Time, I Think, To Rant Some More

I have always been a staunch supporter of state education. Still, am, ideally. If I had children, and I honestly thought that my local state school would honestly be the best place for my children, in terms of their intellectual and social development and in terms of making them well-rounded, interesting beings with the best start in life, or at least a reasonably good start in life, then I would send them to that state school.

But it seems to me, more and more, that this is almost never the case. For an example close to my heart, read on. The vast majority of the medical students I know went to an independent school. A number of them were even educated at public schools, some were even boarders. This trend is repeated all across all the medical students I don’t know, as well (and don’t get me started about how many of their dads are doctors too, or how they are all, almost to a man/woman, upper middle-class, safe, shiny, pretty people. Not that I’m not in the latter category, well, if you think I’m pretty, I don’t know. But I can be shiny and wear cardigans and look safe!) For a well-worn statistic in a slightly different area of study, try this: 6% of all children in the UK are privately educated at secondary school level; over 50% of students at Oxbridge come from independent schools.

Here are my perceptions of my education. I don’t really remember infants’ school. I was in a central London primary and was one of only about two children in my reception class for whom English was our mother tongue. This meant that a lot of the pupils were learning how to speak and understand spoken English at the same time as learning how to read and write it. A lot of them, too, came from very difficult backgrounds. I remember feeling quite isolated at that school – I didn’t make many friends and I did get bullied, but then, I was an August baby – I was significantly younger than the oldest children in my year. The thing is, I think this school was good for me, at that age – it taught me before I’d even learnt to think about it to be inclusive and fair and to not be afraid or even aware of my differences from other children in terms of race or disability or socioeconomic background. We were quite well integrated with a school across the road that catered for children with special needs and so once a week a group of us went to play in their fantastic indoor play area, full of those squashy slides and climbing equipment and interesting bubbly lamp things and ball pits and stuff, and it was great fun, and we were all children together. If I’d been sent to some prep school and had been wearing a little blazer and a hat and neat grey socks and regulation brown shoes I think I would have missed out on a lot of things that were fairly crucial to my early social development.

The same cannot be said of my education once we moved out of London. From then on I was the new girl, and therefore an outsider, to start off with. I was quiet and a dreamer and teachers therefore regarded me as stupid and possibly deaf or autistic for quite some time. Because of the constraints of the national curriculum I was not allowed to progress onto books which actually challenged and interested me for two whole years, stuck instead on various reading schemes and tedious non-fiction books about things I didn’t care about. Middle-level maths bored me so much I’d spend hours sharpening my pencil to the finest point known to mankind (why I never fantasised about/carried out said fantasies of stabbing the aforementioned pencil into the eye of my frankly awful year three teacher Mrs Mallett, I do not know) and never got to progress onto the top level stuff – but then, occasionally, I’d sneak a look at this supposedly top-level stuff, and it was equally dull and unchallenging and stupid.

And so it goes on. Fourteen years I spent in school, and for thirteen of those years I was very rarely challenged by anything I encountered. (The fourteenth of those years was spent in the second of the two huge impersonal sixth forms I went to, where I was a mature student, doing Chemistry and Biology in one year (well, Human Biology, because my secondary school in a misguided Gifted and Talented program forced the top science set to, having done the dual science GCSE early (which was a good thing) then take Human Biology AS in year eleven, surely the most obstructive and non-useful A-level ever if you want to do anything seriously scientific with your life. It’s almost as ridiculous as Sport Science or something) – anyway, yes, the first time I got seriously challenged at school was because I was doing AS and A2 Chemistry simultaneously, which meant I was actually having to cover the AS stuff twice – with my AS class, and also because the A2 course was in a totally different order, pre-emptively so that I could cope with the A2 stuff. Serious organisation required). Teachers were uninspiringly stupid and rule-bound, hiding from answering difficult questions by saying things like ‘I don’t have to teach you that under the curriculum’, or ‘never mind, it won’t be in the exams’. Exams, exams, exams. I walked through my GCSEs. I then stopped working almost altogether, preferring to go to houseparties and down the pub and into various nefarious field scenarios involving epic quantities of vodka and JD and such. I stopped paying attention in lessons, and my huge 3000-strong sixth form barely witnessed any of this – we were supposedly responsible adults now, and meant to take responsibility for our own learning. If you’re not enjoying the stuff you’re learning, or not learning, at age sixteen, you’re not going to try very hard to do well in it, especially if by not trying  at all you can still come out with respectable B and A grades.

