Friday, 20 May 2011

Rugby and the Arnold Foundation

Headteacher of Rugby - article in the Guardian

While it was pleasing to see the infamous Captain Flashman get his big break in writing the Guardian's leader column, the portrait he paints of boarding schools as "costly" institutions "stuffed full of prim nonsense" is highly erroneous (Unthinkable? Flashman and the prime minister, 14 May).

Public-school pupils are not thick upper-class twits, and his own alma mater, Rugby school, bucks the caricature that he so delights in casting.

Expanding access beyond a narrow, privileged elite has been at the heart of Rugby's ethos from the moment it was founded. A bursary programme, the Lawrence Sheriff Bequest, was established upon the school's foundation in 1567, offering scholarships to day boys (and now girls) who lived within a radius of 10 miles from the school. This still continues. Rugby was never meant to be a school peppered with what Flashman calls a "gang of chaps … who've never done a hard day's work in their life". Nor has it become one.

Ensuring education is a liberating force among young people continues to be our focus. Instead of cherry-picking the best students from the maintained sector, we now provide an opportunity for children from deprived areas to come to the school, and give those who face difficult conditions at home the chance to take advantage of the benefits of boarding.

In 2003 the school established the Arnold Foundation, which offers fully funded places to a small but significant number of young people who have the ability to gain from the boarding experience but are unable to afford the fees. We work with two educational charities, IntoUniversity and Eastside Young Leaders' Academy, which help us identify candidates with the greatest potential and character, and also work with a number of maintained schools across the UK. The charities and the schools we work with recognise that long-term pastoral engagement with young people is the key to raising aspiration.

Arnold Foundation pupils are encouraged to be themselves. They are not torn from their roots, and do not morph into mini-Flashmen or women who are unrecognisable by the time they return home. Rather, they become role models: of those who have left Rugby already, one is a professional rugby player and all the others are either at, or set to attend, leading universities.

The knock on-effect of this is clear: work by the National Foundation for Educational Research has found that Arnold Foundation pupils heighten the aspirations of other young people they work with at home and at school, with families reporting pride in their children's achievements. Heads of partner schools welcome the initiative as a way to address the "poverty of ambition" in their local communities.

I suspect our celebrated fictional alumnus now has his mind too firmly fixed on the higher things in life to consider the surroundings of his youth. But it would not do him harm to revise his outdated view of who exactly is fit to be a pupil at his former school.

My letter in response - unpublished

I couldn't decide if headmaster of Rugby, Patrick Derham's article in
'Response' (Flashman's elistist idea... 18/5/11) was an example of
severe, selective amnesia, or whether he is utterly and completely
ignorant of the history of the school that he leads.

He makes the extraordinary claim that, 'Expanding access beyond a
narrow, privileged elite has been at the heart of Rugby's ethos from
the moment it was founded'.

The school was indeed founded by the Lawrence Sheriff Bequest in 1567,
offering free scholarships to boys who lived within five miles of Rugby
and Brownsover.

When Thomas Arnold was appointed as headmaster in 1828 he accelerated
the process whereby Rugby was transformed into a school with national
appeal that exclusively attracted the upper classes. The numbers of
fee-paying pupils were increased and local ties were loosened by
creating a narrow scholarship ladder. The lower school was
progressively neglected and starved of funding, it presented the only
opportunity for lower middle class boys to learn the classics that were
vital for entry to the upper school.

When the Clarendon Commission investigated in 1864 Rugby had 68
foundationers and 397 fee-paying pupils. However even in the case of
the foundationers, the scholarship boys, they noted an influx of
wealthy families intent on establishing local residence to avail
themselves 'of education given on very easy terms'.

By 1878 the original aims of the foundation had been so shamelessly
breached that Rugby joined Harrow in establishing a separate
'consolation' school, Lawrence Sheriff School, to educate local
children from the lower classes.

Patrick Derham does mention the Arnold Foundation, established in 2003,
to offer fully funded scholarships to Rugby. As for the 'small but
significant' number, we are talking about 40 children.

I'm not claiming it is the case at Rugby, but there are well-documented
cases of 'scholarship' pupils at expensive schools being derided,
teased or bullied by their wealthier peers. Fees for boarding at Rugby
are £28,000 - only the filthy rich could afford those fees.

So I'm afraid that Patrick Derham's essay attracts a Beta Minus. Could
do better. Please undertake basic research.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

We can't all be brain surgeons?

