The Apartheid of Private Education


This week there has been the re-awakening of the old class-war arguments, that have raged for over a century, and have often come to define the struggle of the Labour party. The catalyst for this has been the educational backgrounds of Messrs Cameron, Osborne, Boris Johnston, and many more senior Conservatives.

The arguments against private education usually revolve around the issue of privilege, that some select children were born to a life of comfort, and that it would be impossible for them, in later life, to relate to the impoverished masses. The notion that you can purchase a better education for your kids, and give them an educational leg up via better facilities, smaller class sizes and a better class of school trip really grates with the proletariat. It’s not fair that the children of toffs should be able to jump to the head of the queue, get better qualifications, and therefore better jobs with more influence, the better to keep repressing the working classes. The rich get richer, and the poor get shafted.

Do we then (and I’m including myself here, as a council hoose raised boy, with nary a qualification to my name), simply accept that with a wee lottery win, we would want the exact same for our kids? Or rather, do we stand by our principles, and send the weans to the local authority school, even if we have then joined the nouveau riche? There’s a certain kudos in that, of course, as any wealthy MP will tell you, and of course, shame in sending them to Eton, Harrow, or even St Aloysius in Glasgow.

Consider this, the average cost of sending one child to a Glasgow private school is around £8,000 per annum. In order to have 8 grand spare, you will have to be earning an extra 14 to 16 thousand pounds, pre-tax. And what if you have three kids of school age? That’s around £45k each year from your income, before you even start paying for bills, mortgages, cars and several holidays in the Algarve. You would really have to be very well off indeed to afford that. Of course, some families of relatively modest means crucify themselves financially to be able to afford this, and to have young Jocasta, Timothy, and Farquar get the advantages in life that they never did themselves. The belief being that even if they don’t do well academically, having gone to the same school will set them up with a “social network” that they can exploit later in life.

Whilst there is a truth of sorts in all these points, my objection to private education is entirely to do with the voluntary apartheid it inculcates in all participants. By removing the children of professional and wealthy families from my children’s school, those parents are depriving my kids of the benefit of mixing with theirs (and vice versa). I profoundly disagree with any notion that anyone else, or their kids, are better than me or mine. I resent them not wanting to associate with us lot, and I am frankly pissed off that their actions dilute the quality of the intake of my children’s school. The children of successful professionals would be a very welcome addition to any school, and their presence would raise aspiration and attainment amongst the wider student body. Conversely, their absence not only sends the signal that my kids aren’t good enough, but also in practice makes that a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Segregation, on any grounds, whether it be wealth, race, or religion, is abhorrent, and should not be tolerated. Not merely because it is wrong in principle, but because it results in far worse outcomes, for individuals, and for society as a whole. It should be remembered that, having spent almost £50k on private secondary education, the children of privilege will end up at the same universities as my kids, and be poorly prepared for the modern world. Diminishing bias at Oxbridge and their like aside, there are no “private universities”.

So to Cameron, Osborne, Blair and even Harman I say, how dare you insult my children by depriving them the company of yours! Who do you think you are?

Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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