Wednesday, 2 March 2016


There was an article in The Guardian recently entitled, “Private school is still surest route to front rank professions.”Sally Weale, the education correspondent for The Guardian, explained that a privately educated elite still dominate the UK’s leading professions. The article mostly relayed the data collected by The Sutton trust educational charity without too much analysis provided. Does anybody really know why a child who goes to Eton has many more percentage points chance of going to Oxford or Cambridge or achieving a high ranking job in law, politics, medicine and journalism than a child attending, let’s say, Raynes Park High School, near where I live? Most would immediately say, well that is easy, they are better educated at Eton. Is it really that simple and is that belief really true?

The statistics are impressive. Sally Weare informs us that 7% of the population attend independent fee-paying schools but 71% of top military officers were educated privately, 74% of top judges had private education,51% of top journalists and 61% of top Doctors were all educated privately. Think back to that first stastic that   7% of the population attend private schools. 88% of the population attend state comprehensives. The 4% discrepancy can be accounted for by immigrants. That is an astounding set of statistics. Are state educated children really that much worse off?
Many might argue that the teaching is better in private education.  I know a lot of teachers very well.I have many teacher friends. Some teach in local comprehensives, some in state junior schools and some in high achieving private prep schools. I know two teachers who teach at St Paul’s, the top public school which George Osborne our Chancellor of the Exchequer attended. My friends and acquaintances are all trained to be teachers and are educated to the same degree standard. All are able and creative and exceedingly hard working teachers. I have taught in both private and state sectors, although I admit most of my career has been in state sector schools but that was my own choice. I just felt more inspired to teach children from ordinary homes and ordinary backgrounds reflecting my own background. So I don’t think it’s the teachers that cause the discrepancy. They would take umbrage if that is what I thought. Every single one of them works  hard and more often than not to the detriment of their own private lives and the state of their own wellbeing. The stress levels are very high.


I have met and taught probably thousands of children over my 35 years as a teacher. I have met children from impoverished backgrounds, comfortable middle class backgrounds and wealthy backgrounds. In one case an extremely wealthy background. I met an American gentleman and his family and spent a day with them touring London. The gentleman is a billionaire owning half the radio and TV stations across the States and the children were just ordinary friendly average kids who just happened to attend the top private schools in the States. In fact, their mother was most concerned about their education. They were not working hard enough and doing their best. I commiserated and we talked education and the trials and tribulations of bringing  children up. The worries of that mother sounded familiar. I have had friends who went to Wellington College and one attended Lancing College in Sussex. Most of my friends went to state comprehensives. I suspect other friends went to public schools but they haven’t let on. All are great people. They have worked hard throughout their lives and have achieved varying degrees of success in their own chosen fields. People are people, children are children. There must be something else causing these unbalanced statistics. To perhaps illustrate what is really going on I will tell the story of two boys and two families I know quite well.

 A surgeon? Who will get a job at this level?

Recently I have been teaching in a school near Chertsey in Surrey. For the whole of the Autumn term I taught one particular class every Monday and Tuesday. The children who go to the school come from the catchment area surrounding the school. The children’s mums and dads are builders, electricians, shopkeepers, firemen, lorry drivers, that sort of thing.  Some of the mums actually work in the school, either as classroom assistants or in the kitchens. So I taught Arthur, not his real name, on Mondays and Tuesdays. His mum works as a cook in the school kitchens. I am not sure about this but I don’t think there is a dad about. Arthur is always focused. He invariably does his best and he has a sunny personality, he listens well and always tries to do his best. His mum is such a positive person and always cheery herself. She wants to do her best for Arthur. She has to watch every penny she earns but she tries to give Arthur nice things sometimes. His mum knows that reading and books are a good thing. She gets him to the local library when she can. She helps him with his homework and makes sure he gets it in on time. Arthur and his mum’s expectations are to do as well as he can in school and pass his G.C.S.E.s eventually he may do A levels in the future. She says that she wants him to go to university.Arthur's ambition is to become  an electrician or car mechanic like his friends dad's he knows. All Arthur's friends and their families are the same. They have ambitions to get a trade and few nervously, think they might possibly go to university but are unsure about that. I always believe what you want you will get if you want it hard enough. I am sure they will achieve their ambitions. What must be pointed out is that Arthur and his mum do not have friends who are teachers, doctors, lawyers, journalists, company executives or the like.
The next person I am going to write about is Daniel or Dan, again, not his real name. He attended the same public school, Marlborough, that Prince William’s wife the Duchess of Cambridge attended. I knew Dan and his family well during my own student days during the 1970’s. I lived in a house in Bayswater owned by Dan and met most of his family at various times. Dan completed his first degree in biology at Kings College and got a 2:2, a not very illustrious result, and  went on to do an MA in Biology at Southampton before doing his PHD at Southampton. He isn’t really an academic but this is what he wanted to do. He believed he could do it and he did. He was a bit of a lad. Dan, supported Southampton Football Club as indeed I do. We went to a few games at the old Dell together. He had a thing about Linda Lovelace ( I will leave it up to you to do a Google search Ha! Ha!) and we enjoyed more than a few pints together  and partied like mad. I have some  memories of wild Bayswater parties where the social mix was mostly upper class, privately educated sorts and myself and Pete, a good friend of mine from Southampton. Apart from my Southampton accent and Pete's accent you would not have been able to separate us from our more wealthy friends. We were all debauched together!!!Dan’s family were very well to do. They owned a farm in Sussex and another farm in Cornwall. Dan's dad was a Harley Street surgeon who spent most of the week in his flat in Mayfair. Dan’s mum was an heiress to the BOVIS building company which constructs housing estates , mansions for the wealthy and builds major construction projects like motorways. She used to sit on the board of directors. Their friends included members of the aristocracy, politicians and the big shakers and movers of this world.  Dan knew them and their children  like old friends. He was very confident in their company. He knew no different. I must admit I felt a little overawed at times but when you start talking to people that is what they are, people.  Dan’s mum was lovely. She cooked a great English breakfast and honestly if you didn’t know any different, was just like any other mother.  Arthur’s mum and Dan’s mum would have got on like a house on fire.