Some public schools don't make any apology or excuses for educating a wealthy elite, the results are there for all to see and you don't find many former pupils flipping burgers or cleaning the streets. As for education for the masses the philosopher Roger Scruton noted in 'The Meaning of Conservatism' (1980),

'It is simply not possible to provide universal education. Nor, indeed, is it desirable for the appetite of learning points people only in a certain direction; it siphons them away from places, where they might have been contented.'

Scruton believes that some jobs may require 'natural intelligence' but will not appeal to someone who has been 'flattered by the gift of education'. However, he does call for jobs in different 'walks of life' to be accorded 'dignity and recompense'. In other words people should receive an education that will prepare them for the job that is appropriate to their 'natural gifts'.

In the nineteenth century the prevailing wisdom was that schooling should reflect the class structure. The Taunton Commission (1864) recommended schools for the elite to educate prime ministers, bishops, judges and generals; a middling group for clerks, teachers and officers; and finally the lowest schools for tradesmen, farmers and shopkeepers. The state would eventually educate the poor.

Rather than establish 'inclusive' or comprehensive schools the 1944 Education Act perpetuated this divide with proposals for grammar, technical and secondary modern schools. It is interesting to note how some of the new academies have concentrated on vocational subjects (hairdressing, technology. Tourism) and steered away from academic subjects.

The former head of Ofsted Chris Woodhead believes that some children are born 'not very bright' and that middle class children have superior genes, well educated parents produce academically able children.

Even if there was any shred of evidence for genetic inheritance, the main characteristic of public schools derives not from intelligence but their social class. From the middle of the nineteenth century they deliberately excluded all but the sons of the upper classes.

As the Honorary Secretary of Cheltenham College explained,

'Had we admitted tradesmen in the first instance, we must have done so almost without limit, and in the confined circle of shops in Cheltenham, we should have had the sons of gentlemen shaking hands perhaps with school-fellows behind the counter and a fusion of ranks taking place from which the gentlemen of decided rank and property would derive less inconvenience, possible, than the clergymen of confined income or half-pay officers.'

Social snobbery remains one of the main motivations for sending children to public schools, they will mix with the 'right type of children'. In the elite public schools there is a self-perpetuating oligarchy where son follows father at his alma mater and always into the same House, naturally.

Rather than a meritocracy of talent the result of the public schools is the restriction of social mobility. Britain and America have the most unequal education systems and widest gaps in income among developed countries. The cost to society? In their book 'The Spirit Level', Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett noted that the more unequal a society the higher the levels of crime, mental illness, mistrust, illiteracy, obesity and anxiety.

Social mobility? Take the medical profession, a report by the British Medical Association in 2008 found that 67% of medical students were privately educated as against 57% in 2004. Researchers noted that students were leaving with an average debt of £37,000 and that this was a significant factor in deterring poorer students from applying.

Why are so many of the best jobs dominated by expensively educated public school children? Social networks or the 'Old School Tie' are an important factor. Evidence of this is predictably scanty, only on rare occasions does it surface. John Rae in 'The Old Boys Network – A Headmaster's Diaries 1970-1986' recounts on his time at the helm of the elite Westminster School. On December 16, 1983 he confided,

''A' has failed to get into Magdalen College, Oxford, to read law. Mother and father want me to pull out all the stops to get him a place at another college... father has influential friends in politics, business and academia; he lists his contacts at Oxford and wants me to do the telephoning. 'Our Euro-MP has a brother-in-law who is Provost of Oriel,' is the sort of line. He also suggests that I approach Lord Dacre, Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, because he took a friend's boy last year who failed to make Oxford.'

In subsequent entries he details how the boy's uncle, 'a prominent Magdalen man' rings the president of the college. The father lobbies Asa Briggs at Worcester and Robert Blake at Queens. Finally, this boy with three B's at 'A' level, is given a place at Christ Church, Oxford. Rae is forced to concede 'this saga illustrates the nature of inequality'.

In recent times access to jobs in the media, politics and business comes through unpaid internships. In 2002 a survey by Journalism Training Forum showed that two-thirds of new entrants came from homes where the main wage-earner worked in a professional or senior managerial occupation. In 2006 the Sutton Trust found that of the country's 100 leading journalists over half were privately educated.

