Picture copyright: www.rethinkingschools.org
I read the article “Why private schools are better”(http://manchester.tab.co.uk/2014/01/17/why-private-schools-are-better/) by Becca Atkinson with mild amusement. It was deliberately provocative, obviously, but nothing she said was in my opinion particularly shocking (apart from stating that “In my opinion, ‘posh prejudice’ is just as bad as racism or homophobia.”, which I cannot even begin to dissect because I’m not going to dignify such a ridiculous statement with a counter argument).
Anyway, Becca, or ‘Becks’ as I prefer to affectionately call her, managed to generate some internet rustling by stating roughly 1000 words of the blatantly obvious. (ETA am I the only one who noticed that her grammar was a bit oo-er despite her boasting about going to a private school? Cleverer is not a word). Anybody who is under any illusion that the majority of of state schools are equal in educational and extra curricular achievement to the majority of private schools, is just deluding themselves. People don’t pay a minimum of nine grand a year for kicks and laughs, or because it’s a slower way to watch their money disappear than burning it over the open flame of their original Victorian fireplace. They pay more, because in terms of educational achievement you get more. It’s really that simple. What you also get more of is a tendency to snobbery, a less diverse social circle for your children and a cocoon of privilege that shields you from some of the more unsavoury things that are more likely to happen in the state school down the road. Yes, there are a minority of state schools that are as good as private schools in terms of GCSE and A level results, but let’s be honest, these aren’t even really ‘state’ schools, they’re grammar schools. And I’d bet that a significantly higher proportion of kids who go to secondary grammar schools went to private primary schools than you’d find in an average state school.
And yes, yes, there’s much to be said for learning at the ‘school of life’, but let’s face it – you can’t put “was surrounded by children from more lower socio-economic backgrounds than the other applicant ,Septimus, so therefore am a more well rounded individual” and “have managed to effectively communicate my way out of a fist fight” (yes, I’m exaggerating/stereotyping) on job applications. Employers see your degree classification and your university and you’re more likely to get a good one of those two things, if you’ve been to a private school. The facts are the facts – there are significantly more people from private schools at the Russell group uni’s than there are at ex-polytechnics, and employers prefer Warwick to Southbank.
Debates about whether private schools are better than state schools are redundant. We all know they are. The conversation needs to be about why the state school system is failing so many people, and why our society has been orchestrated (yes, I believe it’s deliberate) to make upward social mobility for this generation even more difficult than our parent’s generation.
I admit that there is no way that in a capitalist society we can prevent people buying privilege, and I’m not arguing for that, but we could at least try to make the system as fair as possible. Offering lower grade offers to kids from state schools for example, would be good start in my opinion. We need to remove barriers that favour social class and privilege. Why is it that one of the requirements for getting an interview for medicine is having work experience in a healthcare setting when it’s obvious that this is generally a matter of having the right contacts? Either there needs to be a system where all work experience must be done through a properly organised channel on a first come first served basis regardless of whether Daddy is the top gynaecologist or the cleaner, or it shouldn’t be a requirement.
There also needs to be a lot more honesty in our school system. We should not be propelling young people from less socially privileged backgrounds to these frankly, mediocre universities under the illusion that they will have the same opportunities as someone who has been to a top 20 uni. It honestly makes me so upset when I see hordes of young working class kids studying vague and new fangled subjects at a bottom 10 uni, who will be saddled with £30,000 worth of debt, for a degree that ultimately will in terms of the job market, be worth considerably less than one from a more prestigious uni. I’m happy that they are going to university, and I think they should be proud of their achievements, but our government should be utterly ashamed of a system that obstructs so many young people from being allowed to play on the same court as others, simply based on the fact that their parents could not afford to buy a better education. How is it fair for a university like UEL to charge an even vaguely similar price for fees as Aston or Durham? It’s like buying a jumper from H and M, and it being exactly the same price as Zara. It’s a rip off. And it’s not a popular thing to say, but we all know it’s true. H and M is not Zara. Polycotton is not silk. And UEL is not Durham.
In fact, this whole obsession with everyone going to university is part of the problem. People like the idea of being academic because we’ve mistakenly placed more value on it than traditional trades like carpentry, plumbing or bricklaying which are just as useful. In fact, plumbers are balling nowadays, you can’t go wrong with a well fitted drain – you can go wrong with a degree in media studies and no job prospects.
What say ye guys? What is the solution? Maybe you shouldn’t have to put your uni on job applications, just your degree classification? Which would then make the whole system fairly pointless I suppose…