Tuesday 18 October 2011

Education, Education, Education

“She also has that irresistibly easy charm that comes from a really expensive education.” Decca Aitkenhead Guardian 30 Sept 2011

“Eton… has a practice known as “oiling”, which is learning how to win friends and influence others, and how to clamber over them to get what you want. It’s a mixture of ambition, self-confidence and bloody-mindedness.” Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College

Upper middle-class Upwards and posh Stow Crats send their children to “public schools” (expensive private boarding schools), which are often single sex. These schools couldn’t survive on the numbers of children within commuting distance, so they have to board – and the system has to big up the advantages of boarding. Allegedly it teaches children to be independent, articulate and confident. But they have to leave their parents and families and local friends – and normal life. the parents expect the schools to teach their children everything. They can pretty much give up on parenting after their kids are 10. Or seven, if they go to prep schools. (Children of seven? Sent to live away from home? And nobody complains? What century is this?)

Caro Stow Crat explains she’s moving her children to a different private school because the one they’re at doesn’t really “stretch” them. This is code for they’re not getting high enough marks.

The parents pay huge fees – the children pay the most. Is it worth it?

Middle class parents are faced with this sum:
private school
tuition fees of £9,000
living expenses
unpaid internship
low-paid job in media
foreign holidays
expensive new car
large garden
five bedroom house in desirable area
large wine bill

x thousand humanities graduates every year versus 1.5 jobs on The Guardian every year

Is their child's low-paid job in the media really worth sacrificing one of the items in column B? When will they insist that they’ll only pay for uni if the child studies law, medicine, banking, or dentistry?

Upwards are still on the treadmill of gap year (booked through a specialist company), student loan, unpaid internships. Upward children still want to work in the media, or fashion, or some other area where they make you slave till three in the morning for no pay. And their parents are still funding them to do it. Never mind that when their child eventually gets a job the pay is peanuts – the children will mix with nice people, and make nice friends, and the parents can boast to other parents. And the girls will get married (to one of the nice people they’ve met). So maybe it is all worth it.

Sam does all her children’s coursework so that they can get into a fee-paying school where the teachers rewrite the essays, paint the pictures, throw the pots etc. (In the 19th century, the drawing master produced the art work of his “accomplished” pupils.)

“Pupils from just 100 elite schools dominate a third of places at Oxford and Cambridge, exposing the "social bias" at the two universities, according to a report published today.” Daily Telegraph 2007

Upward and Stow Crat children all get into university, where they buy their essays from the Internet. Oxford and Cambridge are for the upper and upper middle classes. Exeter, Durham are for people who didn’t get into Oxbridge (and St Andrews is “the Exeter of Scotland”). They study French, history and English. Teales study tourism and hospitality.

The Guardian’s Tanya Gold described her time at Merton: “Who knew that the warmest things in Oxford were the marble buildings?”

The posh spent their time at private dining clubs and were rarely seen. A large group of students were just bewildered. Then there were “the Wannabes - the state-school kids who tried, pitifully, to buy into the Brideshead fantasy. They mooched around as parodies of 1930s Oxford students. The boys wore tweed suits and spectacles and the girls wore Laura Ashley and buns. They spent all their time in the library and dining in college wearing funny black gowns… They drank sherry and affected Celia Johnson voices. Although they usually did very well academically they seemed terribly unhappy… of the ones I am still in touch with, their careers have vanished into dust. They tried to plug themselves into an old boy network that didn't want them. The fantasy broke them. If you lose yourself to a fantasy at 19, it takes a long time to find yourself again… we all had our As at A-levels, our spidery little essay plans and our dry-as-bone reading lists. But nobody was learning. We were cramming.


  1. These schools couldn’t survive on the numbers of children within commuting distance, so they have to board – and the system has to big up the advantages of boarding.

    Excellent point, quite right, I think. (Though not the only factor - another is the idea that the upbringing and education of children is a sensitive task that should be done by professionals. You find this concept not only among the Stow-Crats who have a nanny but among all the others who see parents with their children and complain that you need a licence to drive a car but everybody's allowed to get and raise children.)

    They can pretty much give up on parenting after their kids are 10.

    Or more commonly 13, no?, unless it's a prep school. I find it difficult to draw the line of what should be forbidden by law (boarding pre-prep anyone?). What do you think of a month or two in the summer? Or what would be the reasonable minimum age for a year abroad?

    The parents pay huge fees

    Leaving aside the question of sending the children away, I think, or hope, many parents would prefer paying for a good school to buying a shinier car.

    I don't know if you're right that this kind of school doesn't prepare the children for a much wider range of jobs. Hard-working and well-paid middle and higher managers, for instance, seem to come from all kinds of backgrounds. Also, I'm not sure more upper and upper-middle students buy papers, other than that they might have more funds for it, but I'm not even sure about that.

    “Pupils from just 100 elite schools dominate a third of places at Oxford and Cambridge, exposing the "social bias"

    One shouldn't overlook that usually, these schools are academically selective in the first place and then have academically challenging lessons, which explains why more of their pupils get into academically selective universities. This certainly doesn't mean they're representative of society - if they all have bright children, the Nouveaus will simply pay and send them, the Definitelys mightn't want to but if so, they'd get a waiver, while the Stow-Crats, the Upwards and maybe the Teales would be expected to sell the house.

    BTW, I think there are only two boys-only schools left, probably some more girls' schools.

  2. Thought-provoking and excellent comment - thanks! I think a few more single-sex schools exist, but not all are public schools. They also have to justify their existence - and many people parrot their propaganda.

    I went to boarding school at 10 and we saw our parents about twice a term. I didn't even see my sisters, who were at the same school.