The main gateway into Fleet Street used to be via apprenticeships at provincial newspapers, now journalists are recruited from post graduate courses. At London's City University over half of the journalism students came from four universities – Oxford, Bristol, Leeds and Cambridge. With fees and living costs students could expect to pay £20,000 in addition to their student debt. Even after qualifying many journalist are forced to work as unpaid internees.

The influence historically of the public school educated elite? At the beginning of the twentieth century even some of the apologists admitted that England was singularly unprepared – the games cult, anti-intellectualism, the narrow curriculum, 'character' above intelligence and the stifling conformity. As E.C. Mack noted the public schools were 'mints for the coining of Empire builders.'

Successive government commissions noted the alarming gaps between British and German technical and scientific education. A large section of the ruling class were the kind of effete drones so lovingly depicted by P.G. Wodehouse, where the necessity for work was relieved by handouts from dowager aunts.

Correlli Barnett in 'The Collapse of British Power' noted how in 1942 Britain was within four months of complete bankruptcy and completely dependent on America for capital, raw materials, steel and armaments. The reason for the decline? The national character, exemplified by the politicians like Chamberlain, Simon, Halifax and Eden, the products of the public school system that was also the engine of uniformity, the obedience to authority, the crushing of originality and that created the upper classes – conventional, dull, self-satisfied and snobbish.

In the 1980's Martin Wiener in 'English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit 1850-1980' noted the long history of public schools disdain for science, engineering and commerce. In the nineteenth century the industrial bourgeoisie separated themselves from,

'sources of dynamism in existing society and striving to attach itself to an older way of life promoted a change in collective self-image from that of a still-young and innovative nation to one ancient and peculiarly stable.'

This leads us now to the Coalition Government lead by Head Boy, Cameron (Eton) and Deputy Head Boy, Clegg (Westminster). As the Sunday Mirror noted due to the coalition cuts councils are closing leisure centres. Using aerial shots of Cabinet minster's houses/mansions it was evident that this wouldn't really affect them, out the back door were the swimming pools and tennis courts.

The danger (for them) is that a remote, distant, aloof ruling class eventually loses all moral authority.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Letter TES January 21 2011

Public schools' secret? Er, all that extra cash ..

Whilst I would quail at the prospect of being identified as a total cad or bounder and tremble at the thought of a beating in the dorm after lights out, I would have to say that the TES Magazine article on public schools ("Class Act", January 14) was rather light on the charge sheet.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the public schools successfully operated a form of "social closure", shamelessly breached their original endowments and excluded local tradesmen, shopkeepers and artisans. They had become the exclusive preserve of the wealthy, the jaded aristocrats and rising industrial class.

Public schools were characterised by the games cult, anti-intellectualism, philistinism and the narrow curriculum. Their main aim was to inculcate "Christian manliness", as HH Almond, headmaster of Loretto, wrote: "First - character; second - physique; third - intelligence; fourth - manners; fifth - information."

By the end of the 1960s, public schools were still a 19th-century anachronism, reflected brilliantly in Lindsay Anderson's film If.

What is the "secret" behind public schools' "success"? It isn't hard to fathom - spending three or four times more on pupils compared to state schools; state-of-the-art facilities; academic selection via the Common Entrance Exam and smaller classes.

You also have to ask whether our society benefits from continuing to educate an elite in isolated, privileged environments. Does this lead to the haughty contempt that was evident in the scandal of bankers' bonuses and the MPs' expenses saga, with taxpayers' money used for the renovation of one's duck house and the cleaning of one's moat?

Richard Knights, Liverpool


Thursday, 20 January 2011

Eton School Uniform

At the start of a new school year the cost of the school uniform is a worry for many families. In the elite public schools uniforms represent an ostentatious display of wealth – money no object. There is still an insidious competition of blazers, scarves, hats, buttons, coats - all the insignia of power and privilege.

Eton is of the course at the pinnacle of this obscene rivalry and one-upmanship. The cost of the basic uniform runs to about £1,000, there are also those little extras like cricket whites and 'formal change' as its known, then there are the boat fees (£295). Eton has its own bespoke tailor, Tom Brown, that has supplied clothing for over two hundred years.