A plumber. Who will get a job at this level of society?

So let’s have a think about this. We have Arthur, a decent human being, a friendly nice lad who wants to do his best and will achieve his ambitions I am sure. Then we have Dan, a decent human being also, a lad who wanted to do his best. What is the difference? Dan moved to the Staes and worked in Boston. He went on to work in the American health system doing biological research. Apart from a nice income from his job he had a large endowment supplied by his family. I am sure he is very wealthy although knowing Dan he would never flaunt it and you might not know if you met him. Ok he has a slightly posh accent but it is not overbearing. Arthur is poor and lives in straightened circumstances and probably always will. Dan and Arthur would get on well. I mentioned at the start of my account of Dan that his first degree was a 2:2 in Biology but he went on from there. I am absolutely certain that Arthur has the intelligence to at least get a 2:2 if he decided to go to university.
What are the differences then between the lives of Arthur and Dan? They are pretty obvious  really. They are social, family, expectations and confidence. Dan has lived and been brought up amongst the people he aspires to emulate and work with. Arthur’s aspirations of being an electrician or fireman belong to the society he has been brought up in. We talk nowadays of breaking class barriers. We talk about encouraging high ambitions. That is easy if you are born into a high strata of society. Those high aspirations come naturally.

The film ,Educating Rita, starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine addresses these issues. The film portrays the situation where if you break from one strata of society into another you can cause damage to yourself emotionally and socially if other things are not in place such as the eponymous level playing field, whatever that might be. Some people decide to ignore and try and forget their past if they take a hike up the social ladder but does that work? Surely you can’t really forget your past and if you try to you are hurting part of yourself. 

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore , are a prime example of what can happen. Peter Cook came from a well to do background. He was born in Torquay to a high ranking civil servant father and a talented mother. He attended Radley top public school and went on to Pembroke College Cambridge. Dudley Moore came from an ordinary lower middle class in Dagenham in the East End of London. He attended  an ordinary local junior school, got the 11 plus and went to his local grammar school and went on to Magdelan College Oxford. He also attended the Guildahll College of Music. He was a talented musician and composer.   Peter Cook was a great satirist and began and edited Private Eye. He was a script writer for other comedians and ran The Establishment Club in SOHO where Lennie Bruce performed.Dudley Moore used to perfom with his jazz group in the basement of The Establishment Club.Both Peter Cook and Dudley Moore had a talent for socially observant comedy and brilliant characterisation. They came together and formed the greatest comic English duo of all time.These two, from different backgrounds were able to meet on apparently equal terms.Were the class barriers removed in their case?They went on to be part of the Beyond The Fringe with Jonathen Miller and Alan Bennett and eventually went on to perform for David Frost on his, That was The week That Was, series. They created their own television series called, Not Only But Also.

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore

 Peter Cook and Dudley Moore became very close friends, probably too close. The relationship between them was almost telepathic. Peter Cook became dominant and Dudley Moore hated that. Moore remained in Hollywood after the tour of the, Beyond The Fringe, and became an international film star. They kept in touch but their relationship was never the same. It was class differences and attitudes that caused the rift. They were damaging each other through bitter infighting. There is always something to pay for changing your social strata. The present social systems we have, do not  allow for much movement between the classes.

My friend Dan, when he applies for a good job, he is interviewed by the sort of person he went to school with. The interviewers are people similar to his own family. He is confident and assured. They know his background and they know ,that he is one of them. They know he will fit. On the other hand, Arthur, when he has achieved his 2:2 degree, the same level as Dan’  s first degree, he might decide to apply for a good job. He will be uncomfortable. He will not have the experience of knowing the type of people that are interviewing him. He will lack confidence. He comes from a different world. It’s unlikely he will get the job.  It really is enough to make you angry. Of course there are things that Arthur can do to develop confidence and an assured demeanor but that is something he is going to have to learn the hard way.

