being discriminated against on this basis. Madness, but there you are. Is May going to correct this under her meritocracy agenda? Or another load The taxpayer still providing free university education for EU students at some of our best universities,msturgeon needs to explain why she woes our taxes like this when there are more deserving UK citizens.

      Certainly not a waste of money spending children to private school they get a better and fuller education by teachers who are much better qualified even without a PGCE.

      1. Lifelogic
        September 11, 2016

        It is not “madness” to discriminate against pupils from good schools. You should be looking for potential and a pupil with rather lower grades “from a bog standard comp” might well have more that some one with 4a*s from Westminster.

        I understand Trinity College Cambridge for example has a scale they use for most schools, as clearly not all private schools are the same as Westminster and some grammar schools are excellent too. Indeed many private schools are essentially up market comps with smaller class sizes and parent who care and can afford them.

        1. Hope
          September 12, 2016

          Potential my arse, how do assess this? What nest make sure there are an equal number of boys and girls irrespective of achievement? The next step the old boy network of who you know. Meritoracy based on how each person performs is the only fair method of selection, not some yard stick which can be moved to suite the politico of the day. The pupils cannot be made to account for what their parents chose to spend their money on or how well off they might be. Presumably you brought up your children in the way you thought right according your values and beliefs. Your response is utterly ridiculous based on your long standing comments.

          1. Hope
            September 12, 2016

            Explain the Oratory selection of MPs children?

          2. Lifelogic
            September 12, 2016

            Potential is not that hard to assess, you merely look at how people with certain grades from a “bog standard comp” perform relative to three people for Westminster with there grades.

            You just write an algorithm to analyse it and then adjust your admissions accordingly. This is not very hard for the many bright people at Trinity Cambridge to organise. They are not usually PPE or Geography graduates after all.

  2. agricola
    September 11, 2016

    Succinctly put, every sentence is a reality to which I have nothing to add.

    1. Hope
      September 11, 2016

      Why should people not spend their money how they want, whether on education for their children, cars, a house or whatever they wish. Why should Chairman May decide what we can spend our money on? This is Jealously, not fair nation or fair society. Again punishing the strivers and prudent to help the feckless and irresponsible. She needs to get her own house in order at Westminster before declaring more social babble on the rest of us. Same laws, standards and procedures for MPs, no Sharia law as she prescribes, one law for everyone.

  3. Lifelogic
    September 11, 2016


    Even JK rowling was rejected by several publishers.

    Life isn’t fair get over it and do your best is perhaps the best message. Would we rather people paid for their children’s education and became top doctors, scientists, engineers and the likes or that they spent it on other frivolous things? Or would we rather they bought a nice house near a good state school and deprived someone else of a free place there?

    The country actually needs far more good technicians, plumbers, builders, electricians and engineers and far fewer lawyers, tax consultants and the likes. Simpler lower taxes and a bonfire of red tape would help this hugely here. Undo the complete & irrational mess that Osborne has created of the fiscal system.

    1. Lifelogic
      September 11, 2016

      There are of course other problems with education a lot of current education and the exam syllabus is about PC, climate alarmism, fake “equality” so called “renewables” and lefty, “BBC think” or greencrap indoctrination. It has little to do reality, engineering or real science. There is also the other religious & political agendas which again can be very damaging. The ever bigger government, ever higher taxes and the magic money tree economic agenda.

      But do we really want schools to incubate religious ghettos as Mrs May seems to want. What are you views on this rather dangerous proposal JR?

      Of course the problem is the Tories, the Commons and Lords are so stuffed with lefties that no of this is ever likely to happen anyway. So why has she made it her priority? Is she going to have an early election or is she just floating a pointless mirage?

      Peter Hitchens was good on this the other day. I too will believe it when we see some action rather than just words say when we have 50+ new selective grammar schools formed.

    2. Lifelogic
      September 11, 2016

      Of course tax payer funded Grammar schools are grossly unfair competition to private schools, just as the BBC is hugely unfair competition, the NHS, social housing, trains and the rest are too. Stop the government distorting the market, it is hugely damaging in all these areas.

      People really need vouchers (or tax credits) to encourage them not to use the tax payer funded sector.

  4. The Active Citizen
    September 11, 2016

    An interesting piece for a Sunday, thank you.

    In some ways it’s a shame you even have to write these things because they should be self-evident. Not in today’s world, alas, where teachers seem to believe that competition to be the best is a bad thing and where our universities have ‘safe spaces’ in which students can protect themselves from hearing something which might ‘trigger anxiety’ in them. (In my day, hearing opposing viewpoints was an excellent reason to be at university in the first place.)

    The key thing is opportunity. If we have a society where most things are possible, the rest is down to enthusiasm, desire, commitment and hard work. A little talent and aptitude also helps, of course!

    We can argue about how well we provide opportunity and the best ways of doing this, as with the grammar school debate. However we should certainly ensure the values you write of are inculcated throughout our society, starting from an early age. This is certainly a fundamental issue which needs addressing.

    Your article would make a good OpEd piece for any number of publications and websites – I hope you email it to a few.

    Bonne dimanche to all.

    1. Lifelogic
      September 11, 2016

      Exactly, and bonne dimanche to you to.

    2. Mockbeggar
      September 12, 2016

      Of course, the real problem is that no secondary schools is capable of meeting the diverse needs and desires of each of its pupils. That is why pupils will get music tuition away from school: why some join cricket clubs to get the real training and help they require and, of course, why some give up on school altogether because, in the words of one secondary teacher “Education in this country will never function effectively until pupils, at least at secondary level, can choose their areas of study and do not spend every day wastefully being forced to learn much of what they do not want to know.” (Letter to TES)

      I quote from “Wot? No School? How schools impede education” by Jonathan Langdale and John Harrison:
      “It isn’t the teachers who are getting education wrong. It isn’t the pupils who can’t learn. It isn’t the parents who make the wrong choice… It’s the system: the ludicrous insistence that academic ability is the greatest good for all children whatever their individual aptitudes and preferences, despite the fact that once you have left school almost no-one is remotely interested in your academic ability – except, perhaps, another academic institution.
      “The solution isn’t more choice, it isn’t better schools, it’s different education.”

