Since you pulled your children out of our local primary in favour of a private prep school, I’ve observed their growing sense of entitlement. When they brag about their rugby tournaments and skiing holidays, I have to hide an involuntary curl of the lip. Your son carelessly dropped a sweet wrapper at my house the other day and I abruptly directed him towards the waste-paper bin: did he think it was my job to tidy up after him?
Your excuses are risible: ‘We just want the best for our children.’ Does that not include enabling them to mix happily with children from different backgrounds? ‘Miranda wasn’t being stretched.’ Education isn’t just about academic results. Even so, when my sons do well at school I feel a shameful urge to rub your upturned nose in it: see what the state sector can achieve!
What offends me most is that you’re brazenly trying to buy your children an advantage. I admit that state schools, through lack of funding, can’t compete with the private sector on all fronts. Small class sizes can make a big difference to children’s attainment, while professions such as law and politics are awash with the privately educated, not all of them conspicuously talented. Your chosen school, set in acres of grounds, seeks to bolster its charitable status by offering ours the use of its playing fields on sports day. For the rest of the year, we have to make do with a sloping tarmac yard and faded pitch markings.
You might argue that I, too, confer all sorts of advantages on my sons, simply by virtue of my class and educational background. It’s true: I have books on my shelves and the means to buy a house close to a decent state school. I can’t help being middle-class; what I can do is try not to pile on the privilege. Children spend a large part of their young lives at school and what happens there leaves a lasting imprint. If you surround them with the well-heeled on a daily basis, how can they fail to gain a distorted outlook?
Please don’t tell me about all those hard-working families who make enormous sacrifices to afford the fees. Research published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies in 2010 revealed that private school fees had risen at three times the rate of household income since 1992. Average day-school fees now stand at more than £12,000 a year, well out of the reach of a teacher or civil servant earning £25,000, let alone a cleaner or call-centre worker. Bursaries vary widely, and the criteria for awarding them are often not made publicly available – so, once again, it’s the sharp-elbowed who benefit.
In the end, it comes down to one simple principle: education shouldn’t be for sale.