Meet the new school-gate pariah; that’s me. The alpha-mums are not talking to me. The less alpha-ones give me embarrassed, slightly apologetic glances and move away. I’m in the PSA doghouse.
I wouldn’t care, of course, if it weren’t for my kid. He’s been popular enough at school so far, but his position will always be precarious, caught between the white-middle-class alphas and the aspiring, immigrant council tenants. He talks, sometimes acts, like the former; gets holidays and extra-curricular stuff like they do, but he looks just like the latter. And looks are so important to kids. Plus he’s young in the class, small, gentle, non-competitive, by little boys’ standards, and without a hint of snobbery. He’ll play with anyone.
That ought to be an advantage; maybe, one day, it will be. So far, he’s had good friends in both sectors. But now I see the white-middle-class alphas closing ranks, the snobbery of their children tending increasingly to reflect the snobbery of their parents. It all blew up over the music lessons.
Every child in my son’s class, now almost finished Y2, has enjoyed free, intensive violin training since the start of Y1. Whether special-needs or super-gifted, violin class has been there for them all. Free of charge. Intensive; three lessons a week, including one with just one other child. Violins, other materials, it’s all free, did I mention that?
Then, abruptly, we were told: should our children wish to continue learning violin into Y3, they will have to pay up to £500 a year. Or maybe £350, if most of us opt in. For fewer hours, bigger class. The school will revive regular council-funded tuition in the recorder, drumming, whatever else is deemed appropriate for anyone else interested. The charity which has so far provided the violin lessons will slowly withdraw.
Reasons have not been made explicit, at least not to me – but are apparently about being unable to justify this amount of finance on a project which ultimately, primarily, benefits the most privileged. Benefit them it does, of course. I’ve written about this previously; five of the school’s 30 current year-6’s won scholarships to posh private schools, on the back, pretty much exclusively, of the violin programme.
Of course they are the year-6 kids who would have done well anyway. They are all from aspiring, engaged, “hard-working” families. Scholarship-level musicianship isn’t possible at this age, we all know that, without active support from parents. In one case these are doctors. But none of them are private-school wealthy, and at least some, I believe, are social-housing tenants.
Still, it’s not fair, say the other parents, apparently, of the large number of children who gave up violin at the earliest opportunity, despite the fact that at that time it still cost virtually nothing. So much money and time spent on promoting the careers of children who were already the best in the class. Not fair at all.
I was appalled, less for the sake of my own child than for his equally talented but less-privileged friends, still back in Y2, for whom the end of the virtually-free programme will mean the end of their musical career. Though it is true the alpha-mums’ kids populate the top streams in everything in our class too, including music – they do not dominate them. There are plenty of “non-alphas” around as well. Those are the kids now set to lose out.
I wrote an angry letter to the PSA and upset a number of teachers, including the head. I thought naively that most of our class parents would be behind me. But I’m wrong. The fact is, the alpha-mums love the idea: an elite music group, just for those who can pay – great! All our friends will be in it anyway! A little private school within a state primary for those who can afford it; clear lines drawn between us and the school’s riffraff – at last!
Sensing my miscalculation, and concerned mainly if confusedly for my child, I grovelled. I apologised for my indiscretion in the most elegant language I could muster. Quite right too, stormed the head, rubbing my nose in it, and I let her, tacitly agreeing to become a scapegoat. The PSA and staff have gone completely quiet on the issue – either that, or I have been cut out of the information loop. I don’t know what the plans are for next term. Are expensive music lessons going ahead, or not? How many other parents opted in? At some point I presume I will have to be told. But sod it; sod the school and everyone else in it. If I have to pay for private music lessons for my child I will do so. And sod all his friends, the white-middle-class alphas, and the spineless social housing immigrants too. Sod all of them.