Placing more and more responsibility for all aspects of life onto the citizen is not of itself a bad idea. However, how well resourced we are to pick up and enact that responsibility may be dramatically changed by where you happened to go to school.
93% of UK children are state-school educated. The remaining 7% – from private or public schools as they’re known in the UK – dominate the ranks of politicians, judges, bankers, diplomats, journalists, hedge fund managers and members of the MCC and RFU.
We might expect those findings, these roles and positions are, after all, the ‘establishment’.
More surprisingly, up to 60% of the acts in the pop charts are privately educated, from Florence to Mumford, Lily Allen, Chris Martin and Pixie Lott.
Consider next the finding that 37% of British medallists at the 1912 Olympics came from public schools and for a laugh, the origins of many leading comedians might surprise you. Rowan Atkinson (Durham Choristers, St Bees), Michael McIntyre (Merchants Taylors), John Cleese (Clifton), Stephen Fry (Uppingham), Hugh Laurie (Eton), Peter Cook (Radley) and Rory Bremner (Clifton) each with shades of PG Wodehouse, exuding breeding and refinement. This continues through the ranks of presenters, explorers & captains of industry.
Bear Grylls started to learn his survival skills at Eton.
Irony aside, I don’t wish to cast aspersions on any of the above. All are talented and deserving of their reputations. That is not the issue. Nor is it the excellence or otherwise of their schooling. The issue is the sheer preponderance of them.
Where are our heroes or role models from the 93%? How can people take on more and more duties and work when they are not appreciated, celebrated or distinguished?
This is surely one of the underlying determinants of the rises in anxiety and depression we see across the UK. Lack of fairness, appreciation and resources are known causes of psychological issues.
To be sure there are some outstanding examples of state-school educated icons, Ed Sheeran, Eddie Izzard, Simon Reeve or John Bishop. To correct the gender imbalance, Jennifer Saunders was privately educated while Dawn French went to a state grammar.
It is clear to me that the resources and opportunities to develop talent and confidence are not evenly distributed between the public and state sectors in the UK. You have better chances in life if you are privately educated. And presumably more resources and networks to comply with the state’s requirements or escape them completely. Tax havens, and elaborate schemes to avoid tax are much in the news just now (August, 2018).
It is easier to accept responsibility or fault if there is fairness in society. The paid-for advantages from private schools to private healthcare undermine the idea that ‘we’re all in it together’.
Days ago Oxford University was celebrating itself for awarding more places than ever to state school pupils. Guess what proportion of places went to such pupils? Just 56%. Nearly half of Oxbridge places were taken up by the 7% of public school educated pupils.
It is hard to see social justice is operating in this land; much easier to see that the advantages of talent + opportunity + resources are firmly skewed toward those who can pay for school. And that to a considerable extent, those in positions of power and privilege still prefer to confer advantage on people like themselves, rather than the 93%.