The thing is, if I had been in a smaller school, if there had been a sixth form as part of my school, it might have been noticed that I was really not cut out for arts subjects. It might have been noticed before I even signed up for those subjects, and I might have been convinced to go with my original plan which was all sciences anyway. I wouldn’t have allowed the fact that my best friend had essentially ‘shotgunned’ medicine to stop me from even considering it as a career choice. If the school I was at wasn’t all about just getting as many people as possible through with five Cs, and letting anyone like me who could do that blindfold go hang, perhaps I would have been challenged more as I went along.

If it wasn’t for things like the national curriculum, and comprehensive entry, I might have routinely been in sets full of people who weren’t just going to scrape by with the minimum. Not that I have some kind of crazy intellectual-elite kind of agenda going on here – I know that’s what it sounds like, but this is from my point of view as an academic, geeky and intelligent young woman. I also believe that state education often fails people who aren’t as bright by making them hate the very idea of learning and all the rest of it, that smaller class sizes and less rigid curricula are the key to well-rounded, happy pupils, and to every child attaining their potential, and I can’t see how state education could possibly provide all of this but it should, oh, it should. Teachers might have had the time to inspire us and not just drill us. And yes, independent schools are competing in a market, and so yes, of course they’re fighting for good exam results from their pupils, but usually that means good exam results from all their pupils – I wouldn’t have really been able to get away with slacking and coming out with two Bs at A-level the first time round when I could so easily have got As. I needed structure, and discipline, to really do my best at that age, as much as I needed inspiration. Inspirational teaching is pretty rare wherever you look but if there’s no time or room for it in a situation where you’re still struggling at GCSE level with some pupils’ basic literacy it’ll become even rarer. That said I cannot thank enough some of the wonderful teachers I had along the way who took the time to inspire me and others of their pupils – Mr F’s amazing socialist diatribes and debates, Mr M’s utter madness on occasion and realisation that part of my problem was a total inability to organise myself, the way both of those men protected me on occasion from the hell school was socially, Mr L, back in junior school, starting the fight with my organisation skills, among other things. But by and large, there are probably ten times as many teachers I could rant on about with bile and lots of swear words and you would all hate me so I won’t.

And there are other things I gather about decent independent schools – the opportunity to actually get involved in worthwhile music making, or debating, or rowing, or acting, or whatever else floats your boat. My school music-making was done out of a sense of pity and of duty when others of my friends at other schools got to do all manner of fun and interesting ensembles, had orchestras which were worth listening to, had decent peripatetic teachers actually teaching at their schools (my sister and I always had private music tuition, usually stealing our teachers from local public schools, if you must know, but then, we held County Music Awards that bagged us free tuition from London professionals otherwise well beyond our means) and all the rest of it. The social education one gets at independent schools – learning how to be a civilised human being, being given the opportunity to be curious intellectually, rather than being branded as a boffin from the off and from then on being made to feel ashamed of who you really are. I’m not saying it’s utter heaven, for one thing, I wouldn’t know, and I do konw that many of my friends who were privately educated weren’t much happier than I was – ages eleven to fifteen, roughly, are horrible for the vast majority of people.

There were a lot of faults with my state education, and I don’t know how much better life would have been for me in any of the independent schools to which I could theoretically have gone. But I do know this. The people I know now, who were privately educated, are going to better universities, no matter how intelligent they are. They are socially more adept – knowing how to make any guest or outsider seem instantly welcome, moving conversations along with grace and tact, knowing how to order wine and open doors for people and talk to waiters and baristas and so on in a way that many of my old school friends still clearly haven’t mastered. They are the ones that get through interviews into Oxbridge or for law, or medicine, and so on. Who know about music and literature and what’s on at the theatre. On a daily basis I feel academically and socially at a disadvantage, and that makes me feel terribly belligerent about the whole thing. I feel somehow that if I’d had my time again, and been differently educated, I would have made the right decisions and known how to manage certain situations and of course life wouldn’t have been perfect, at all, but I do, crucially, feel that I would be better off. I would have done the three sciences at A-level, and probably philosophy, those would have been the right choices. I would have worked for them. I would have possibly been more socially secure. I would have got those interviews to medical schools and walked through them. Because I know I am good enough, but I never got the guidance when I needed it about how to actually show that to the people that really mattered.

Right, that’s enough of my bitter failed-old-woman rant. Here is why I am still a supporter of state education. Everyone, for goodness’ sake, everyone, deserves a decent education. GCSEs are getting easier and easier every year, that’s why grades are going up, everyone knows it. Everyone who wants to go to university should be able to go. Everyone who doesn’t really want to study until they’re 21 shouldn’t feel obliged to do so. A friend of mine claims that if you can afford to pay for a better education then surely you deserve it – but how on earth am I undeserving of the better education that this friend had, just because my parents couldn’t pay the fees?