Eton Uniform



2 tail suits

£170 each


7 white school shirts

£12 each


7 white school collars

£6.50 each


6 front and back collars studs

£1.50 each


1 blue blazer

£95.00 each


2 pairs smart trousers

£45.00 each


1 pullover

£45.00 each


2 smart shirts, collar attached

£22.50 each


2 white (rugby) football shirts, long-sleeved with collar

£23.50 each


2 navy (rugby) football shirts, long-sleeved with collar

£23.50 each


2 navy football shorts

£8.00 each


1 Eton College track suit

£60.00 each


2 white polo-style shirts

£18.00 each




Uniforms were introduced into Rugby School by Thomas Arnold in the 1830s in order to inculcate discipline and obedience and to tame the dissolute sons of the gentry and landed aristocracy. Uniforms became symbolic trappings of fealty and dominance that projected the image of the institution. At the end of the nineteenth century each house had its own particular colours and badges, each sport could award blazers and caps.

Most schools in Europe don't have school uniforms, it is regarded as a rejection of militarism and conformity. In England schools spend inordinate amounts of time enforcing petty rules about uniforms. It's another example of how the public school ethos has infected the state system, schools seem to believe that sweaty blazers, a heraldic crest and school tie is a sign of a 'good school'.

Eton and the exclusive public schools with their cripplingly expensive uniforms is a way of enforcing the social hierarchy and keeping the riff-raff out. For everyone else there is of course Tesco with the complete school uniform at £3.75. Just don't turn up to Eton with it.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

TES Magazine January 14 2011

Public schools, supermarket adverts and mouldy grub kick up an online stink.

Earlier this month, The TES Magazine pondered what had happened to that "golden" generation of left-leaning, liberal teachers. So when Richard Knights, who writes an anti-public school blog (abolishpublic posts in The TES online staffroom that about two-thirds of the current Cabinet were educated at public schools, and only 10 at state schools, you might expect a left-wing battle-cry.

Instead, the response is surprisingly conservative (with a big or small "c"). As Lilyofthefield points out: "Successful committed parents throw money at their children's education. Children do well. Dog barks." Other posters point out that Mr Knights' findings only highlight that a public school education can do wonders for your career. "Most who had a privately paid education tend to not end up flipping burgers," says CelticQueen. Nomad, meanwhile, takes a less serious view. "I think (Mr Knights) should be de-bagged and given a jolly good thrashing after lights-out for being such a bounder."

TES January 14 2011

Still Boarding

During the 1970s public schools attempted to re-invent themselves, the need for change was apparent. The overwhelming image was fagging, boys beating boys, bullying, single-sex education, cold showers, over crowded dormitories and rotten food. There was a move away from boarding education, some schools admitted girls and became co-educational, fagging was abolished and new dormitories were built with private accommodation.

Only 13% of pupils at public schools are boarders, however, it's interesting to note that many of the most exclusive and expensive schools are still single sex and/or mainly boarding. This isn't an attempt to name the 'top 30' public schools but based on tradition and expense...

School/ Percentage Boarding/ Boarding Fees

Charterhouse (Co-ed 6th Form) 95% £28,440

Cheltenham Ladies College (Girls Only) 75% £27,192 - £31,242

Clifton College 48% £27,300 - £27,750

Dulwich (Boys Only) 7% £28,971

Eton (Boys Only) 100% £29,862

Fettes 65% £18,735 - £25,860

Godolphin (Girls Only) 38% £22,143 - £23,661

Haileybury 69% £16,740 - £26,394

Harrow (Boys Only) 100% £29,670

Lancing 62% £27,750

Loretto 45% £13,965 - £25,305

Malvern College 80% £28,380 - £30,279

Malvern St James (Girls Only) 48% £15,345 - £27,825

Marlborough 95% £28,245

Oundle 77% £20,760 - £27,300

Radley (Boys Only) 100% £27,345

Repton 72% £27,150

Roedean (Girls Only) 55% £25,350 - £30,450

Rossall 43% £17,700 - £29,880

Rugby 80% £28,050

St Paul's (Boys Only) 2% £26,559

Sherborne (Boys Only) 90% £28,065

Sherborne (Girls Only) 95% £26,985

Shrewsbury (Co-ed 6th Form) 83% £27,300

Tonbridge (Boys Only) 58% £29,913

Uppingham 97% £27,375

Wellington 80% £28,785

Westminster 25% £28,344

Whitgift (Boys Only) 0% -

Winchester (Boys Only) 99% £29,970

So, how exactly does a single-sex, boarding school education in an isolated, cloistered, privileged bubble prepare you to be a citizen of the world?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Ruled by Boarding School Survivors

What does the Cabinet know about the lives of ordinary people? The majority are millionaires, two thirds of them were educated at public schools (attended by only 7% of pupils); the queues at hospitals are bypassed courtesy of Bupa; as for social housing, no need for that, there's the inherited mansion; public transport is, as Margaret Thatcher commented, 'for life's failures'; they never frequent council run leisure centres; lending a book from a library is unheard of and I'm sure that none of their friends or relatives have ever had to live on welfare benefits.

