Obsession with grammar schools just leaves poor children behind | Letters

Dr John Somers reflects on his path not taken, and Katy Simmons writes of the schools that are missing out

I read ‘We are in an education arms race’ (G2, 5 December) with interest and some dismay. I attended a very good village primary school in Wales immediately after the second world war and, from the beginning, was acutely aware that near the end of my time there I would take an exam, the result of which would decide whether I went to an urban grammar school or a rural secondary school.

The education received in each was wildly different, and when I passed the exam at the second attempt I entered a world of Latin, trigonometry and other studies. These seemed irrelevant to my life as a rabbit and mole-catching youngster living in a village house lit by oil lamps with a weekly tin bath in front of the living-room fire, where my mother seemed to work from the time her eyes opened until she slept. My subsequent career in education led me from an urban secondary modern to a comprehensive, a college of education and a university. I have worked extensively abroad, founded and edited an international research journal and held senior roles in my university. If I had gone to the rural secondary school – the curriculum of which prioritised rural skills including pig-keeping and gardening – I would probably have left at 14 and got a labouring job in my locality.

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Shire railways are losing out to London | Letters

Les Bright points to deprived areas of the south, while Peter Fellows crunches numbers

It is no surprise that, with all eyes turned towards Brexit, politics has reverted to type with the “north-south divide” reasserting itself (North of England continues to see cuts in public spending, report finds, 5 December). But this formulation is inaccurate and divisive, suggesting that all of the south is prosperous and favoured by those who allocate government resources. Tell that to the people of the southern shires where per pupil spending is significantly below that of London; rail travellers whose trips are cancelled or made by bus when moderate storms coincide with high tides; and communities where bus services have been reduced or removed. Crossrail will do little or nothing to improve rail services outside of the corridor of privilege that it will create, and HS2 has no relevance for most of us. London’s dominance over the rest of the UK, as measured by power, influence and funding, may well have contributed as much to the outcome of the referendum as migration-related fears and must be addressed if further fractures are to be avoided.
Les Bright
Exeter, Devon

• Transpennine rail upgrade linking Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford Hull and York: £2.9bn. Crossrail 2 vanity project: £30bn. Says everything you need to know about the government’s political priorities (Transport secretary considering ‘seriously flawed’ rail upgrade, 8 December). Roll on a general election.
Peter Fellows

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NHS spent money on ads instead of jabs | Brief letters

Flu jab | Shire elections | Navy photo | Brexit | Theresa May

Sarah Matthews (Letters, 10 December) describes the difficulty that she experienced in getting a flu jab from her GP and local pharmacist after having been exhorted to do so as an over-65 by Trevor McDonald in an NHS advert. When I was experiencing similar difficulties I discovered that while the NHS had spent a great deal of money on such adverts, no provision had been made for supplying an adequate number of vaccines to meet the extra demand to which such advertising would inevitably lead. A serious case of left hand/right hand perhaps?
Harvey Sanders

• Further to Jacqueline Angell’s advice (Letters, 10 December), I stood for election for the Labour party, repeatedly, in the not very leftwing heart of Buckinghamshire, following in my daughter’s footsteps. Despite doubling her vote to a respectable, if definitively losing, figure, I rarely met people who would admit to supporting me or the party beyond an occasional “congratulations” on getting a letter printed in the Guardian. Such quiet words appear to be the shibboleth among true but hidden believers in the shires.
Peter Hutchinson
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

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Australia ranks well in global health, despite cancer and obesity alarm bells

Comparison with OECD countries shows Australia doing well for life expectancy and infant mortality, but worse on male obesity

Australian men have the highest rate of cancer within the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), though the result may be down to the country’s highly detailed data collection, a comparison of international health statistics has found.

A new tool, released on Tuesday by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, helps compare Australia’s performance with other OECD nations against a range of key health indicators by synthesising a range of data sets.

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Gambler’s victims to sue bookmakers where he spent stolen cash

Claims totalling £1.5m against William Hill and Paddy Power for allegedly failing obligations

Two of the UK’s largest bookmakers are facing compensation claims worth £1.5m over allegations that they allowed a gambling addict to bet hundreds of thousands of pounds in stolen cash.

Betting shop records seen by the Guardian show that the addict, who has asked for his name to be withheld, staked £650,000 in two William Hill shops over six months, losing £150,000.

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We no longer have a functioning government. May must step aside | Ian Lavery

The prime minister has bottled it and pulled the vote on her Brexit deal. The country can’t go on like this

Theresa May has bottled it. She’s realised her deal is so disastrous that she has taken the desperate step of delaying her own vote at the 11th hour.

For weeks, she has insisted that her Brexit deal is the best possible deal, even though it’s opposed by most people in her party and across the country.

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UK man accused of importing 1.3 tonnes of cocaine goes on trial in Paris

Robert Dawes arrested two years after drugs transported on Air France plane in 30 suitcases

A British man believed to be one of Europe’s biggest drug traffickers has gone on trial in Paris, accused of importing 1.3 tonnes of cocaine into France.

Robert Dawes was arrested two years after the drugs were discovered inside 30 unregistered suitcases, transported on an Air France plane from Caracas to Charles de Gaulle airport. The cocaine had a street value of €240m (£217m).

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