If I ruled the world, I would probably base my own state education system on the German one where, at the age of eleven, all pupils take exams which then put them into one of three schools: the Gymnasium, for the brightest students, which focuses on academic subjects and where the hope is that most students will then go on to university; the Realschule, which is a mix between academic and vocational subjects, for students somewhere in the middle; and the Hauptschule, which mainly focuses on vocational subjects and helping their pupils become skilled in a useable trade, getting them onto apprenticeships at the end of school, and the like. The way the system works means that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of stigma associated with what school you do or do not get into – and also there are end of year exams, every year, and your placement within the Gymnasium or the Hauptschule or the Realschule can be reconsidered. I gather there is a certain amount of fluidity. The curriculum isn’t as tight or as dictatorial, and from what little I know, general studies and life skills are far better taught than they are in state schools in England as well.

What I’m really saying is that everyone should deserve the kind of education that some people decide to pay for. I’m not saying at all independent schools are perfect and all state schools are terrible because I am well aware that that is nothing like the case. I’m just saying that in some ways I feel I missed out. That there is a certain amount of social inequality which means that people from a certain kind of background still find that doors are opened for them by dint of who they know and where they come from rather than their knowledge, potential and who they really are; and that those same doors are closed to other people because they don’t know the right people or come from the right places and they haven’t the polish that certain kinds of education and upbringing instil in one. And yes, of course I’m bitter. There are so many what ifs, but if a number of things had been different I could right now be a more than competent medical student.

Next (but this is for another post) I shall talk about university fees, and the end of the cap, and what that will mean for people like me – for whom Mummy and Daddy hand over a lot of money and support and things and it’s all just about OK, at a stretch – and what that’ll mean for that 6%/50% factoid I mentioned earlier.

Sorry I’m so full of bile at the moment. If anyone so much as mentions the word ‘hormonal’ I may rip their hair off their heads and force them to eat it. Because I’m not. Honest.



Filed under Beliefs, Consumer, Family, Life, Politics, Society, Thoughts, University, World

20 responses to “Time, I Think, To Rant Some More

  1. Anonymous

    “I wouldn’t have allowed the fact that my best friend had essentially ’shotgunned’ medicine to stop me from even considering it as a career choice.”

    This was your own choice. You cannot in any way blame this on the state school system. Surely if that was the way you were thinking, the school would have not changed that?

  2. standingonthebrink

    I feel from listening friends’ experiences of their education I might have been known well enough by the people who guided me and therefore I might have had more relevant advice about what I could be good at and what I was suited to doing as a career, just because I wouldn’t have drowned within the system as I think a lot of people do.

    You’re right, though – it was entirely my own choice, and a not terribly mature one. In this entry I am partly berating myself for a lot of stupid choices that I made, I am partly just venting at random – and I am partly making a serious point, which is that I think in many ways I would have been happier, better off and more successful in a different, smaller and more nurturing educational environment, which is sadly rare within the state sector.

    And it’s partly just because I was young for my year and in some ways young for my age, and didn’t handle a lot of things half as well as I should have done, so while other people thrived in the freedom of a large sixth form and having responsibility for themselves, I was too young for that at the time, and a traditional school situation at that age would have suited me better, but again, I think that stands for a lot of people.

  3. Photolosopher

    Having the money to pay for an independent education DOES NOT make you more deserving of it. That is ludicrous, and I want to know what kind of warped logic someone used to reach such a conclusion. Grrrrr, am angry now…

    I’ve spent my entire academic life going through state schooling in London, and I’ll admit that it hasn’t always been the best (I’m thinking in particular of one shockingly terrible teacher, fresh out of university, who frankly was too ignorant to be teaching and didn’t give a stuff about anything except his own overinflated ego. You know it’s bad when you have to familiarise your A-Level English teacher with poetical terms…). However, I’d like to think that I made the most of the education I was given, and that I made it work for me. I got good grades all the way through, I made it as far as interview at Oxford University, and I never really felt let down by the system; that teacher was the one awful exception. Also, and no less importantly, I found a good balance between developing academically, and developing socially.

