At the chalkface: Why can’t we all have some?

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:
Ian Whitwham is a teacher of English, now retired, who spent many years working in the state school system of inner city London

They should have been scrapped in 1945. The Labour government had the chance, but bottled it. They couldn’t take on the English ruling class. No-one can

It’s about time we tackled the Big One: Public Schools...

Some of my best chums went to them. I wish they didn’t exist. The schools, not the chums.

They should have been scrapped in 1945. The Labour government had the chance, but bottled it. They couldn’t take on the English ruling class. No-one can. I’ve droned on about this, like the rabidly left-wing Dave Spart, for yonks. I must be suffering from chips on shoulders and the politics of envy.

Maybe, but I’m right. Tedious, but right.

Where do we start?

Above all, so few children attend these schools. Six per cent! Is this some kind of finite number? Are no more sufficiently gifted? This six per cent, this puny cohort, mostly White, male, smug, will brazenly run most of the country.

David Kynaston and Francis Green’s recent book, Engines of Privilege, rehearses all the usual faults – the entrenchment of unchecked privilege, the blatant injustice, the social apartheid: does anyone disagree?

And all the usual virtues – the small class sizes, big libraries, phenomenal resources and “brilliant” teaching. My goodness, you’ve got to be really dim to attend Westminster and not go to Oxbridge.

Can we all have some of this? Apparently not. The authors would keep them but suggest more ways of freely accessing these “better” schools. Let’s look at some of this “better” stuff.

Man City are “better” than Macclesfield Town. It’s called money. State schools are criminally underfunded.

If state schools became as “good”, runs another argument, public schools would not need to exist. Balderdash – and deeply disingenuous. Mere bad faith. State schools are doing something infinitely more challenging – like teaching 94 per cent of all gods’ children.

What about public school good “character”? My chums, yes. But I’ve also met my share of braying, nasty “characters” straight out of an Edward St Aubyn novel.

Ah, but what about the jewel in the crown – the fabled teaching? Well, it’s pretty easy teaching
six per cent of heavily selected pupils. I’ve had inner city sixth forms full of potential Oxbridge entrants. I just sat there nodding like Buddha, while their fierce intelligence danced around me.

State school pupils do “better” at university. State school teachers have to be better. If your school is predicated on social apartheid, it is difficult to see how you are going to effectively teach anything.

My solution? Give state schools the same resources, the same money.

And a finite percentage of pupils? Well, 94 per cent? For free.

I want my tax spent on state schools, not on bombs. This will not happen. Ever. There is no political will. Until then, the existence of public schools will continue to cause deep educational carnage.

  • Ian Whitwham is a teacher of English, now retired, who spent many years working in the state school system of inner city London. He has written for SecEd since 2003. Read his most recent articles at http://bit.ly/2UIMd1O


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