In unedited form:
The newspaper tells me that 50% of Westminster pupils go on to Oxbridge, 40% of Etonians ditto. Cannot possibly say this is because they are intelligent, it’s also partly intensive coaching and better teaching, and surely it’s also partly because we tend to have a higher opinion of people with whom we can identify so of course they make a better impression at interview and…so it goes on. And I want to rant and get angry about this and swear that my kids are sodding well going to state school Just Because but actually, no. If they want that kind of education and they can get the bloody scholarship (or in the bizarre case that I can actually pay) they’re going to public school and taking every advantage they can get because sadly this is just how the world works and you can stand up and rail against it and end up twisted and bitter because being clever and ‘in the right’ gets you nowhere, or you can do your bloody utmost to run with the system if it’s going to get you to where you want to go. My mother looks at boarding-school-educated friends of my sister and me and thinks they’ve all been, to use a phrase that shouldn’t perhaps be interpreted so strongly in this case, psychologically damaged by the experience. But arguably, are C and I any better off after the years we had in school?
Thus ends the note. I’m not sure there’s much more that needs to be said. I think it’s terrible that a frankly disproportionate number of students at Oxbridge are privately educated, I think it’s terrible that a higher proportion of school leavers from public school make it into Oxbridge than the proportion of school leavers from a given state school or sixth form, I think it’s terrible that we’re still playing a postcode lottery so that my chances in leafy Home Counties southlands of going to a decent university were higher than they would have been had I come from Inner City Somewhere School. I am happy to accept that the average intelligence of pupils at any given private school is likely to be a little higher than at the local comprehensive but not so markedly that the percentage of those who go on to get into Oxbridge is several orders of magnitude greater. I do not understand how fifty percent of pupils at Oxbridge originate from fee-paying schools. And yet again this isn’t about Oxbridge, it’s just a useful marker because lots of statistics exist and are publicly available on this particular marker of educational success. (Such as my Eton/Westminster statistic, which got me so riled up).
What I’m really saying is, how is the state education system failing its pupils so badly? How is it that someone like me, who is as staunch a believer in public services as can be, who is otherwise so old-school left wing, is seriously worried about the hypothetical education of her hypothetical children? The rest of our public services are wonderful. The NHS may be slow and clunky and need a lot of improvement but I think what it tries to do, and does, quite successfully, is utterly visionary. If I had anything wrong with me, I would go straight to them. But as far as I’m concerned our country is failing to educate our children at all adequately. I sat in the back in French and German classes teaching myself becuase the classes moved so incredibly slowly. I was in express science otherwise I would have gone mad. I still can’t play any sport to a standard that isn’t purely laughable. Geography, History, Music – all, effectively, self-taught. Maths – I had a tutor, and I damn well got that A*. English, well, there’s an exception. My teacher was an utter hero. My sixth form was so big that when I stopped working at all, no-one noticed, no-one really realised how much I was letting myself down, and I scraped by on doing my coursework assignments on all-nighters and somehow managed to blag my exams. Finally the Chemistry and Biology A Levels I got were actually largely self taught, in the end.
Who knows if I would have done better somewhere else. In all fairness I sabotaged myself for at least part of the time. And I won’t deny that along the line I did have some very good and wonderful and caring teachers, but I think that we were all, collectively, let down by the system. They couldn’t teach the way they wanted to teach, and we couldn’t learn.
And I’m not saying, oh, woe is me, because as it’s turned out I’m at the best university for my course and I am finally kind of doing myself justice on that score and I love where I am and oh look work experience *squeal*, so it’s not me that’s been let down. But it’s people I know and it’s people I never will know and it’s people who never will realise how much they might have got out of a degree they never even considered doing because no-one took the time to realise how bright they were.
It’s the fact that there are schools who are able to take average-to-bright kids, and, a few years later, send half of them on to Oxbridge and the rest on to a whole assortment of redbricks, whilst putting the same intake through a school down the road with less money and a strict curriculum and a whole host of bizarre targets and restrictions and tagging them with a slightly different label means that that same intake would be lucky to get 50% into universities in general, not just a specific two. It’s the injustice. If I’m born in this house someone pays for my schooling and I end up running hte country. If I’m born in the house down the line my parents believe (as well they should) that education should be a public service and all the local intelligent kids should go to the local comp in a sort of cohort and by and large that works, we all end up at university, somewhere. If I’m born in Darfur it’s a miracle if I get clean water. So I should quit complaining. It just doesn’t make sense.
Oh, and is anyone not in some way negatively affected psychologically by where they go to school?