      The authors recommend that pupils should be able to leave school by the age of 15 provided they have passed a School Leaving Certificate – a certificate of competence to enter the adult world as a beginner and NOT of academic prowess. (At present, pupils can leave school with no qualifications whatsoever.) They should then be able to choose what subjects they wish to develop, be they academic, artistic, practical or physical (e.g. athletics, football, swimming etc.). To do this they would go to teachers qualified in these areas rather than to schools where they are obliged to follow a largely academic curriculum laid down by politicians who themselves were successful at academic subjects and therefore believe that this must be the best education of all. Anyone who is not good at these subjects and fails is, by their standards just that, a failure.

  5. David Webb
    September 11, 2016

    The best argument against grammar schools is that they damage the life chances of those who are not selected. We need to be sure that the schools attended by those not selected for a grammar education are excellent too.
    It’s going to be a tough world for those without marketable skills. Fortunately, many of those skills don’t need deep academic knowledge, but they do need a strong understanding of the basics of English, Maths, Science etc., and then the ability to learn the details of their profession after young people leave school.
    The overall argument needs to be framed in terms of what the future educational system will do for all young people – ‘a country that works for everyone’, as the PM says.

  6. Lifelogic
    September 11, 2016

    The usually sound Christopher Booker today suggests leaving the EU market would be suicidal disaster, any thoughts on this view?

    You even get a mention as an ill informed wishful thinker!

    Reply We are not planning to stop using the market!

    1. Jerry
      September 11, 2016

      @LL; @JR reply; I note that neither of you used the words “EU single Market”…

      1. libertarian
        September 12, 2016


        Thats because there isn’t one , there is a single market in goods only and more than 70% of our business is now in services

        1. Jerry
          September 12, 2016

          @libertarian; Well there most certainly won’t be one, as far as the UK is concerned once we have our full Brexit…!

          On the other hand the remaining EU27 will likely move very quickly to complete the Single Market.

        2. Edward2
          September 12, 2016

          This is correct though not generally understood by those not running a business and employing others.

          1. Jerry
            September 13, 2016

            @Edward2; Quite the opposite, in all respects!…

          2. Edward2
            September 13, 2016

            Wrong again as usual Jerry.
            You do not understand how the single market works.
            Libertarian is correct.

          3. Jerry
            September 13, 2016

            @Edward2; You, and Libertarian entitled to your opinion, the facts state otherwise, it might not (yet) be the full single market, which is what Libertarian implied and what you have failed grasped, but there is a single market non the less.

          4. Edward2
            September 13, 2016

            How come many nations trade happily with Europe without agreeing to freedom of movement nor being in the single market?

            The single market has been hyped up and “people like you” Jerry with little exporting experience in business have an overblown vision of what it is and does.

          5. Jerry
            September 14, 2016

            @Edward2; No one has ever questioned that, post Brexit, the UK will be able to trade with EU member countries!

          6. Edward2
            September 14, 2016

            Glad to see we are getting through.

          7. Jerry
            September 15, 2016

            @Edward2; You still just don’t get it do you, yes we will be able to trade with the EU27, like any other non EU country as you say, but at what cost – best bet at the moment appears to be WTO rules, that is not good news at all unless we have a sea-change in how our retail and manufacturing sectors are being run.

          8. Edward2
            September 16, 2016

            I do get it thanks Jerry
            For decades loads of nations have traded both ways with Europe without being part of the single market Nor agreeing to freedom of movement
            Nor having a formal trade deal
            At what cost you keep saying….
            Well at a cost that allows them to happily continue to trade with Europe

    2. Denis Cooper
      September 11, 2016

      It’s all predicated on the assumption that the governments of the other EU countries would be either more or less indifferent to massive disruption to the present trade with UK, or they would even actively welcome it as a way to punish the British and deter others from contemplating their own “escape”.

      To support that assumption the Remainders have constructed a narrative in which any new impediments to trade would only affect our exports to them and would leave their exports to us flowing unhindered, and part of the construction of that false narrative is to only ever talk about the effects on our exporters. Thus it would be our car manufacturers who would face 10% tariffs, there is no need to mention the fact that their car manufacturers would also be affected, let alone the fact that their exports of vehicles to us are worth three times as much as ours to them. And if it is objected that tariffs would cut both ways, they just invent a WTO rule which says that it would be illegal for us to retaliate, we would be at their mercy. And as a back up line, they say that the loss of trade would be proportionately greater for us than for them, and so we would be ruined while they would shrug it off.

      Then there are all these numerous practical complexities which would have to be sorted out, and now that part of the story is that a hostile Commission will control the negotiations and follow EU law and almost take a delight in bogging us down, while “the clock is ticking” towards a two year “deadline”, and with little prospect of getting any extension to that time because, basically, the other governments won’t care in the slightest if we leave the EU without any new agreement to ensure that trade continues uninterrrupted and unimpeded.

      So faced with the fabricated constraint that there would not be enough time to sort out all these complications, and moreover the other governments would not care if they were not sorted out, it seems that we are left with with only two alternatives: do what the “hard” Remainders want us to do and stay in the EU, or do what the “soft” Remainders want us to do and stay in the Single Market and the EEA.

      “But Britain is only part of this global system by virtue of its membership of the EU, which as in all other trade matters, signed the agreements on our behalf. This was why that report from the Japanese foreign ministry warned that we cannot afford to drop out of the single market. To negotiate separate AEO status in our own right would take far too long; which is why, yet again, by far the simplest and most practical solution is that we should remain, along with Norway and other non-EU countries, in the wider European Economic Area (EEA), thus allowing our AEO status to continue.”