Eighteen out of the twenty eight members of the Cabinet attended public schools and in the main it's a roll call of the most expensive and exclusive. Fees tend to be around £28,000 per year for boarders and at least nine of the Cabinet were boarders. To put that in perspective, the average wage is around £24,000, so to pay for a year's boarding school you would need to receive around £45,000 before tax. Or to put it bluntly, only the super-rich could afford to send their children to Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse, etc.

According to the Independent Schools' Council (ISC) only 13% of their 508,234 pupils are boarders, however, in the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) schools the percentage is 20% and at the age of 16 the percentage for ISC schools is 30%. Also most of the really expensive and exclusive schools are overwhelmingly boarding – Eton, Charterhouse, Wellington, Harrow, Rugby, Cheltenham Ladies' College.

According to the ISC 8,000 children under the age of the 11 are boarders. David Cameron was sent away at the age of seven to Heatherdown Prep School and from there to Eton.

Many of the most exclusive schools are single-sex, or only admit girls in the sixth form – Eton, Rugby, Harrow. It's interesting to note that this kind of environment – single sex, living away from your family at an early age – has not been extensively analysed or investigated. Royston Lambert conducted extensive interviews with pupils in 1968, Joy Schaverin wrote 'Boarding school: the trauma of the 'privileged' child' in 2004 and there has been the work of Nick Duffell with the Boarding School Survivors.

A boarding school education involves a rupture in their attachment to their mother which can lead to a distrust of women. The worst features of male sexuality are often developed – detachment, obsessionality, alternately idealising and devaluing women and misogyny. As a result young boys can be impeded in their progress towards manhood and they may find it difficult to form meaningful relationships.

Attachments to siblings are disrupted and family is replaced by many, same sex strangers. As Joy Saverin noted

'The familiar position and role in the family, for example, as eldest or youngest, or only child – is substituted by a new role as the smallest person in a huge hierarchical institution. Brothers or sisters sent to the same school often lose touch with each other in the vast institutional dynamics.
'When the boy is sent to school and his sister or sisters remain at home the unspoken message that the girl receives is that her brother is valued more than she. Inevitably this produces envy and idealization, splitting the sibling group along gendered lines.'

In a boarding school pupils will have to negotiate the archaic codes, language and dress. Eton is still run by the school boy members of 'Pop' who are allowed to wear spongebag trousers and their own waistcoats. Other schools still have bizarre rules about how many buttons you can undo on your waist coat.

The English boarding school tradition is to inculcate conformity and unquestioning loyalty, for stoicism as opposed to emotion and humanity. There are those contradictions – modesty and courtesy opposed to icy formality; kindness against derisiveness and fair play compared to contempt for 'outsiders'.

Many children at boarding schools have an overwhelmingly feeling of abandonment, of loneliness and isolation. Child rearing is left to nannies and the school matron. As they grow up their peer group imposes conditions of belonging and in some instances this may include conformity and bullying. As they reach puberty identity and belonging is identified with a group outside of the family unit.

Some children exhibit a 'survivor mentality', a sense of shame at being privileged, their parents have made sacrifices, it is for 'their own good', they may feel like ungrateful failures. In response they construct a 'false self' due to extreme psychic wounding. They may become completely institutionalised where they cannot function outside of a closed environment. In that sense Oxbridge, the Army, the Civil Service, the City or the Gentlemen's Club may serve as an extension of their boarding school experiences. They have no sense of the world outside.

There was an interesting article in 'The Times' on September 14, 2007 it was entitled 'What were their parents thinking?', it was written by Julia Noakes who has worked as a psychologist in the City of London for thirteen years. She noted that a fifth of her 500 clients had attended boarding school. Being sent away at an early age often bred 'distrust of women and a fragile, insecure sense of sexual orientation'. Some of her clients felt that they had been abandoned by their mothers, this rupture of early attachments led to a deep distrust of loving relationships. She concluded,

'The irony is that for all the aspirations and hopes of the parents who send their children to boarding school, it does not prepare young people to be our future business leaders. Leadership requires an ability to relate to others as well as yourself and create dependable relations across the firm. Taught to count on himself alone from as young as five or six, the boarding school survivor does not depend on anyone but his fragile self and his often odd views about relationships. This makes building a business community of trust rather than brittle relations almost impossible.'

