This is the last regular post for a week or so, as I’ll be having a JOMO moment and will be rockin’ at the Isle of Wight Festival.
I had the inspiration to write this post after reading Ellen Hawley’s blog regarding when King John (and others) signed a document.
Ellen mentioned that Keir Hardie, the first leader of the Labour party, started work at 8 years of age and was the sole support for his family for at least some of his childhood, and taught himself to read and write at the age of about 17. He never went to school, which was typical of working class children in the 1850s/1860s.
Compare that to the MPs of today. Most (if not all) come from a grammar school or private school background. Have there ever been any parliamentarians to emerge from a failing state school? Jeremy Corbyn, current Labour leader, went to a private preparatory school and then to a grammar school, as did Theresa May. However, Mr Corbyn was one of the few who did not attend Oxbridge. It seems the current batch of MPs began life at a prep school, and then it was private school and afterwards on to Oxford or Cambridge.
Does this mean that there are no children at state schools capable of running the country? Of course not. There are many kids from working class backgrounds who could probably do a much better job than the buffoons who are currently in charge. However, they lack two things; money and the right connections.
Having parents with enough money enables a child to have a privileged private education that gives them the right ‘Old Boy’ connections to ensure they have the first dibs on a career ladder that ultimately leads to top job offers that any mother would be proud to put on Facebook.
I went to an all-girls’ school. In fact it was the very first purpose-built comprehensive school in Britain and a bit of a showpiece. Soon after I left boys were admitted for the first time, but years later it sadly lost its good reputation. However, when I was there in the early 1970s, guess how many girls went on to Oxford or Cambridge? One girl out of 2000, and she was exceptionally brainy. My husband laughed like a drain when I asked him how many kids had gone to Oxbridge from his state school. He said they probably went on to stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure instead …
I saw a programme on TV recently called ’63 Up’, where they interviewed children aged 7 and then every 7 years the adults they subsequently became were interviewed again. One 7 year old boy told us very confidently in a cut-glass accent back in the 1960s that he was going to ‘Charterhouse’ (a private school) and then on to Trinity College Cambridge. Guess what – he did! His future was all laid out for him, and did very nicely for himself in the world of law.
Another less fortunate boy from a state school was a failed jockey, and then took the ‘Knowledge’ and became a black taxi cab driver. He seemed quite content with his lot, but I suspect back in the 1970s it would not have been possible for him to gain entry to Oxbridge and become a Justice of the Peace, an MP, or a Company Director.
Nowadays Oxbridge has had to become less elite and accept students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and this is all to the good. Who knows what brilliant young minds might emerge from state schools who otherwise would not have had the opportunities normally only afforded to the rich?
My sons never went to University – they didn’t want to go. It suited us, as we couldn’t have afforded to send them. They started 5 year apprenticeships down on the factory floor – sweeping up and making tea. Twenty years on one is a General Manager and the other is a Regional Manager. It took them 20 years to get there, but if they’d gone to private school or Oxbridge I suspect the journey would have been much shorter. However, it does prove that you can get there eventually if you work really hard … and they have. Could they have got into Parliament? Who knows? Neither of them ever considered it. We had no connections and not much money and they messed about in school (the eldest son’s school career was abysmal) but luckily they still came out okay.
So… is success due to the right school? Yes, it helps enormously, but if a child is prepared to put in the hard work I think they can still make a success of life whichever school they go to.