Governments have talked about a classless society. They speak about encouraging children from all classes of society to go out and be achievers. This will not happen. The data at the start of this article proves it is not happening. A classless society can only be encouraged by government intervention and society evolving over a very long time. It can only be achieved through a sort of Darwinian adaptation over generations. The environment created by government policy and schools has got to be amenable to it though. One suggestion, though which would equalise our society in one stroke, would be to abolish private education completely and turn the Eton and Harrows in this world into state comprehensives. The comprehensive system can balance society. It can achieve outstanding academic results. The Finnish comprehensive system proves this. It could make a true meritocracy for all. 


  1. Tony, brilliant post! It's a fascinating, and frustrating, subject.

  2. Thanks for your comment Jean. I get wound up about these things!! Ha! Ha!

  3. Thank you for this insightful post, Tony. I believe what you have written is very true.

    My husband and I came from homes/backgrounds that did not have the ability to instill in either of us the confidence and an understanding that we could have accomplished a vast variety of professions, whatever we would have desired. We have mused over this in our senior years wondering how life would have been different if we had been given a clearer understanding of life and our own abilities.

    But our lives have worked out well even so. We have owned a prosperous business serving a small, rural community for 38 years and are now ready for retirement. I so wish for others from our old neighborhoods to have had "good lives", too. And I hope for the future generations to have better footing for their lives. But you are right in thinking that will take a very long time to happen. It is so much more than overcoming poverty and receiving an education. It is a mind set learned early and then lived out all ones days.

    You can see that I get a bit wound up about these things, too, so please receive this long comment with understanding. Thank you.

    Have a lovely weekend.

    1. Thanks for your comment Lily. I spent 35 years teaching full time in various Surrey Schools. I still do a bit of teaching.
      Belief in yourself and confidence in what you do are such important and also liberating things. I can remember clearly to this day those one or two moments that gave me a belief in myself.

  4. This was interesting, Tony. But what do you think will be the impact of making all schools into academies? Do you think that this will increase or decrease the discrepancy between classes? Do you think that teachers will be more or less content in their jobs? I'm dreading the change, to be honest, living here in the UK now, and am really considering not going back into teaching now, given the already high stress levels in the profession.


    1. Hi Anna, Good to hear from you. Academies are an organisational thing. I spent all my teaching career working for Surrey Education authority. They were very good to me.They knew the schools withing Surrey very well and supported them in their independence and uniqueness. They also provided courses and expert advice by county subject inspectors. All the county inspectors I knew were so helpful and positive and supportive unlike the OFSTED approach to things. The county system nututred teachers. Also the pay scheme gave teachers a yearly point rise up the main pays scale every year which provided pay security. The new pay system, under academies, requires the heads of the academy schools to recommend teachers for an incremental pay rise. Teachers do not always get their rise each year. This adds to insecurity. Also under the academy system schools lose their individuality I think.There is no evidence really that academies do better than schools in the old system.I think the old system was more creative, more challenging and better for children. The academy system is a way I think of this government putting schools into a business structure. The other thing is testing which I think narrows the curriculum.
      I shall stop going on. You have touched a sensitive spot Anna. Ha! Ha!

    2. I have just had a thought Anna. Please do not let me you put you off going back into teaching. There are lots of good schools out there and lots of amazing teachers still. Its just this government are not making it easy.

    3. My thoughts exactly. I think you have been as objective as can be. I'm back in the UK after 12 years and it is like a different country now. The schools, the health system, everything is becoming like a business. Nuff said about the topic!

      I shall continue to live my oldy-wordly dream and enjoy exploring Jane Austen's England... visited Chawton House Library today for the Emma 100 exhibition - have you seen it yet? Fascinating, could have spent hours there (with no kids). Lovely to be back and to be able to blog again! Are you still doing tours?

  5. Hi Anna. I have problems with my internet st home. Waiting for an engineer so writing this on my I phone!!!! I no longer work for Tours by Locals. I did that for three or four years. One of the things I always intended to try. After a while I felt, well I have done that now. I still do a tour if I am asked. Recently took some Danish students around SOHO to see all the 60s. And 79s music clubs. They wanted a youth culture tour. My brother teaches in Denmark. The father of Clara my nieces husband is also a teacher in Denmark. He requested the tour. I loved taking them around. So I still do bespoke tours.
    If you and the family want a tour of any sort I am up for it Anna. Even with little children we could find a nice pub for lunch!!! I don't charge anything now. I do tours only for friends and acquaintances.

  6. Anna. Just checked out the Emma 200 exhibition atChawton that you mention. I must try to see it. If you want to see her publishers premises Murrays is still there in Albemarle Street just north of St James's Palace. Also nearby is Whites Vlub, still going, one of the famous 18th century coffee houses and scene in one of Hogarths pictures of the Rakes Progress.