Boarding school does prepare children to be part of a self-perpetuating elite, it helps them to foster those all important networks and acquaintances that will help them to navigate their way through medicine, the legal profession, the media. A vital introduction into many careers is through unpaid internships and the Old Boys' and Old Girls' Associations are an excellent conduit for these positions.

The English ruling class don't expect to suffer any check, control or questioning on their actions or decisions. It's startling to observe the arrogance and disdain as bonuses for bankers are questioned or the kind of contempt that surrounded the issue of MPs' expenses – Duck houses? Cleaning the moat?

So we are left with that part of the unreconstructed ruling elite – repressed, emotionally stunted and unable or unwilling to consider other people's lives away from their enclosed cosseted environment.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Cabinet - 65% Public school educated

EtonDavid Cameron (Prime Minister); Oliver Letwin (Cabinet Office); Sir George Young (Leader of the House)
Current fees; Day (Does not apply); Boarding only(£29.862) – Boys only

WestminsterNick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister); Chris Huhne (Energy)
Current fees: Day (£19,626 - £21,282); Boarding (£28,344) – 25% boarders, Co-educational in the sixth form

St Paul'sGeorge Osborne (Chancellor)
Current fees; Day (£17,928); Boarding (£26,559) – Boys only

RugbyAndrew Mitchell (International Development)
Current fees; Day (£10,299 - £17,475); Boarding (£28,050) – 80% boarders

RadleyOwen Paterson (Northern Ireland)
Current fees; Day (Does not apply); Boarding only (£27,345) – Boys only

CharterhouseJeremy Hunt (Culture)
Current fees; Day (£23,505); Boarding (£28,440) – 95% boarding, Co-educational in the sixth form

WellingtonLord Strathclyde (Leader of the Lords)
Current fees; Day (£21,570); Boarding (£28,785) – 80% boarders

Cheltenham Ladies' CollegeCheryl Gillan (Wales)
Current fees; Day (£18,528 - £21,174); Boarding (£27,192 – £31,242) – 75% boarders, Girls only

BrentwoodAndrew Lansley (Health)
Current fees: Day (£13,560); Boarding (£24,345)

Abingdon Francis Maude (Paymaster General)
Current fees; Day (£13,905); Boarding (£28,515)

Nottingham High School Kenneth Clarke (Lord Chancellor)
Current fees; Day only (£7,446 - £10,872) – Boys only

King Edward's BirminghamDavid Willetts (Universities)
Current fees; Day only (£9,900) – Boys only

Robert Gordon'sMichael Gove (Education)
Current fees; Day only - (£6,270 - £9,765)

HMS ConwayIain Duncan-Smith (Work and Pensions)
Current fees: School closed in 1974

St Juliana's Convent School for Girls – Theresa May (Home Secretary) From the age of thirteen educated at a state grammar school which then became a comprehensive during her time as a pupil.
Current fees: School closed in 1984

Ten of the Cabinet were educated at state schools – William Hague (Foreign); Liam Fox (Defence); Vince Cable (Business); Eric Pickles (Local Government); Philip Hammond (Transport); Caroline Spelman (Environment); Michael Moore (Scotland); Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary); Baroness Warsi (Without Portfolio); Patrick McLoughlin (Chief Whip)

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Reassuringly expensive?

Public schools endlessly praise, commend and extol those middle-class parents who scrimp and save in order to educate their children away from the dreaded state sector. It isn't exactly Monty Pythons 'Four Yorkshiremen', but a survey by mtm consulting in 2007 found that four-fifths of public school parents spent up to 40% of their income on school fees.

A survey by Halifax Financial Services in 2006 reported that average school fees now amount to more than a third of average earnings. They claimed the average annual cost of sending a child to private school was £10,368 compared with £7,275 in 2001. As a result, “the average worker in a number of occupations, including pharmacists, engineers and journalists, can no longer afford to educate their offspring,” according to Martin Ellis, Halifax Financial Services' chief economist.