    When I was preparing to make the transition from primary to secondary education, I did actually sit a test to get into a local independent school. And I got in. And I turned it down. This didn’t make sense to a lot of people, particularly my mother, but I just didn’t feel comfortable there, and I strongly believed that it wouldn’t have made me happy – still do believe that. I also strongly believe that the issue of whether or not my parents could afford to put me through that school didn’t make a sodsworth of difference as to whether or not I deserved to go there. It’s completely irrelevant. (As it happens, they couldn’t afford it – another relative had offered to pay for my schooling if I got in, and it would only have worked out at a push, which was another reason for turning it down.)

    Anyway, maybe I’m mad, but I have been happy at the schools I’ve attended. State schools. And I don’t have any wistful thoughts about ‘what could have been’ if I had gone down the private education route; no regrets at all.

  4. oi, I’m a medical student without an independent education! In fact, I left a private school because it was unchallenging and expensive so went somewhere (admittedly a very good state school, albeit a state school) else. And yes, I spent 5 years doing nothing and acing everything. To be fair, they streamed me and they gave me extra things to look at and work with etc, but none of it was hard in any way shape or form so hmm. And then most of college I did no work and it was pretty poor because of the lack of challenge. And I’m only just learning how to study. So take it or leave it – I had a good state school with some good teachers, some bad teachers, and I did well out of it. Someone who wasn’t as lucky as me might not have done so well at a state school. Who knows.

    Either way, I can’t complain about my state-school experience so much. I enjoyed it in so far as that was possible* and now am in a good position academically. State school win. There is the issue w/r to independent schools paying more hence the good teachers get brain drained to them…

    *rose tinted past-o-vision goggles

  5. annadegenhardt

    yeah, but Callan, isn’t your father a doctor? It’s odd that, regardless of educational background, a huge proportion of med-students have a medical background. Well, no it’s not odd. On the one hand, probably (hopefully) the vast majority of people with a medical background have grown up in that environment, will know more abut medicine, probably, will understand better about it and when/if they decide to apply for medicine they will have parents able to advise them. OR on the other hand they will be like a friend of mine who’s Dad is a doctor, Mum is a nurse, and was originally going to do either Law or Physics (the one subject in which he had an overruling passion) at university. Then when it came time to make our university choices, he suddenly changed his mind: “I’m going to do medicine…” “Why?” “Because my Dad will get me in to a good school. He knows a lot of people at Medschools”
    OH great. Unfair advantage, hey?

    Also, J: “The people I know now, who were privately educated, are going to better universities, no matter how intelligent they are. They are socially more adept – knowing how to make any guest or outsider seem instantly welcome, moving conversations along with grace and tact, knowing how to order wine and open doors for people and talk to waiters and baristas and so on in a way that many of my old school friends still clearly haven’t mastered.”
    That’s generalising broadly, surely. I know a lot of highly socially awkward people from Independent schools. Furthermore, it’s usually (wahey,more generalisations) the boys who come out of independent schools with such highly developed social awarenesses. I’ve met far fewer girls who have the same graces. They wait for the men to speak up first. Reeeeally modern-thinking, hum?

    On another note, apparently Winchester College (in order to renew its Charity Status) is sponsoring TPS… Interesting. This may be a rumour. But ho hum – why not pick a school that is hardly likely to fail on its own anyway, then sponsor it and have the success attributed to you. Grand. Really great. Well done WinCol.

    Oh and one more thing. The most inspirational teacher I’ve ever had worked in the independent sector and tutored me privately. (although he hated working there…) The marvellous Dr G. Whom I miss inordinately. I want to still be learning latin with him!


  6. Rosie

    I’m not sure how much I have to add to the general rant, other than pointing out it’s as old as the schooling system itself, but I do feel obliged to jump in about the German model of education.

    Streaming at a young age is rarely a positive model for an education system. It reinforces the strength of the wealthy upper(middle) class who are able to give their children the right food, the right books, the right tutoring to pass these exams and put them on the path for a better life. Similarly, it disadvantages the children whose parents are too busy trying to keep a roof over their heads to teach them phonics.
    Do you really think it’s just the school that makes the difference for its pupils? It’s not; people are bred to it. Even in state schools it’s not hard to see a class divide between many low and high achievers.

    Even if class wasn’t so absolutely crucial in these matters, the German model is a system which is hardly flexible. Admittedly children move between these streams, but not nearly as easily as they move between sets in a comprehensive. It’s hardly unheard of for children to blossom and progress at different ages. If you’d been tested when you were being perceived as “stupid and possibly deaf or autistic”, you might have had a very different outcome than if you were streamed at 16. Condemning prepubescent children who haven’t yet displayed particular academic talent to a purely vocational training can only be described as snobbery. They’re all very well darling, as long as they’re not sitting next to OUR children.


