I am expensively privately educated. So is B. In fact (possibly ironically) the only part of either of our education that our parents didn't pay for was the university bit.
Our children, on the other hand, are going to be educated at the taxpayer's (and yes, that does include us) expense. State schools all the way. Mostly because we can't afford otherwise, but also partially because we are woolly Guardian reading types who believe in state education. I look at my friends from university, all highly (if not equally, most of them are much cleverer than me) intelligent, articulate, gifted people, and I see a mix of educational backgrounds. Admittedly they aren't representative of the statistics: if 93% of the population goes to state school, surely 93% of my university friends should have done likewise. No prizes for guessing that it's nothing like that much, but it's still a majority, as it should be, and it was a pretty good university too.
I am, admittedly, being a little disingenuous. One of the reasons we moved out of London was because we didn't want to end up in the panic of being allocated a "bad" school, and we did (of course we did) check out the HMIE (Ofsted to anyone South of Coldstream) reports on the schools round here before we moved. And, if I'm honest, if we'd been told all the schools were disastrous, we wouldn't have moved here but would have waited to find a house somewhere where we felt our children would get a better education.
But here we are. Our town has two primary schools and one high school, and we've already picked the primary school (it's the bigger one, so that we can separate A&S if we decide that's the right thing for them), and are looking at the high school pupils in disbelief that our children will ever be old enough to wear that uniform.
But, you know what? I remain, a little, frightened of this decision. We went to look at the primary school a couple of months ago and I was terrified. I think, somewhere in my privately-educated subconscious, I genuinely thought it was going to be a hideous, dirty, disorganised place, probably with metal detectors on the doors, and 8-year-olds shooting up in the playground. And (funnily enough) it's not. Admittedly the buildings aren't the most beautiful, but the staff were clearly committed, kind and interesting, and the work displayed was of excellent quality. Most importantly the children were pleasant and polite and clearly enjoyed their time there.
And I don't think that's unrepresentative. I suspect that the vast majority of UK primary schools, particularly those outside the bigger cities, are like that. I suspect that most children are getting a decent education and are making good friends, rather than taking weapons to school, or drinking in their lunchbreak, or swearing at the staff.
Yet that's not the image we get is it? There was (and this is what has provoked this post) a long article (part of a series) in yesterday's Sunday Times (I can't link to it, because you'd have to pay), telling the fictionalised story of a school in which the teachers are terrified to use discipline, the children attack each other with iron bars, and the head tells his staff not to stand in front of the class and actually teach the pupils (sorry, "students").
Katharine Birbalsingh, the author, was formerly the deputy head of a South London comprehensive, so must have a wealth of experience, and I don't for a second suggest that she's made any of it up in her quest to ensure that no-one is identifiable. I'm sure it is true, but it's true, or at least I hope against hope that's it's true, only in a tiny, tiny minority of cases. And what gets me is that it perpetuates a myth. The myth that your children will be doomed if you educate them in the state system. The myth that echoes unspoken round the privately-educated minority: that state school equals failure. Failure for the children, and failure by the parents who have not given their children, for whatever reason, the best start in life.
And I think that this has a knock on effect. I'm sure that if everyone was state educated, and we didn't have a two-tier system, then the system would be better for everyone. For a start, a significant minority of talented teachers wouldn't be being creamed out, and the parents, who must in the main care deeply about their children's education (else why fork out all that money?) would be putting their time and committment and interest into schools that benefit everyone, not just the children of other, similar, parents.
But that's not going to happen, is it? Or at least it's not going to happen while the myth prevails. People who can afford to will opt out, because they'll remain (as a small part of me still is) scared not to. Now, I realise that I am, once again, talking about the media, and I realise that "I had a perfectly lovely time at my state school and came out with fine results and no drug habit and am now reading an interesting degree at a good university" is hardly going to sell newspapers, but wouldn't it be lovely to see it? Just once?
Or am I wrong? Are my children doomed? And is the lottery my only hope?
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