Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Honouring those who teach our leaders

One of the wonders of English life is our great private schools, which of course we like to call public schools. They charge annual fees that correspond to around the median salary of ordinary mortals. In return they give kids a more or less good education (excellent in the top schools, pretty ropy in plenty of others) and provide them with contacts in privileged circles that will stand many of them in excellent stead throughout their lives.

The heads of public schools and the parents of the kids are, however, upset at the moment. It seems that the parents are being given guilty consciences, made to feel that the decision to send their children to these schools is ‘tantamount to treason’, according to Andrew Grant, chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, the Association of the public schools. But Grant is hitting back. In particular, he points out that without the education provided by the public schools ‘Britain would not have enough officers to lead its army’.

Now that’s a pretty strong argument when you think of, say, the Duke of Wellington. But Howe and Burgoyne who lost to a bunch of colonists and their French allies in the American War of Independence? Cardigan and Lucan whose personal animosity reached such a peak of intensity that it resulted in the Light Brigade being flung at Russian guns and virtually wiped out at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War? Or worse still Douglas Haig who commanded British troops in the First World War and wrote them off in their hundred of thousands as though they were expendable?

If these are the best illustrations of the success of public schools, I’d hate to see what their failures look like. And there would be every reason for the schools to be breeding grounds for uneasy consciences.

PS For why the private schools are called ‘public’ see The mystery of the missing days


Awoogamuffin said...

One of the frustrating things about living in Spain, is that this country, like America, refuses that such a thing as "class differences" exist. But if I talk to them about private schools and how it gives people the contacts they need to get the top jobs, they agree... people just don't think!

Oh and an American I talked to the other day tried to insist it's easier to make it big in America than Europe, though America has worse social mobility even than England. Urgh!

David Beeson said...

Fascinating - I thought that social mobility remained higher in the US than in the UK - what's your source for not believing that?