It was the lovely Mark Steele who pointed out that, when it comes to spending money, it’s the poor who have all the choices, “swanning around in charity shop cardigans and galavanting on shopping expeditions like the women in Sex and the City, squealing ‘Hey let’s go to Poundland and buy a dishcloth’, in ways the rich can barely dream of”. Meanwhile wealthy people like James “I’m not a rich person” Delingpole are scrimping and saving in order to give their offspring the same pricey schooling they received. No Poundland dishcloths, charity shop cardigans or, um, skiing holidays for him. Instead, it’s school fees all the way and what’s more, according to the chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, wonderful parents such as him are made to feel like “social lepers”.

It’s not fair, is it? As Delingpole points out,

I could have done the decent thing and used my earnings to help drive up property prices in a good state-school catchment area; or I could be splurging the same amount of dosh on an annual skiing holiday, a safari and a lease on that nice, chunky Range Rover I’ve always coveted. But instead, miserable, selfish bastard that I am, I’ve chosen to squander my money on my children’s education. What kind of monster must I be?

What kind indeed? In his view, “a loving, caring sort of monster”. In mine, just a rich one, no better nor worse than anyone else, were it not for his truly monstrous dishonestly regarding the broader inequalities in play. (more…)

There is a simple reason why some of the best private schools, and some of the best state schools too, focus on developing a young person’s whole potential. It’s because it prepares them for the future.

So says Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary. And who can argue with that? Well, I can, for starters. I’ve nothing against developing potential in the young and preparing them for the future. Nor do I mind teachers playing a part in this. All the same, I suspect my understanding of “potential” and “preparation for the future” isn’t necessarily the same as Twigg’s. (more…)

During her speech at last week’s Girls’ School Association conference, GSA president Louise Robinson criticised the government’s policy of encouraging independent schools to sponsor academies.  To her it was “beyond the pale” that those middle-class parents struggling to pay ever-increasing fees should have to witness “[her] school offer its expertise and experience to parents who could have sent their children to [her] school, but chose not to”. I find her choice of words fascinating. Isn’t it odd to view specific educational benefits as USPs sold to parents rather than ways to enrich children’s lives?  Nowhere are learners – neither Robinson’s own charges nor those in the hands of what she describes as “the local competition” – so much as mentioned. Whatever happened to at least pretending to care about the greater good? Isn’t that also a USP, and one which has served the private sector well? And yes, Robinson didn’t just come right out and say “we’re a business, not a charity”, but that’s what it sounds like. (more…)

Have you ever wanted to send your child to private school but not been able to afford the fees? Well, guess what? Now you can! Don’t worry about the cost – all you have to do is ensure you’ve spawned a fucking genius.

On Wednesdays, head teachers from 44 independent schools wrote to the Times, announcing that they would like to “admit pupils on merit alone, irrespective of whether their families can afford fees”. Way-hey! That’s big of them. I mean, they’d still want the government to match-fund the fees. And we’re still talking about “merit” here – whatever “merit” means. I suspect it doesn’t mean that just anyone can be swanning off to Dulwich College. You’ve got to be clever. How clever? I don’t know. I’m not clever enough to work it out, but I suspect it’s pretty damn clever if it makes you halfway as valuable as a rich kid. (more…)

What is the point of our university system? To promote and extend research? To prepare future employees for specialist careers? To allow UK workers to compete in a global marketplace? I don’t know whether there’s a single answer to this; I suspect it depends on the institution and the discipline. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure the purpose of any degree should not be to further social and economic inequalities. This is one of many points upon which The Telegraph and I disagree.

In an outraged piece entitled “Universities must select on merit”, the newspaper complains that some institutions “are awarding places on the basis of a system that gives points to disadvantaged students for ‘contextual’ factors, such as whether they attended a bad school or come from a poor area”. This seems reasonable to me. After all, it’s not as though A-level and GCSE results tell the whole story. University admissions tutors are interested not just in track records, but in potential. It’s not easy to work these things out – it never will be – but so far it does not appear that they’ve been getting it terribly wrong. If there was a gross discrepancy between the achievements of richer and poorer students when it came to finals, this might be a cause for concern. But there isn’t. And since all UK state schools will never, ever become Eton-style exam factories (and I don’t believe we’d want them to be), using exam results alone would be unfair. Yes, it would mean using a simple, black and white method for selection, but this is not the same as selecting “on merit”. (more…)

Like Janet Murray, five years ago, if someone had told me I’d have a child at private school, I’d have laughed. Laughed and laughed. And then, once I’d stopped laughing, I’d have asked them a) at what point over the next five years I’d have been getting this sudden windfall, and b) why future me wasn’t doing the predictable thing and frittering all the money on shoes.

Of course, no one ever said this and it hasn’t happened. I don’t send my child to private school. I don’t even send him to an “outstanding” state school. I send him to a school with a “good” Ofsted rating, and one which, according to the Guardian, has a broader social and cultural mix than is representative for the local area. I love my son’s school, and so does he. Therefore I am a great, non-hypocritical, right-on liberal parent and not a misguided snob like Janet Murray. Well, it’s either that or I’m just incredibly badly organised yet oddy lucky – and I suspect it’s closer to the latter. (more…)

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