      “To negotiate separate AEO status in our own right would take far too long”, that is the key consideration; yes, we may have that status now, and, yes, hypothetically it might be simple enough for all concerned parties to agree that we shall continue to have that status after we have left the EU, at least for the time being until a new agreement can be made, but that is not what would happen because some or all of them would prefer to see a collapse of global trade rather than to apply common sense and consult their financial interests as well as ours.

    3. acorn
      September 11, 2016

      “Former WTO boss attacks ‘total confusion’ over Brexit, Peter Sutherland says Theresa May must answer basic questions on UK’s relationship with the EU”.

      “Britain is completely lost after Brexit and will beg for a deal, Brussels believes.” (Google “…”)

      My old fellow EU number crunchers are betting me Brexit will not happen; and, it will come down to a General Election decision. They are evens on it being before 2020.

      If there is a bright young fellow, in a uniform, with one or more stars on his collar; talk to the number one lady at the Palace, the one you gave your oath to. With a little luck and judgement, she may be even more pissed off with her Ministers than we are out here.

      1. Lifelogic
        September 11, 2016

        I certainly have my doubts that Brexit will happen at all under T May. I do not think she has the motivation nor the ability to push it through. The forces of remain the BBC the luvvies, the state sector, academia, charities, most MPs …..are rather powerful but totally wrong headed.

        1. Jerry
          September 12, 2016

          @LL; I have doubt that any meaningful Brexit will happen even under any of the more prominent and sensible Brexiteers within the Tory party, an element of cold light of dawn realism is -finally- creeping in.

          Nor I do not believe for one moment that so many Ministers can be signing from the wrong hymn sheet, all at the same time, and then being ‘corrected’ in some choreographed roll-play from no.10, and now (yesterday on the Andrew Marr show) Amber Rudd had to agree that the EU could place electronic visa requirements [1] upon British people who wish to travel within the EU26 once the UK has had our Brexit – something I mentioned in the months and weeks before the referendum on this site but was told by the usual people that i was talking nonsense…

          [1] the EU is considering a European version of the
          ESTA system as used by the USA

    4. Anonymous
      September 11, 2016

      Reply This is a World Customs Organisation scheme to expedite exports. The Uk is a member of the Customs Organisation as are most countries! There is no problem.

      1. Denis Cooper
        September 12, 2016

        The perceived problem is the time available to sort out new arrangements, although when asked to support the claim that:

        “To negotiate separate AEO status in our own right would take far too long”

        his researcher does not provide a convincing answer.

        Today the value of parliamentary sovereignty is dismissed:

  7. Sir Joe Soap
    September 11, 2016

    Few truer words were spoken. Please place this in the msm.

    1. Jerry
      September 11, 2016

      @SJP; “Please place this in the msm.

      Our host already has, the MSM is now the internet, or were you referring to the Social Media sub-category?

  8. Mark B
    September 11, 2016

    If at first you do not succeed, try, try again. That was the lesson taught to me by my mother and it one I have used probably the most often.

    My education did not end at 16. I went into further education and, even today, I enroll in various courses and plan to do the same again in October this year.

    The ‘L’ in life is for learning and when you have ceased learning, you have ceased to live.

    We are all born different and have different skills and abilities, some more than others. Just accept it.

    1. Cheshire Girl
      September 11, 2016

      My formal education ended at 15, when I started full time employment. I went to one of the derided secondary modern schools in my small town in Norfolk. However I did not feel ‘consigned to the educational scrapheap’ as Ian Dale so elegantly described it on Con Home. I took on further secretarial study and feel I have made a success of my life. I believe that we all have potential, which can be nurtured in the home and in the school we attend. I do not feel any ill will towards those who go to private or grammar school, but it’s not for everyone, and no one should feel a failure because theirs was a different path in life.

      Reply Every day is an educational opportunity. You do not need to be at school to learn something.

      1. Mockbeggar
        September 12, 2016

        See also my comment above.

      2. Lifelogic
        September 12, 2016

        Indeed useful information, understanding and knowledge is all around you every single day, you just observe, listen, pick it up and think about it.

  9. Lifelogic
    September 11, 2016

    UK universities are alas full of people who should not really be there, often studying subjects that are rather dubious anyway. People should surely pay for their own hobbies in general, if they want to indulge these interest. They should not expect other hard working tax payers to subsidise their personal hobbies.

    I think over half of current undergraduates perhaps come into this category and probably over half of the courses. They would be better off learning on the job or doing some rather more practical or vocational training. How may Divinity, Classics, Archaeology and Anthropology, PPE or Assyriology graduates does the country really need?

    Let them study in their own time with their own money please as they wish. Why should a low paid clearly or burger flipper have to pay taxes to subsidise these hobbies?

    1. Lifelogic
      September 11, 2016

      low paid “cleaner” or …

  10. Ed Mahony
    September 11, 2016

    Great article

  11. Newmania
    September 11, 2016

    Over the years one has suffered countless successful Americans saying something along the lines of “ If you really believe in it =your dream can come true “. In fact social mobility is a poor across the States and whilst we will no forgive actors and beauty queens for gushing one is surely not obliged to take it seriously .
    If you syphon off the top 20% the atmosphere for the losers will be extremely difficult. With a highly motivated teaching staff and a careful and brilliantly implemented policy all this might be addressed but in real life we will have the same teaching unions, the same idleness and the same miserable ordinary incompetence of which is what life consists =. The new secondary moderns will be the social high rises of our time , shiny ideas soon reduced to nasty failed crumbling social dumping grounds . My children will be self-taught before they go there. That’s why it will fail and you can rest assured the politicians imposing it will not have their children within hundred miles of them

    PS My one hope is that the reason for throwing the slavering tory membership some 1950s meat is to soften them up the soft Brexit they will get for afters ! Yummy.

