From 1991 to 1995 I attended Hethersett High School, a comprehensive in rural Norfolk, leaving with respectable GCSE results that enabled me to continue my education on to ‘A‘ levels and, later, university.
Although I didn‘t think too much about it at the time, on the whole Hethersett was a good state school to attend. And 13 years later, although I‘m told standards have dropped (don‘t they always?), Hethersett is still one of the better state schools in
However, could my life, along with everyone else who has attended Hethersett, have run a different course? What would I be doing now if my parents could have afforded the £5830 per term day fees (£7595 for boarders) at
Considering New Labour pledged to "build new ladders of social mobility" in their 2005 manifesto, current Government’s policy is intensely relaxed about the educational segregation I have described above. Lets not forget that, along with Tony Blair, Ruth Kelly and Harriet Harman, the so-called backbench rebel Diane Abbott sent her son to a private school, rather than to the local Hackney comprehensive. In a brilliant example of cognitive dissonance, Abbot admitted at the time, "It is inconsistent, to put it mildly, for someone who believes in a fairer and more egalitarian society to send their children o a fee-paying school."
However, it is important to remember it wasn‘t always like this. In 1980, a Labour Party discussion document argued private school fees "are the admission charge for a ruling elite whose wealth gives them the power… and the main means of transferring economic status, social position and influence from generation to generation". It is for this reason, the document continues, "why the Labour Party finds the presence of the private schools in the education system so objectionable."
28 years later studies consistently show there continues to be significant advantages gained from a private education. So while roughly only 7 per cent of children are educated privately, incredibly they take nearly half the places at
Outside the education system in the big, bad – supposedly meritocratic – world a 2006 Sutton Trust study found that the private school system still exercises defacto suzerainty over the top jobs in law, politics, medicine, journalism and business in the
Recent coverage of this issue in the mainstream media has thrown up several suggestions for reform, such as taking away private schools charitable status and improving the quality of state schools. Peter Wilby, former editor of the New Statesman, certainly wins points for originality with his intriguing idea to award places at the best universities to the top pupils in each of the
Alan Bennett, author of the grammar school-set play The History Boys, goes further suggesting private schools should be scrapped because they are "a fissure running through British society".
Whatever your opinion, one thing is certain: so long as the present educational apartheid continues radical social change will be vastly more difficult, if not impossible.
Ian Sinclair is a freelance journalist based in London, England. [email protected].