    (Clare, WinCol isn’t sponsoring TPS, it seems to be another weird thing my father picked up in the pub. Something to do with an academy in Midhurst?)

  7. @ Anna:

    “…isn’t your father a doctor?”

    He is: that’s the reason I was avoiding medicine for the fist 16 years of my life! I didn’t want to fall into the stereotype, but ultimately I did a couple of weeks work experience and haven’t felt so at home ever since. Hospitals not being the usual choice for feeling at home in, but there we are. I think I’d be furious if my dad had intervened in the applications (and judging by the fact I didn’t get in first time around I don’t think he did!), it was bad enough ending up doing medicine after all. All’s well that ends well.

    As for people being gotten in to medicine via dubious channels, I could not disagree with the practise more strongly. They should go in fair and square with everyone else, it’s enough of a lottery for places as it is. Gah.

    Also, do you know me or is it just obvious my dad is a doctor…?

    @ Rosie:

    “…people are bred to it.”

    That is an interesting question if only for the following, highly controversial point:* are the middle classes more inherently academically minded after a few generations of doing academic studies and jobs and marrying academically-minded people who they met doing such things? Is there a genetic component to all this, and if so how important is it?**

    *and one I don’t necessarily agree with.
    **and I HATE it when people blame genetics for everything. Grrr.

  8. Oh darling. I can never understand your horrendous middle-class guilt.

    Let’s face facts here, shall we? Independent schools, in general, are better than state schools. Yes, it’s wrong that certain people in society are excluded from being able to attend the better schools but that is always going to happen. Even if we were to abolish fee-paying education there would still be vast differences in the type of schools people were to attend. Certain schools would have better teachers, get better reputations, ergo house prices in the catchment areas would rise and the schools would be filled with nice, shiny, middle-class kids. It’s the way it works.

    I didn’t go to private school. My parents could afford to send me there, but I didn’t want to go – I wanted to stay with my friends from primary school, who later turned on me within about 6 months. Brilliant. It’s a great regret of mine. Both my parents were given the best education possible. My dad wanted to go to a specialist maritime boarding school in North Wales, so his parents worked hard so he could go. My mother was raised on a horrible council estate, but her parents sent her to St. Anne’s (when it was a very respectable grammar school), partly because it was Catholic, but mainly because they saw she had ability beyond what the nearby comprehensive would be able to extract from her. I wish my parents had been somewhat more forceful in their desire to send me somewhere better than I ended up. Perhaps then I would have got into a better university.

    I’m a big believer in independent schools. I’m a big believer in ‘if you can afford it, buy it’. I have no delusions about where I am in this world. Jen, it’s very easy for you to say ‘isn’t it just AWFUL that people have to go to such AWFUL schools and don’t get to go to university’ when you say it in a nice voice and live in a nice house. Why get weighed down by the fact that you have advantages over other people? By all means help and care about others, but don’t resent the luck you’ve been blessed with.

    I certainly don’t, and I quite enjoy my life because of it.

  9. standingonthebrink

    @Callan: I don’t think there’s a genetic component to what Rosie is saying at all; I think what she’s saying is that it is a lot down to upbringing and culture and nurture and things – a lot of people from less affluent socioeconomic groups tend to have this attitude that school and getting an education and things are not important goals in life, whereas as a rule children from middle-class backgrounds like the majority of ours here in this discussion will have been pushed and encouraged to achieve from the moment we were talking and walking, encouraged to say longer words and sentences and run further and do more and read earlier and better books and so on, encouraged to work hard and push themselves at school and regard academic achievement as the Pinnacle Of Everything. I’m not sure to what extent I agree but I think there’s something in that argument.

    Furthermore, yes, Anna does know you. She’s pretty related to me.

    And I felt completely unchallenged for all my time in school and indeed sixth form. The only challenge I faced was juggling the private study I had to do just to know the first-year chem in time for my second-year classes, more a problem of time than of any kind of hcallenge as a rule. I wonder if an independent school would have challenged me more just because it would have been less curriculum-restricted, so I would have been given the opportunity to study things outside of what we had to know. Like you I was given extension exercises which were meant to stretch me more but really didn’t, they were just something else to do. And like you, I’m only having to learn to study now. I just think that wouldn’t have been the case had I been at an independent school, and I hate myself for thinking that.

    And I really wasn’t happy at school. I was OK, I muddled along, but socially I wasn’t happy. Being hte kind of kid I was i.e. A Bit Of A Loser I don’t know that that owuld have been different at any other school.