However, when it comes to the crème-de-la-crème, the elite public schools, we are talking about eye-watering fees that only the seriously rich can afford – day fees of £9,000 and boarding costs of £25,000. Eton don't list their pupils according to rank, nobility first, but there are the charges for 'extras' and a certain snobbery that can disadvantage the less wealthy i.e., holidays, clothing, private yachts, etc.

There are of course bursaries, discounts and scholarships to ameliorate or ease the burden of fees. In some of the older, established, traditional public schools endowments are used to reduce or subsidise the total school fee. Research for the 'New Statesmen' by Dan Rosenheck in 2003 revealed that-

'Eton, tuition fees constitute just two-thirds of total revenue: investment and property income add £9,744 per pupil per year. At Winchester, the gap between fees and spending is £3,337 per pupil. In other words, these schools subsidise the education of their pupils. They are charities, as their legal status suggests, but the charity goes to those who need it least. The beneficiaries are the very wealthy, who can afford to pay £21,000 per year but not the £30,000 an Eton education actually costs; and the fabulously wealthy, who could afford such education but receive it at cut-price rates.'

In 2009 the Charity Commission investigated five public schools and reported on a wide variation in bursaries and scholarships-

Highfield Priory didn't provide any bursaries or scholarships.

Manchester Grammar School assisted 14% of pupils with bursaries and 8% received 100% assistance.

Manor House assisted 21% of pupils with bursaries and hardship awards with a further 8% on scholarships (up to 40% of fees), only 1% of students received a 100% bursary.

Pangbourne assisted 24% of pupils and a further 20% were on scholarships (up to 50% of fees), less than 1% of students received a 100% bursary.

St Anselm's assisted less than 1% of pupils with bursaries and only 3% received scholarships.

Some of the less-well endowed schools complained that as they didn't have money invested by ancient foundations and that if they provided more bursaries or scholarships they would have to raise fees for other parents. As the 'Good Schools Guide' noted on their web site,

'It takes determination and hard work on your part, and exceptional abilities on the part of your child, to have a good chance of securing a high-value bursary. Most scholarships are, these days, of little value - a few per cent off the fees for the sake of an accolade.'

Most of the elite public schools accept pupils at the age of thirteen through the Common Entrance Exam and successful pupils will generally have spent years in a prep school sitting mock tests and revising old papers.

The fact is that the proverbial 'struggling middle-class parent' is very unlikely to gain entrance for their child to the true elite – Eton, Harrow, Marlborough, Repton, Rugby, Sherborne, Tonbridge, Uppingham, Wellington, Westminster and Winchester. Although there has been a move away from boarding this doesn't apply to the these schools, so fees will start at around £20,000. Even then there is still a certain one-upmanship, when George Osborne was a member of the Bullingdon Club his nickname was 'oik' because he'd attended St Paul's and not Eton or Harrow.

All of these elite schools are members of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which includes around 250 of the most exclusive public schools. Membership is granted by invitation only and is highly prized. Exclusion from the HMC is virtually the kiss of death for any aspiring public school. The quality of schools outside the HMC is variable, there are plenty of maverick headteachers who establish their own schools with children whose parents want to escape the state sector at any cost.

Are high fees a deterrent for parents? During the 1870s the County Education schools movement attempted to organise fee-paying schools for the middle classes at cut rate prices, they weren't successful. Chris Woodhead is attempting a similar feat with his Cognita Schools, charging between £6,000 and £9,000. Most public school heads regard this move with suspicion or even hostility, in their view cheaper public schools will 'dilute' quality, lose them their cachet and exclusiveness.

There is an interesting history to public school fees. Traditionally the aristocracy used tutors to educate their children at home. By the end of the eighteenth century this changed and they began to send children to schools like Eton and Harrow. They weren't particularly concerned at the quality of education they just wanted to get rid of them for a few years. The professions and the military didn't use competitive exams so it was possible to buy commissions or use influence. The conditions in public schools were horrendous, Dickens ruthlessly exposed them in 'Nicholas Nickleby' with his portrayal of Dotheboys Hall.

As there was no alternative offered by the state, the rising industrial class began to pressure the government for change, this accelerated after the 1832 Reform Act when the new industrial towns won representation in the House of Commons. The Brougham Commission in 1818 started to investigate the public schools and pressure from papers like 'The Times' resulted in the 1864 Clarendon Commission on the nine 'great' public schools. When they went to Eton they found that over the last twenty years the Provost and Fellows had pocketed £127,000 in fines on renewal of leases. Christopher Hollis in his book on Eton described them as 'greedy, idle and nepotistical'.

