The thing about private schools is, that once a family, or a whole social class, has shelled out for the fees, it then has a highly-vested interest in making sure that money has been well spent. That’s to say, that the social immobility in this country which every politician publicly deplores (but privately exploits) remains firmly in place. I mean, which parents having close to bankrupted themselves, possibly, to give their sprogs the very best start in life are going to sit placidly on the side-lines when Sebastian or Isabella gracelessly opts for a “career” as a plumber or hairdresser? Or as someone else’s nanny! Good Lord!
It’s highly unlikely that the sprog will, of course; they are more likely to enter into the establishment professions for which they have been prepared and networked since birth, and then, perhaps finding they don’t really suit, take refuge in expensive recreational drugs. Or Conservative party politics. Or other form of socializing. Or gambling of some description, in the City perhaps. Or something.
What do I know, of course. But I grew up as a state-educated girl in the shadow of one of the best-known, most expensive, permissive-liberal private schools in the country. My parents’ best friends, not necessarily richer than us, but with fewer kids, sent their children there; in fact had generally moved to the area to be near enough to spare themselves the boarding fees (for which, allegedly, their children suffered socially as “mere” day-pupils.) One mother – my mother’s very best friend, a truly lovely person in a multitude of ways – expressed dismay at the fact that she had to pay her daughter’s O Level exam entry fees, while mine – we were contemporaries – were paid for by the county. On top of all her other expenses, it really wasn’t fair! Lovely as she was, this mother, she also had a penchant for surreptitious little tests on my progress down the years; checking my knowledge of French, of English Grammar, the classics – just to repeatedly prove to herself that the superior investment in her own child was worth it.
For the record, I believe our O level results were equally good. I was quite a good student, initially, at my run-down grammar school, soon to become a comprehensive. But latterly, I lost heart, sank down the academic ranks and eventually departed to a technical college, while my elite-educated peer, heading for an Oxbridge first in subjects not offered by 1970s state schools of any description, far outstripped me. One of the biggest regrets I had about this, even then, was that I knew it would only serve to prove her lovely mother right.
But there was more, much more, to our relative outcomes than that, of course. Committed to state-educating my own child (not only for practical reasons) I have to believe that the process will not necessarily handicap him. But I also believe that as parents we hand down not only what we know, but, more importantly, who we are; what moves us; what we think important. I’m not alone in believing that the divisive British education system does untold damage to us as a society, to the way we all think, and to who all our children become. What sort of message does opting for social segregation, racial segregation and social elitism from an early age give to your child? What confused sort of message would it give to mine? Even if you don’t say a thing, do you think they won’t somehow pick the message up (that though all may be born equal, some are born more equal than others, and some are born so unequal we should not even share their classrooms)? Do you want them to see you as a hypocrite? Or do you actually want them to pick it up?
The sad thing to me is that the answer from so many parents is obviously a resounding Yes.