Alan Bennett: Ban private schools
By the way, today’s Independent (p.2.) reports that “Students from poor backgrounds ‘catch up’ at university”.
There’s an interesting experiment going on at St George’s Medical School in London, where you need only show that your A level results are 60% better than the average for your school to get in.
Yet, in their first year final exams, these students’ marks were only 1 percent lower than those admitted under the standard route.
Here’s a further little bit of evidence to support my earlier contention that we have nothing remotely like a meritocracy in this country. And, assuming we want those with the most native wit and talent to fly highest, nor will we until we ban private schools, which allow a small minority of parents to buy their own second-rate children a ticket to the front of the good jobs queue at the expense of more talented, but poorer, kids.
Indeed, the mere 7% of kids who are privately educated dominate the high status, high earning professions. Because they have more native wit and talent? Pull the other one…
[POST SCRIPT. Incidentally, independent schools’ charitable status is justified on the grounds that they provide bursaries and scholarships for the less well off.
Couple of anecdotes for you:
(i) The two kids of some relatives of mine achieved bursaries for them to attend an independent school. But the money was pulled two years later, after the kids had bedded in. The parents now face the prospect of uprooting their children and sending them back to the awful school they fled from, or else finding the eye-watering fees. The same parents tell me they have discovered that bursaries that suddenly disappear like this shortly after the kids have become well-established is a not uncommon occurrence, and may even be a marketing strategy on the part of some schools (so beware).
(ii) The son of a friend of mine separated from his (not rich) mother got an almost full bursary at a famous Oxford school with fees of £7,000 a term. The selection process? A non-academic interview, with Dad in tow to see if the school thought the little chap would (as Dad said) “fit in”. I am sure that the fact that the kid is well-spoken, his father a posh-voiced New College school boy and his grandad a Knight of the Realm won’t have had anything to do with their generous support for one of the less “privileged” members of our community.
How many kids from local council estates are getting such places, I wonder?
Yes I know it’s anecdotes, but I’d love to see some hard statistics on who is getting bursaries and scholarships, what the criteria are, what selection is taking place, etc.
Scholarships and bursaries are small change to these institutions. The fact that the few they do give out are being dished out so cynically in at least some cases should surely strengthen the case for at least pulling their charitable status.
I see the Independent Schools Council says they have “little to fear” from questions from the Charity Commission about public benefit. If the Charity Commission investigates more thoroughly, I suspect the independent sector has a great deal to fear. Here’s the sort of question I’d like the C.C. to press: how many children from council estates receive bursaries? And what percentage of those receiving bursaries come from families where neither parent was either privately educated or attended a grammar school? I think this kind of information would be rather more revealing than just data about parental income. In particular, I suspect it would reveal that kids of the educated middle classes are actually the main beneficiaries.