  12. Anonymous
    September 11, 2016

    The grammars do not exclude children forever at 11 – nor do they 12,13 … nor 16 when many come from comprehensives to take the places of students who have not put in the required effort or to to take up spare places in sixth form classes.

    The claim that once rejected at 11 your grammar school future is over is a false one.

    Nor are grammars for the privileged. Tuition for entrance exams is affordable and cheaper than fags or booze. A shop worker’s son is able to compete equally with a doctor’s son to get in – which the shop worker’s son cannot do on the comprehensive school catchment basis, because he cannot afford to live in a home in that area.

    Besides. I think the grammar school issue is a diversion from Brexit – and what does the EU have to say about it ?

    Will the EU overrule Mrs May’s decision through some court appeal ?

    At the moment it’s still a possibility, you know.

  13. Kenneth
    September 11, 2016

    What worries me is that we do not put enough emphasis on non-academic education.

    When we have kids at the back of the class being bored stiff forced by law to learn Shakespeare when they could be learning how to lay bricks or weld metal – and even earning some money by actually doing it – then something is wrong.

    When we put money into pointless time-filling drama projects or DJ courses for people who are perfectly employable in a technical trade, then something is wrong.

    By all means lets have a rigorous selection process for academics but let’s not forget that do-ers are often not academically minded and need to be allowed to develop skills that suit them and not suit the establishment which is largely run…by academics.

    1. Mockbeggar
      September 12, 2016

      See also my comment above.

    2. Al
      September 19, 2016

      I grew up in a grammar school area. There wasn’t just the grammar school, for academics, but also a trade & technical school, a secondary modern, and others, because each catered to a different type of learning. One of my friends left the grammar for the trade school, because she didn’t handle classroom learning well. Transition between them could happen at any age from eleven up.

      Education shouldn’t be about making sure everyone is taught the same things in the same way, but that each child is taught in a way that can make the very best of their skills.

  14. oldtimer
    September 11, 2016

    My advice to my grandchildren, in choosing and developing a career, is to identify what you are good at and enjoy doing and work hard at it. If you do not enjoy, or least get interest out of what you do, then the chances are that you will not do as well or compete as effectively as those that do.

    So far as educational choice is concerned I think grammar schools have been unreasonably suppressed. There should be greater choice and a greater emphasis on technical and vocational schools and colleges too. There has been too much of a “one size fits all” mentality.

  15. Lifelogic
    September 11, 2016

    What is perhaps rather depressing is that so many people, who are consistently wrong headed and clearly very bad at things get to the top of politics, the BBC, banks, (large cos ed) and industry in general. They are usually good at PR, talking bullshit and appealing to irrational emotions but always seem to lack logic, reason, planning/engineering abilities & basic numeracy.

    They are then usually wheeled out by the BBC as “experts” for years to come like John Major.

    Just look at the dire quality of all the Prime Ministers in my lifetime. With the exception of Thatcher (and that only rather partial) they have all had totally duff compasses. Compasses pointing to more and more regulation, more and more EU, expensive greencrap energy, counterproductive misguided wars, more and more government, more intervention, more and more duff NHS and more and more taxation – all totally misguided and counter productive.

    1. hefner
      September 12, 2016

      “What do we want?
      LL for PM!
      When do we want it?

  16. Anonymous
    September 11, 2016

    One thing I would prefer people to do less well at is road cycling.

    I don’t mind people competing, getting good at sport and doing healthy, outdoorsy stuff… but using the busy highways as a sports facility is not on.

    The official cycling policy is to ride two abreast on the basis that “If it is not possible to give a cyclist the space of two cyclists when overtaking them then they must not be overtaken at all.”

    This distancing is fair enough but it means that side-by-side riders (who do so to inforce this point) necessitate THREE lanes to overtake them – which is why we often see queues of motor vehicles backed up behind them. They effectively want to ban overtaking. Based on their theory we should never see a cyclist alone as they deem it unsafe (it’s purely coincidental that side-by-side cyclists are always chatting.)

    This is not sharing the highway. This is OWNING the highway.

    Clearly these people are insane: by their irrational argument attached to their right to clog up the roads through side-by-side riding going for ‘the burn’ on a busy uphill thoroughfare with their wibbly-wobbly bums blocking traffic for miles, the positioning of their bodies in harm’s way of traffic for mere sport, their virtual nakedness in the event of a 40mph fall (motorcyclists are leathered up at such speeds) and by their utterly UTTERLY ridiculous apparel. I mean, come on !

    I do wonder how many accidents have been caused by drivers attempting forced overtakes or trying to make up lost time later.

    Bright, skintight lycra on a middle-aged man is rarely going to be a good look and clip-cloppy shoes and an egg box on the head – replete with “I’m a VICTIM” camera perched on top of it – always garner suppressed laughs in our pub.

    Hopefully natural selection will take its course. What woman would want to mate with something that looked like that !

    Rant over.

  17. Lifelogic
    September 11, 2016

    The HS2 boss has quit to go to Rolls Royce. Excellent it saves nearly £1M PA and a pay off, no need to replace him just cancel this insane waste of money project now.

  18. Bert Young
    September 11, 2016

    Very coherent and “inner” stuff today John . I admire the way you have put it across . Horizons exist in everyone’s life , most are dreams and are beyond grasp , but , as you have pointed out , they are there to be aimed at and tried for ; even getting part way to a goal is a way of making progress .

    A lot does depend on outside motivation ; those children whose parents have “achieved” set a standard to be followed , it is there as an every day norm . An Aunt of mine who had 8 children was married to a coal miner – no one could say that the success factor existed in her family life ; nevertheless everyone of her children passed the scholarship and went to West Country Grammar Schools and they all lived happy and successful lives producing fine children of their own .