    @Anna – I know what you mean about girls from independent schools but I don’t think that’s a given. I don’t think I would have come out all 1950s unreconstructed prefeminist!

    @Rosie: Intelligence tests always put me in the top percentile – I don’t know to what extent you want to go by those, they’re reasonably fun as exams go, but I have my doubts; but it was merely my manner as a small child that worried people becuase I was such a dreamer and a loner that in a classroom setting based on judging progress by verbal communication I always seemed a bit out of it. Meanwhile the German system only starts streaming at age 11 much like the grammar system did here. You do have a point about middle-class hothouse upbringing but that’s always going to be the case no matter what kind of education system you have. They’ll be the ones that get the bursaries and scholarships to the independent schools if they’re not hte ones paying the fees, they’ll be the ones in the top sets in secondary school, going on to do A-levels. I don’t think streaming by school rather than by class would make that in any worse; but who knows. And talking to my German friend (really representative sample, I know…) the system sounds pretty flexible to me. Furthermore, her family are hardly the wealthiest. Visiting her school, a Gymnasium, it seemed to me that there was a real cross-section of society represented there. I think if the system is done properly it can be a great social leveller rather than a way of merely shoring up the class system that is already in place.

    And I don’t resent the luck I have been blessed with in the least; I resent that it’s not available to everyone. And so I tried to prove that I could do it by going through the state system through and through but I got lost along the way because I was too good at too many things to work out where I wanted to be, and at the end of hte day that’s a personal failing; but I think going to a school where I was less anonymous and where the teachers knew me better, I might have been better guided into studying subjects that would have made me happy. I suffer horrendous middle-class guilt because my dad’s an old-fashioned socialist northerner who sort of wishes academics did picket lines….! And I am, proud to say, my father’s daughter. Now I need to stop whining and see if there is anything *I* can do to be the changes I wish to see in the world.

    Maybe I will send my kids through state schools after all. If I ahve children, that is *global warming panic*.

  10. Adam

    I think your schooling only has a very limited amount to do with your success in life, and progression as a person. I’m entirely state-schooled (with the possible exception of this last year studying music, which is pretty much university, except not) and I feel I’ve progressed and grown as a person because of, and in spite of the state-system. For the record, I do not come from a wealthy background – far from it!!

    The state system is the same as any other – you get out of it what you put in to it. I didn’t have excellent teachers (my first 2 years of Music at Secondary School were terrible – on more than one occasion the teacher left a class full of pupils to go to the pub) but I still achieved reasonable grades overall.
    I will happily admit that my GCSE and A level results are a result of apathy on my part – if I’d put in the effort, I’d have done better… I think that’s more the problem, is that there’s no-one trying to get children interested in learning, helping them value their education. Schools nowadays don’t nurture talent or enthusiasm for a particular subject unless the School can somehow benefit from it.

    I went back to visit my old school at the end of the academic year – and they’re not going to have a Department Head for Music, they’ll just manage without, or get someone from another department to run it – have a music/metalwork teacher… The reason being that the Headmistress of the school doesn’t see the benefit of music to the school, and doesn’t see the point in doing anything to help the department!! I have an article from some broadsheet news paper (I don’t recall which, it’s been stuck on my wall for almost 10 years!) That talks about music education – Julian Lloyd Webber (who I know the blog-author has met) is quoted “As well as being stimulating, motivating and entertaining, classical music teaches us valuable lessons about taste, choice interpretation – these are essential life skills, which our children have the right to learn”

    As for people in medical backgrounds going in to medical careers… You are your parent’s children – you will develop certain character traits and tastes from your parents, it’s part of growing up. My mother and father both come from medical backgrounds – they met and married while they were in the RAF together. Why then, am neither my brother nor I heading in to a military or medicine based career?? I’m heading in to a music-based career – my mother’s tone deaf and my father isn’t interested in music, even to listen to! I don’t think career choices are hereditary!!

  11. Rosie

    a lot of people from less affluent socioeconomic groups tend to have this attitude that school and getting an education and things are not important goals in life, whereas as a rule children from middle-class backgrounds like the majority of ours here in this discussion will have been pushed and encouraged to achieve from the moment we were talking and walking

    Sorry, but I found this a little bit weasel-words-ish. You seem to be equating parents wanting their children to achieve with parents pushing their children to higher levels of academia, which to some – yes, often the less affluent – are not synonymous. As everyone here is citing personal example, I’m reminded that when my father won his university scholarship his entire family thought he was mad to waste three years on a degree when he had a decent vocational apprenticeship. It wasn’t that they didn’t want him to achieve, it’s that they didn’t think he was going the right way about it.