The Public Schools Act 1868 swept away the Fellows and established independent governing bodies with clearer accountability, they also created the process of competitive exams for entry which ensured that the public schools were dominated by the upper classes.

Historically fees have increased at a faster rate than incomes, public schools tend to charge what they can get away with. In the past decade fees have risen by 50%. In 2006 the Office of Fair Trading fined 50 public schools for operating a virtual cartel on fees. Between March 2001 and June 2003 the bursar of Sevenoaks School circulated information on proposed fee increases. The OFT found that,

'Through their participation in the Sevenoaks Survey, the Participant schools exchanged on a regular and systematic basis highly confidential information regarding each other's pricing intentions for the coming academic year that was not made available to parents of pupils at Participant schools or published more generally. This arrangement constitutes an obvious restriction of competition whereby the Participant schools knowingly substituted practical co-operation for the risks of competition amounting to an agreement and/or concerted practice having as its object the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition. Further, it was implicit in the way that the Sevenoaks Survey operated, and the fact that it was intended that the information exchanged should be reasonably reliable, that there was at least a 'gentleman's agreement' amongst the Participant schools that the fee increase figures submitted to the Survey would accurately reflect actual future fee levels.'

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) condemned the OFT’s investigation as “a scandalous waste of public money” and argued that it amounted to an attack on the whole of the charitable sector! Jonathan Shephard, its general secretary, said: “The OFT needs a result for the sake of its credibility. The OFT has failed to understand that charities have no motive for raising more money than is needed for charitable activities.” Yes, for breath taking arrogance and obfuscation you really couldn't beat that statement.

Of course for some parents high fees are just so much loose change; bankers with their millionaire bonuses, Russian kleptocrats, Mexican drug barons and the Nigerian military are all happy to send their children to English public schools. The best education money can buy.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Oxford wants more posh pupils?

Oxford University has acquired an unenviable reputation for being horrendously white and upper-class. There's the impression that if you don't have a double-barrelled name, can prove lineage going back several generations to aristocratic land-owning families and have your own personal stable of polo ponies, well, don't bother to apply and in any case it needs to be written on calf vellum and personally delivered by a faithful retainer.

In a bid to counter this image they have organised 'outreach' events to encourage applicants from 'non-traditional backgrounds'. On the Oxford web site on the 'widening access' page they proudly state, 'New data is enabling us to refocus our widening access programmes for students from state schools and colleges with low rates of applications to the university'.

I've got this picture of crusty old dons forsaking the pleasures of sipping sherry in the Senior Common Room and instead supping instant coffee from chipped cups in draughty comprehensive staff rooms.

Somehow it didn't quite work out like that... 'The Independent' managed to chisel out the facts using the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). More than a fifth of the 'outreach' events were at public schools, this might be stating the bleeding obvious, but somehow the university was oblivious to the fact that this sector, that educates 7% of pupils, scooped up 46% of places at Oxford. Westminster (Clegg's alma mater) alone managed to acquire 2% of undergraduate admissions.

Among the schools that benefited were (fees in brackets) -

  • Marlborough College (£29,310) 12 events

  • St Paul's (£25,773) 11 events

  • Rugby (£28,000) 10 events

  • Eton (£29,862) 9 events

  • Cheltenham Ladies' College (£27,735) 8 events

  • Gasworks Comprehensive (£0) 0 events

If that wasn't damning enough, this week, Labour MP David Lammy extracted more statistics, once again using the Freedom of Information Act. He noted that, 'They provided patchy data [and] challenged valid requests'. Given that the state invests £440 million a year what did they have to hide?

Twenty one Oxford and Cambridge colleges made no offers to black candidates for courses, one Oxford college (Merton) hadn't admitted a single black student in five years. Only one black Britain of Caribbean descent was accepted for undergraduate study at Oxford last year. Of the 1,500 academic and lab staff at Cambridge none are black.

In 1895 Thomas Hardy wrote 'Jude the Obscure' about a humble stonemason who dreams of studying at Oxford. Last year Oxford's social profile was 89% upper and middle class and Cambridge slumming it at 87.6% (the national average for UK universities is 64.5%). In the last seven years no one from Knowsley, Sandwell or Merthyr Tydfil has made it to Cambridge. Dream on.