Tanya Gold Tanya Gold

Private fears

These places aim to create a miniature executive class out of their small pupils

I should have known the London prep school scene was a racket from the way parents talk about it. They sound mad. ‘You’re too late!’ I was told by one mother, when my Little Face (not his real name) was nine months old, as if we had, by a whisker, missed the lifeboats at the Titanic. ‘What schools are you considering?’ asked a stranger in the playground. I muttered some names and she, a drab suburban Maleficent, cursed me. ‘You’ll be lucky,’ she smiled, as I dreamed of laying a peculiarly north London curse of my own: ‘May your child fail its A-levels.’

Even so, I put Little Face on waiting lists for prep schools, and write cheques. I do not have a complex defence for this. It is, for a leftist, hypocrisy. And because the marketing literature of these schools is skilled, I am grateful for the opportunity to write cheques and appear on waiting lists, although I am never sure, with sibling policies and old-boy policies and religious devotion policies, exactly what I am waiting for. The seduction of these schools is entirely dependent on the mirage that you will procure for your child something — ideally everything — that is denied to others. It is an arms race.

Then the first rejection comes. Little Face is not invited to interview for nursery at a famous London school, for reasons that are mysterious. (Little Face is very handsome and charismatic. He looks at The Spectator. He can say ‘I love trucks!’) He is a failure at two and a quarter, and this failure seems arbitrary, a guillotine.

Then: the first tour. Perhaps I am expecting my own first prep school, which emphasised ballet, flower-arranging and the correct use of napkin rings. They thought I was weird because I ate books, and I thought they were mad because they wanted me to dance round gardens en pointe while holding a napkin ring.

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