    Whilst we’re on family examples, my father was tested at 11 as part of the 1960’s education system. He did badly and was sent to the local sinkhole, sub-comprehensive level, which he left at 16. The man won a national union scholarship, he has a Masters and just missed out on a PhD. These tests are not foolproof and it’s well known that the modern 11-plus can be crammed for; there’s a whole industry in it paid for by the middle class parents that can afford to do so. Whether it’s genetic (doubtful) or culturally induced, academically selective schools WILL be dominated by the better off. Why such a system deserves reinforcement baffles me: the middle class kids here may resent not having opportunities in a comprehensive, but why would that incite you to promote a system founded on keeping pupils in their box, restricting opportunities for all?


  12. Well, fuck it. I’m going to have children called Tilly and Pippa and Sebastian and they are going to very expensive, very GOOD schools.

    If that equates to moral bankruptcy then so be it. I’d much rather that than send them to some god-awful school based on a silly notion of ‘I don’t agree with private education (but holidays twice a year in the Maldives are ok!)’.

  13. standingonthebrink

    You seem to be equating parents wanting their children to achieve with parents pushing their children to higher levels of academia, which to some – yes, often the less affluent – are not synonymous.

    What I said in fact was that “school and getting an education and things are not important goals in life” to certain groups – which does not imply any criticism of this view, as you seem to think; nor does it imply that I’m conflating academic achievement with achievement per se.

    You’re right, that academically selective schools will be mainly populated by the better off as the system stands; however I don’t think that that’s in any way a given feature of a system involving schools which select for certain skill-sets – that’s certainly not what I saw in Germany, anyway. I neither like nor subscribe to the view that academic subjects are somehow ‘better’ and that by going to the Realschule or Hauptschule I would visualise in the UK, one would be seen as failing to achieve in some way. Preferably it would be a way of sorting people to the kind of education they’ll get the most out of, that will suit them better as a person. Maybe 11 is too young to select and stream like this; by and large I don’t think it is although clearly your father is an exception to the rule, I never wanted to go down a career path in, say, design or art or sports or something – I’m not good enough with my hands or creative enough to do at all well in subjects like art or design, for example, and I’m nothing like co-ordinated enough to succeed in anything more physical, and while some people I knew were amazed at the things I could do academically I was awed by the things they could do and I couldn’t.

    What I’m saying is, in an unflawed and idealistic world the best way to give everyone the education that would benefit them most would be to stream pupils according to their strengths and weaknesses, and abolish private education while we’re at it. Ideally we’d have more, better, happier, and better-paid teachers too. But I know this is all completely blue-skies thinking and that the reality is that systems like this will always be flawed. At teh end of the day it’s surely a question of finding a system that helps more than it hinders its pupils; as it stands I don’t think we’ve found that system, and as it stands if I find an independent school that I think is significantly better than the local state school, and I can afford to send my children there, I will. I will also campaign for more bursaries while I’m at it.

  14. Anonymous

    Completely agree with windmillsofyourmind on this one.

  15. standingonthebrink

    heh, fair enough. Are you someone that I know, or a random reader from outer space? Hope my vitriolic, crazy and slightly bitter rant didn’t scare you off; and I also hope that by the time I have kids I’ll be calling them Tilly and Pippa and Sebastian and happily waving them off to the bestest most expensivest schools I can find, guilt-free…! Just needed to get all that off my chest, really…

  16. stitchthisdarling

    Okay, vast numbers of essays here. I’m not wading through them tonight so you can have something a bit more informed and on topic in the morning.

    I was privately schooled from the age of eight, and I loved my junior school. I really quite liked my senior school. But I do not feel more socially adept for going to either of them, and the fact that I went to either of them makes me embarrassed to admit and very apologetic. I got a lot more than a lot of people. Did I deserve this? Not more than anyone. Why did I get it then? Not a fucking clue. Why didn’t you get it? I don’t know. I don’t know how it works. But I can’t win an argument with people who didn’t get what I had, and somehow my hard work is invalidated by the fact that it’s clearly as a result of conditioning, and the expenditure of my parents.

    There needs to be a lot of equalisation, yes, I do very definitely agree. And Laura and I, I’m afraid, are always going to disagree on certain points – sorry, darling, moral bankruptcy ain’t my bag. But what I do object to, and what does often happen, is the trivialisation of the achievements of people who have been independently schooled, or the demonisation of the ones who achieve a lot.

    Right. Something relating to things previously said will follow.

  17. stitchthisdarling

    Oh. My. GOD that sounds twee. Jenny, you can do this, would you delete that so I can rethink it and not sound like I’m talking out of my arse?