    I can think of other examples where achievement ought to have happened because all the right ingredients were in place but did not materialise ; these offspring became reliant on their parents for most of their life . Enviroment does play a significant role in influencing development and achievement – a role that fortunately many schools follow ; the teachers in these schools are carefully selected and motivated to maintain standards of conduct as well as academic ability .

  19. Denis Cooper
    September 11, 2016

    Off-topic, I saw this today:

    “Welcome, Change Britain – i.e: Continuity Vote Leave”

    and followed through to their website here:

    “Change Britain is the campaign to make a success of Britain’s departure from the EU.”

    and will sign up as a supporter.

    Of course those who still don’t want Britain to depart from the EU despite that being the democratic will of the British people as expressed on June 23rd, and/or would rather make the worst possible failure of our departure in the hope that they could then wangle us back into it, should not sign up to this campaign unless their intention is to disrupt it.

    1. ian wragg
      September 11, 2016

      well done Denis. Just signed up and emailed link to all my contacts.

    2. acorn
      September 13, 2016

      Gove, Fox and Stuart. Probably Westminster’s top three neo-cons imho! Wasn’t Stuart a big Bush supporter?

  20. M Davis
    September 11, 2016

    I was talking with an old friend two days ago. He failed his 11-plus and went on to become an engineer. I passed my 11-plus and left school as early as I possibly could with no formal qualifications. The old adage, ‘Life is what you make it’, comes to mind and is still relevant. People should stop whining about life not being fair and just get on with it, making the best of their abilities.

  21. William Long
    September 11, 2016

    Selection is the one bit of the educational jigsaw that the Gove reforms omitted and it says something about Mrs May that she is offering it; possibly that is part of her motivation in doing so. Would there have been less reaction if she had simply said she was going to allow selection, rather than using the emotive name, Grammar Schools?
    There is still an awful lot of detail to come: how will Grammar School fit in the existing scheme of things, with Academies and Free Schools? It looks as if such existing schools may simply be able to become selective, subject to conditions, which is why to me the term Grammar School is out of date and it might have been better not to use it. There is no sign that Grammar School will be imposed on areas that do not want them but they may well be encouraged as a good option.
    Mrs May had some rather acid words for the private sector, but she would do well to think hard about this and what it has to offer, which goes far beyond sponsoring state schools. I went to a Direct Grant school and some way of replacing these, or the Assisted Places scheme is worth considering. I have served as chairman of the governors of an independent girls’ day school and one of the things that impressed me most was the lengths to which parents would go to avoid the State system for their children, and all sides of the educational establishment, politicians, officials and the teachers and their unions, would do well to ponder on why this is so. It became all the more marked when the child was in any way unusual or had particular aptitudes, or was just of above average ability. In a non-selective environment there is an inevitable gravitation to the lowest common denominator and lack of flexibility. Are there areas where the State just cannot cope and it would be better to make direct use of what the private sector can offer?
    Equally my experience makes it clear that if the State sector becomes fit for purpose, the run of the mill parts of the private sector will wither and Mrs Mays worries about it will be solved. The school with which I was involved failed, and a large part of the reason was that the local sixth form college, which had been something of a sink, got its act together and provided unanswerable competition.
    I wish Mrs may very well in this initiative but I suspect there is an awful lot of thinking yet to be done.

  22. Lifelogic
    September 11, 2016

    Listening to Amber Rudd on Andrew Marr (just now) it is quite clear that Mrs May (after many years as home secretary) and Amber Rudd (after three months in office) have still not even decided how to deal with non EU immigration, let alone EU immigration.

    What is the point of ministers coming on television just to say nothing, nothing, we cannot say yet, we need a discussion/debate and we have not decided that yet either? Theresa was appointed Home Secretary in 12 May 2010, yet still they have apparently not made up their minds on a direction? This even on non EU migration?

    Are we sure we have the right leader? Is the talk of Grammar Schools just an attempts distraction? One that she surely must know she cannot really deliver anyway, given all the lefties/Cameronites in her party and the lefty wet House of Lords.

  23. Caterpillar
    September 11, 2016

    Whilst I support hard work, when studying the successful perhaps we oughtn’t discount confirmatory bias, false positives and false negatives. Nor should we ignore returns to luck, and some would also question the size of the returns to luck or to merit.

    It can be very easy to become a little too romantic.

  24. Roy Grainger
    September 11, 2016

    The opposite view is taken on the Left by the likes of Owen Smith who explicitly said his aim is “equality of outcome”. Of course the easiest way to achieve that is to make the state education system as bad as possible.

  25. Denis Cooper
    September 11, 2016

    Off-topic again, I’m surprised that John Wittingdale should tell the Sunday Telegraph that he wants Article 50 to be triggered in “weeks not months”, when the government has already told the courts that they can spend months not weeks dealing with the vexatious cases which have been started to try to prevent us leaving the EU, and the courts have adopted that leisurely schedule.

    “The case will be heard over two days from mid-October 2016 by a Divisional Court including the Lord Chief Justice. Given the constitutional importance of the case the Court is also making arrangements for a “leapfrog” appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court in December 2016 ahead of the Government’s projected timetable for triggering Article 50 TEU at the start of 2017.”

    I imagine that if the government counsel had told the court that this was an urgent matter then the case could have been expedited, but having said that there’s really no rush it would be difficult to go back on that now.

  26. Horatio
    September 11, 2016

    JR, I read Christopher Booker’s article in today’s Telegraph with interest. I had not heard of AEOs before, it appears that he thinks you haven’t either! Is it something that we should be worried about? I’d love to see you address this in a future blog if possible? Please keep up the good work, always a pleasure to see you on our TV screens as a general lack of common sense still abounds.

    1. stred
      September 12, 2016

      As we are already operating AEOs and must have the paperwork and sofware, why could we not adopt the same process and agree to continue as before. Would French and Spanish exporters stand for their lorries being searched or car manufacturers their trains of engines and parts searched. Bonkers Verhofstdt and Junker would be told to stop mucking about the day they started.

