Looking at the Murray-O'Farrell private-state school debate , it is extremely interesting to see that almost all the Guardian commenters are parents. Even more interesting is that both of the aforementioned accounts are riddled with political rhetoric and self-righteous fallacy. As a 21 year-old graduate I'd like to give my two-cents.
Having sat my 11+ exam, I was given the opportunity to attend a local grammar school. Instead, solely for the purposes of convenience, I chose my state comprehensive. Performance data suggests that my school is average on a national scale. After recording 11 A*s at GCSE and 5 A's at A-level, I have recently graduated with a 2.1 in economics from a top 4 university. Do I feel like I've benefited as a result of attending a state school? Absolutely not.
From year 10 onwards, I would spend lessons literally counting down the minutes before lunchtime or home time. Preparing for GCSE's and A-levels was so uninspiring that I'd rarely pay attention in class. State schools have a culture in which learning isn't cool. I would never put my hand up to answer a question, even if I knew the answer. I didn't see the point. With a room full of disillusioned students, becoming involved in class did not amount to intellectual discussion.
In the summer of year 12 I was fortunate enough to attend a summer school at Eton College. Here, under the supervision of enthusiastic tutors in a small class with other bright students, I learnt that there was more to education than just preparing for exams. I became aware of areas of economics that I didn't even realize existed. Granted, this was a summer school and not your bread-and-butter year 12 economics class, but put simply, the teachers were unconstrained by the government and unconstrained by resources.
I realize that as a high achiever, my experiences of the classroom are not representative of state schooling per se. In spite of this, if students at the top of the class can become as disillusioned as I was, then it is inevitable that the same can be said for those at the bottom of the class.
Last year, I spent some time at my old school on work experience. One memory that sticks with me is a disruptive year 9 maths class in which I was asked to help out. The teacher had marked out a small group of problem kids who I was to supervise. In a previous lesson, I had witness them throwing stuff and acting in a generally appalling manner. Working with the 5 worst offenders, we completed the set exercise in a third of the time anticipated. I'm not a qualified teacher; neither do I claim to have a natural gift for teaching. The simple truth is that having an extra pair of hands helped the teacher out enormously.
One of the most disruptive children demonstrated intuition and mental arithmetic that I, 5 years his senior, would have struggled to produce. This boy may not go to university and it is my belief that neither the teacher nor the regular teaching assistant will ever acknowledge his potential.
Regardless of ability or background, we all deserve to have our needs met. Private schools spend more money per child to ensure that, generally speaking, students are better catered for. Whilst this 2-tier system is unfair, it is obscene to criticize those parents who want the best for their children. Sending your child to private school and associating yourself with the nominal middle-classes does not make you a proponent of social immobility. Anyone who suggests otherwise is ignorant and discredits the better work of the left.
For those parents who claim that state schools provide a more rounded social experience, yes this might be true. However, don't be under the illusion that sending your child to the local comprehensive isn't to the detriment of their intellectual development. Whilst the Eton old boy network may be damaging to society, some of the most down-to-earth, well-rounded, successful people I know went to private school. Similarly I know products of the state education system that have no grip on reality whatsoever. The home is as important for establishing character as it is for education. If your child becomes a toff after attending private school, it is your fault and not the school's.
At present, state education does not match up to private schools in terms of academic provision. Until they do, parents who are lucky enough to be able to make the choice must make a value judgment. However, once you've made your choice, don't let your decision distort your take on reality à la Murray and O'Farrell.
AFTERWORD: This article does not intend to make me out as a genius, my degree classification was average for my course. Neither is it intended as a criticism of my school/teachers who I believe did their best given the circumstances. If you wish to cast ill-judged aspersions on my character then feel free, it speaks volumes about you not me. For the record, I am from a working class background and consider myself slightly left of center.
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