  18. Lucy

    It doesn’t sound like you’re talking out of your arse, Fi. I have a lot of sympathy with people who, like yourself(!), went to private schools because of what was essentially their parents’ choice and worked bloody hard all the same, coming out intelligent, moral, well-rounded people but are then brandished sticks at by the rest of us.

    While I have only skim-read the essays above, there are some fair points being made on all sides. Like Jenny, I remain essentially anti the private education system and all that it stands for, but then how can I talk? I live in an area where the 11+ is still in force and I went to a grammar school, albeit a state grammar. I benefited hugely. No, it isn’t fair. At least that selects on perceived ability rather than money, but it a hugely flawed and pretty divisive system nonetheless.

    If, as in my ideal world, everyone went to their local comprehensive (which was truly a comprehensive, not comprehensive-minus-the-grammar-kids-minus-the-rich-kids), windmillsofyourmind does have a point that you’d still end up with a postcode lottery. Thing is, the postcode lottery might stand more of a chance if resources, both government and demographical were more fairly distributed. And I certainly do not agree that moral bankruptcy is the answer. What happened to removing our heads from the sand and actually standing up for social change? To an extent, the opportunities there are only what we make of them.

  19. I wasn’t actually advocating moral bankruptcy, I was more pointing out the moral hypocrisy of wanting every child to have a chance whilst sacrificing your own child’s education and (possibly) future while you’re at it. I’d rather have what others point out as moral failing, than risk my child’s future. Selfish? Maybe. But I do think that some of you may be thinking differently, ten/fifteen years down the line when you have to choose where your own flesh and blood is going to end up being schooled. Just a feeling I have.

    Also, I would like to point out that I was categorically not brought up in a world lined with gold and with such views pressed upon me. My mother was as lefty as they come, back in the day. She’s moderated out now, but still – I wasn’t raised with diehard capitalist Tories. I was simply taught to work hard, seize every opportunity and enjoy the benefits of that. I have enjoyed many more opportunities than my parents, in particular my mother, ever had and I plan to give my children the ones I didn’t have, or didn’t take. Private education included.

    Also, I would like to find out who this anonymous person is who agrees with me. It’s such a rare occurance, I like to know who is actually on my side.

    L xxx

  20. standingonthebrink

    Fi, I’m not going to remove your comment because people have replied to it now, and also because I don’t think it sounds like you’re talking out of your arse and you don’t come across badly in it at all, don’t worry! And hey, I sound hideously whiny for the post I originally made and in pretty much every comment since…!

    I don’t want or mean to invalidate your achievements at all – I’m not saying they’re not down to your hard work and that you don’t deserve those achievements or anything like that; I’m merely saying that I think there are plenty of people out there who had the potential to achieve as much but who were never really pushed or encouraged to do so, and who weren’t ever stimulated by the things they were being taught to do so – I also think that in your case you’re the kind of person who would have achieved as much wherever you were because you’re conscientious and organised in a way I never was and so you would have done – or did – it all off your own bat anyway. I merely think that there are plenty of people out there who were never inspired or pushed into doing the things they had the potential to do. People who started to fall behind for a whole host of reasons other than their ability to achieve who fell by the wayside unnoticed where in another environment someone would have helped them get it together.

    What I think is more lacking from the state education is the extra-curricular opportunities – private schools have far superior sports teams and creative opportunities, much more music, and the rest. I know P went to a pretty decent public school as a choirboy on a music scholarship and has had opportunities and experiences I could only dream of. I do think there are certain social benefits one can get from going to a public school – good old-fashioned manners seem almost instilled into most of the people I know who went to *really* good private schools; I don’t know whether Knowing About Wine is also part of the deal, or what, though! But although I agree with you that the opportunities there are only waht you make of them, I also think that the opportunities should be there for everyone. And I think that to make the most of the opportunties you’re given, some poeple need a bit of a push which you can only get if the people educating you can a) notice and care enough to do so and b) have the time to do so.

    Ideally, yes, comprehensive education, rich kids, clever kids and all, would be wonderful. But until then I have to say I do agree with Laura – if I can give my children the chance to go to a decent school but that school is deeply private, I will do so. I don’t think it’s moral bankruptcy, although I don’t approve, but also everyone else who can is doing the same thing – everyone wants the best for their children. If I can push for the social change required so that the best is universally available then I would do so but until then I just want my children to be happy and not hard done by. And I think in the current climate you’ll all agree taht massive educational reform is probably not on the cards…!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s