    September 11, 2016

    This has a ring of “If” by Kipling. Strangely, a scene from “Schindler’s List” or is it Schindlers’s Ark” , almost immediately goose-stepped in my mind. Whatever the title, I have the book somewhere in my home. It’s hiding like a few others. I cannot remember if I’ve read it. My books are in a very British queue awaiting reading. People will quite inconsiderately keep writing more of them. But I saw the movie for the second time on TV recently. The clip online: “A Small Pile of Hinges”…ohh, aside from the uniforms, German accents and guns, I’ve seen and heard that scene in many a workplace in the UK . I’ve worked in the thick of it.

    Personally, I have known quite a few managements and supervisors who I have never found it a “privilege” to meet in both the public and private fields in the UK. Worked under Austrian supervisors too.Hell. Well, one of them was Hell anyway.
    I have never experienced a British or foreign boss genuinely…in the medium to long run appreciate “hard work” in theory, in abstract, or in practice irrespective of profit motive. But for the young and inexperienced, for the readers and writers of books, and other proper people, it is the British Dream; namely, you should work hard and you’ll get to where you wish to go. Selecting, picking on people, and shipping them off is cruel, even if you don’t use railway goods wagons to transport them just to nick their teeth.

    I take your point JR about writing books. I’m writing books. What matters by far is that I read them.

  28. turboterrier
    September 11, 2016

    Good post John and so very true.

    Hard work, application, dedication and total belief in oneself.

    The money when it is behind you comes in handy but it is not the panacea to success.

  29. NickC
    September 11, 2016

    The biggest problems I had with my children’s schooling was the appalling attitude of some of the teachers. At the state primary school I was told to my face by the form teacher that he did not teach times tables because the pupils have calculators nowadays and they don’t understand the tables until they’re 11. Another son (8yrs old) was accused on his end of term report of “phonic attack”, an apparently dreadful affliction where the child attempts to pronounce a new word by spelling it out.

    The ethos of the state comprehensive left something to be desired too. The school seemed more interested in a correct uniform and not having the boys shirts hanging out than keeping order in the classroom.

    Talking in class, disruption, disorder, low expectations, a bias against boys, child-centered learning, the style of teacher training from the 1970s, refusal to accept competition, all militate against getting the best academic results from every child far more than whether the school is grammar or comprehensive. One teacher told me his (recent) conversion MA was complete trendy waffle and a waste of his time.

    Sort these problems out and the country will get better academic results. Improve what we have got before turning everything on its head. Selection at 11 is pointlessly divisive and probably too early for the child. However, selection takes place naturally at 16 provided there are good local 6th form and technical colleges, and also good apprenticeships. Grammar schools are not a panacea, good teachers with a belief in our own civilisation are.

  30. ian
    September 11, 2016

    The chances of getting grammar school vote in parliament are slim and in lords nonexistent, even if the idea come through both houses it up to each local area to decide if they want grammar schools, so to me just talk or you might say, just muddying the water and you are looking at that their aim is do something elsewhere while your not looking.

    Like to congratulate every MP and lord in the two houses with the establishment, civil service and councils for a stellar job on public services and the economy and long my it last, obviously these people chosen for their outstanding ability to get the job done at any cost and as the media will tell you, everything you have is the best in the world.

    September 11, 2016

    Doing well at things attracts the attention of bullies, idiots, bosses, co-workers, authorities of every manner. It rarely ends well for the Doingers. Sometimes: in fact, oft-times leading to their annihilation…in the final analysis.
    Contrary to fashionable genetic and ideological studies, Nature is an extremist. An Extreme Conservative. Any deviation from the Common is attacked. Better not select people out.
    As Kipling warns in the last line of verse one of his poem “If”:-

    “And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise” This philoosphy and particularly my honesty and hard work have always ensured I stay firmly at the bottom of the heap.

  32. Ian Wragg
    September 11, 2016

    It’s quite illuminating to hear public school educated snobs railing against Grammar Schools.
    They really don’t like their position challenged by the great unwashed .
    As you say, life is manifestly unfare and I think it’s wrong that Monday Farah keeps winning.
    Why can’t I win.
    Anyway he probably knows very little about gas turbines.
    Pass me that spanner…….

    1. Ian Wragg
      September 11, 2016


  33. Dung
    September 11, 2016

    You speak the absolute truth Mr Redwood with one small error, some who have failure in their hearts have had that failure drilled into them by less enlightened parents or perhaps that situation was in your thoughts as well.
    The great tradegy is that so many can not see this truth that you speak ^.^

  34. acorn
    September 11, 2016

    The job of a government is to operate a socio-economic system. Thatcher never understood the “socio” bit. Grammar Schools were never meant for the below median income family. They were for the middle class to aspire to the privileged class. As she said, “… people from my sort of background needed grammar schools to compete with children from privileged homes like Shirley Williams and Anthony Wedgwood Benn.”

    As for the below median income family she said, “… they are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.”

  35. Ed Mahony
    September 11, 2016

    Few ideas about education:

    – Above all, really focus more on Maths (and logic) and English (and love of reading) for ALL.
    – Less 3-year university courses and more intense 1-year courses with concrete skills related to future job.
    – More sport, arts and teaching of ethics (for self, family, school, neighbours, work, the vulnerable, tolerance of others including religion, and for crown and country).
    – National service of 3 months (or supporting the health service / visiting the old etc).
    – Encouragement of more foreign languages at school, and to get young people to travel and work abroad more, for a while, after leaving school.
    – Develop scheme to help and encourage young entrepreneurs

    – Encourage more foreign language in school, and travel abroad after leaving school, not just to travel but to work as well (for me, one of the best experiences in my life).

    1. Ed Mahony
      September 11, 2016

      ‘– National service of 3 months (or supporting the health service / visiting the old etc)’
      Perhaps voluntary at first, and that can be done in one go or over a few years, with incentives of SMALL financial rewards for turning up and rewards of bronze, silver and gold according to how well you do (with financial prizes, as well as awards of internships from companies – companies could help sponsor this overall, as well as prizes such as exciting trips abroad sponsored by individuals and companies, things like that). Also rewards should help people on their CV.
      National service should also include lessons about importance of ethics regarding self, family, country etc ..).

  36. Iain Gill
    September 11, 2016

    There are a lot of problems with this view.
    For someone like me who has already paid in taxes towards the state education budget more than more own children will ever get out of it… the state has taken away my buying power. It has forcibly removed from me the means to buy their education myself. And as I said previously at the moment the state is not even able to provide any school at all, least of all the worst school in town… no school at all. And you want me to be happy?
    My own buying decision has been replaced with a corrupt system where friends of teachers and council staff get preference for the best schools, at least 30 % of the parents of the children I know in the best schools are lying about their home address, and for those good schools where religion is a deciding factor often over 50% of the parents are lying about their religious ties. You see we give the best school places to people who bend the rules and lie, and we encourage that behaviour.
    The reality is the state will never optimise the choice of school the way I could if I had control of the money. And if I had the money those of us being honest about our address and religious views would not be at a disadvantage.
    Sure the world is not fair but for me my hard work, and my flexibility to move around the country for work , have led to my own children getting the dregs of the state education system nobody else wants. Hard work and honesty does not pay.
    Then I look at people I know on the big social housing estates. Estate built to support the workforces of the mines, shipyards, steelworks and so on. Those estates were proud net contributors to the British economy for many years. The fact the local schools were rubbish didn’t matter as much because in practise most of the boys were really getting their education in their first few years as an apprentice in the shipyard or similar. Those apprenticeships also provided a route for the brightest to route to excel and jump into the academic route too. You only have to look at the exams a pit deputy had to pass, for example, to know that these people were not stupid.
    I was lucky myself as one of the top few out of 2000 in a big state school with an aptitude for academic stuff I managed to escape. But even I had no chance of passing a language exam, which many in politics not want to use as a barrier to uni entry that never stopped me or my equivalents.
    We need to leverage the talent of out brightest children wherever they are brought up. But we also need much better ways of handling the i) disruptive children, ii) children with little English and so on.
    I don’t expect the world to be completely fair, but I do want all children to have a chance, I do want a route out of the worst estates for the brightest children, and I don’t want the “Animal Farm” style state rationing and corrupt allocation we see all around us. I want the buying power.

  37. Margaret
    September 11, 2016

    I think rather than taking the self judgement or judgement of others as a student or pupil , it is worthwhile to look at those who say that they are teachers and don’t really understand the differences in children/adult psyches which are all important in learning. I do not believe any person alive is a failure .People have a harder time than others, some might not teach as well as others , some might not bond to their instructors as well as others , but there are reasons why people do not perform to set standards.

    We really need to think what intelligence and aptitude is. John Jacques Rousseau has an interesting take on learning by letting the child develop in it’s own way. Competition in schooling is too much and takes away much of the pleasure of learning.

    If we don’t want to get on the bus which always goes one way and have drivers who always run the same route, then we get off and walk or get a bike or use other forms of transport. We do not all have to get to the other end by going on the same journey . The conformity is embarrassingly superficial.

    I have always taught myself and cannot understand why some lecture or teach with far less knowledge and understanding than they should have. For example I can’t imagine why some who have bits of information from every aspect of life , challenge each other on quiz shows to demonstrate their though memory for snippits of information matter . We have places to gather information without forcing ourselves to remember.

    If you learned from reading you must have enjoyed it .If some don’t then they didn’t.but we all live and die and look up to the same sun. We are not failures in any way.We are all different.Thank goodness.

  38. forthurst
    September 11, 2016

    “It is high time we accepted that life is riddled with selections.”

    Life is also riddled with choices, which is why offering students false choices is damaging and dishonest. In the bad old days, the local tech offered courses to support local trades and industries. Now, the tech has become the ‘uni’, scavenging students whose academic performance would not qualify them for a Russell group institution and in many cases offering ersatz academic courses leading to worthless degrees and debts of time and money. Some courses inherently lack academic rigour of which some simply impart predjudices in furtherance of a political agenda to engineer society for the worse: media studies, some fictional tv ‘expert’-ology, political science, sociology, psychology, womens’ studies etc.

    Recently I have employed tradesmen for home improvements, craftsmen and their apprentices; all the craftsmen were impressively quick and dexterous in performing their particular trade, whose craft they were also passing on to their apprentices who would depart after three or more years to become masters themselves. Such people who usually leave school at sixteen are far more use than many people who lecture and are taught in formal education and many people who are employed in the public sector who have never learned to be effective at anything.

    Some object to grammar schools on the basis that it would be ‘turning the clock back’, but sometimes nations can take a wrong turning in furtherance of some contemporary fad, in which case turning the clock back, recognising that different people have different aptitudes and the only legitimate role that education should play is assisting each individual to develop his aptitudes to the fullest, is the right course to take.

  39. ian wragg
    September 11, 2016

    O/T today I have been reading Christopher Bookers essay on AEO’s. First thing we must clarify is that he is spokesman for Richard North and his FLEXCIT plan.
    To imply that we will not for example contact the World Custom Organisation and tell them we will be a sovereign independent country on……….date and we want all the paperwork in order to comply with AEO’s the day following.
    If we are to be told by the likes of Juncker that we cannot speak to anyone until after we have left then the general public will rightly concede that our MP’s are frauds and chancers to be discarded at the earliest opportunity.
    I would have thought the 2 year gestation period of Article 50 was ample time to flesh out agreements with the rest of the world.
    Anyone would think we were waiting for the terms of an armistice having lost a war.
    Anyone would think we were

    1. Denis Cooper
      September 12, 2016

      I’m reminded of the final parts of the film “Bridge over the River Kwai”, when the British colonel takes such a pride in the way his troops have built the bridge that he forgets himself and alerts the Japanese to the attempt to blow it up.

      If I’d spent years researching and drawn up a detailed, 406 page, multi-stage plan for our smooth and orderly withdrawal from the EU then I would not be happy when it was ignored and people refused to contemplate even the first stage.

      However, when I read that blog now I find it increasingly difficult to tell whether or not it is still in favour of us even leaving the EU, the obstacles to doing so being piled up day by day almost as if it was being run by the Remain side – who are quite happy to use the information it provides in their cause.

      There’s an interesting article by Roger Bootle today:

      in which he says:

      “First, contrary to the propaganda, membership of the single market is not of overwhelming importance. If it were, how would it be possible for non-member countries from all around the world to sell to it so successfully, and why would its members be doing so badly? Why haven’t single market member countries been carried forward on a wave of prosperity created by the mutual recognition of standards and the absence of border checks?

      The benefits of the single market have been sufficiently small that they have been outweighed by other factors: the macroeconomic disaster that is the euro and the micro-economic disaster that is the web of regulations, laws and interferences that reduce market efficiency across the union.”

      Which I think is true, because by the EU Commission’s own account the creation of the EU Single Market has produced a one-off increase in GDP of just 2% across the EU as a whole, and there is evidence that the benefit for the UK has been well below that average; the problem I have seen is not in the leaving of it, but in the process of leaving it without causing major disruption.

      However the more I read about the complications of leaving the Single Market the more I am inclined to think that much the same objections would be raised later if we stayed in it now, for example through the EEA, and rather than being an interim step to ensure a smooth exit from the EU it would turn out to be permanent.

  40. Glenn Vaughan
    September 11, 2016

    I don’t care whether schools are labelled as “grammars” or “comprehensives” et. al.

    Poor education provided by poor quality teachers is “something up with which we should not put”!

    1. Marcus Rose
      September 11, 2016

      Teachers are overworked having to teach to wide a curriculum. Also too much paperwork.

  41. Marcus Rose
    September 11, 2016

    I agree. I went to secondary Mod and not disappointed. I am no way academic and glad I’m not. There is no such thing as equality. My brother has a top degree but turns to me to sort his computer and other things that require just plain common sense. There are different types of intelligence and to try to force everyone the academic way has been a disaster. We need to go back to the old system. K.I.S.S Keep It Simple Stupid. Same thing applies to our NHS. We’ve left it to academics to sort out what was good and look at the mess they’ve made.

  42. a-tracy
    September 12, 2016

    There’s a lot in your post I agree with but here’s the rub, where you type ” failed at school.” I’ve gone on to much “success” with examinations in my adult life, always more nervous than most people hours before the test because of past stigma of “failing” one exam taken when I was 10 (August birthday). All through primary all of my friends were on the top table with me steamed mixed ability in primary. I never got the opportunity to join them later and whatever you say with a much poorer Secondary modern education in a school with no “top set” to stretch and learn from any child would be too far behind them without additional tuition.

    The real problem middle class parents will have with this “back to the future” approach is when they have that one child who isn’t up to the grammar grade and has to go to school without a top stream in certain subjects they do excel in because all those kids are no longer in the school and they end up a serious minority in a none-academic school that no longer has the width to accommodate their needs and their strengths. Maybe they would be strong in Maths but not sufficiently successful in English to get into the Grammar what would their new Maths top set be like? These parents currently travel miles outside of their home area to get their children to a mixed ability comprehensive rather than attend the local secondary modern equivalent.

    Why does everyone assume that the top set students in a mixed ability comprehensive don’t succeed just as well as a Grammar school would. The biggest problem for me is the do-gooders in school who insist in mix ability in other subjects to Maths and English, so that if your talent is music you end up with people who hate music in your class, if your talent is sport you don’t have a top sport stream. Another problem is the brightest ones are asked to help teach the slower learners and aren’t sufficiently stretched. A few tweeks in the comprehensive model could sort this out. I would prefer the money to be spent getting the disruptive pupils out of all schools and giving them a more appropriate education that gives them useful life skills so that too much teacher time doesn’t get wasted.

  43. woodsy42
    September 12, 2016

    This strikes me as yet another situation where the government have fallen into a negative PR situation.
    It makes excellent sense to me that secondary education should be directed towards the pupil’s abilities and interests. Pupils deserve the best for them personally and the country needs the brightest to be be educated to the best level. That implies some sort of ‘apptitude’ test, and also implies that schools should be more specialised rather than ‘one size fits all’.
    Sadly the government have fallen into the old 11 plus trap, and old fashioned attitudes, where the cleverest are best and the brightest succeed, while the rest are consigned to a second best secondary modern.
    I would suggest any reforms should have started at the other end and with quite different language. Creating skills academies and technical high schools to train skilled tradesmen, people desiring to become self employed, directed specifically at ‘ordinary’ people teaching skills and self-improvement to make the best of their lives. Make the mainstream something positive. Then you could easily argue for taling out the ‘nerds’ for special treatment.

  44. Mockbeggar
    September 13, 2016

    There seems little point in publishing two posts of mine saying “See also my comments above.” when you fail to include the comments referred to.

    1. Mockbeggar
      September 14, 2016

      I see that you have now, belatedly, published the original post, so I now withdraw this one.

  45. Georgia
    September 13, 2016

    Every child needs and should have a good, basic secondary education. After secondary education you can choose your life path, for example to study for a specific degree at university or to pursue an acting career etc. This is why selection makes sense it the latter, and not the former.

    1. Georgia
      September 13, 2016

      I say this as a comprehensive student who went on to Oxford. A good comprehensive school doesn’t have to hold you back. The problem of course is that not all comprehensives are bad, so the answer lies in improving the standard of all schools, and not selection.

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