Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

Gareth Roberts

My favourite, ferocious teacher

In 1979, I was 11 years old, and I had a quite remarkable teacher. Don’t worry, though – this isn’t going to be one of those anodyne paeans to an inspirational educator that the Department for Education use in their ads to lure people into teaching. In fact, if the lady I’ll refer to here

My fight to get screens out of schools

It was gratifying to see the recent Unesco report recommending moderation on the topic of tech in the classroom. I do hope the Department for Education, Ofsted and every school head in the country has read it. Britain seems to have submitted to the tidal wave of digital learning without so much as a minnow

Matthew Lynn

Can private schools survive Labour’s tax grab?

The latest headmaster of Eton has been recruited from a major private equity firm to help drive the brand’s growth in China. The consortium of hedge funds that own Winchester has been involved in a bitter takeover battle with Rugby, centred mainly on the redevelopment value of its playing fields. Westminster has been acquired by

The Oxbridge Files: which schools get the most pupils in?

Oxford and Cambridge have released figures showing how many offers they gave to pupils from schools in the 2022 Ucas application cycle. We have combined the figures in this table. It shows how well state grammars and sixth-form colleges compete with independent schools. Over the years, both universities have increased the proportion of acceptances from

The hidden private school fees

Are you totting up the cost of school fees? Are you turning your piggy bank upside down, white-faced? Yes, the cost of private education is the ultimate first-world problem. But even among the ‘haves’, some are luckier than others. The global super-rich pay school fees from lavish earnings or trust funds. The rest of us,

What’s in a school nickname?

‘Have you met Sperm?’ a friend from Westminster School asked me at a teenage party once. Sperm was a charming, pretty, confident girl but, still, I didn’t feel quite ready to use her startling nickname on our first meeting.   My own nickname – Mons, Latin for Mountain or Mount – seemed unadventurously fogeyish by comparison.

Why are cathedrals cutting ties with choral schools?

There’s worrying news for all who care about the incomparable cultural phenomenon that is the singing of choral evensong in British cathedrals every day of the week. Canterbury cathedral announced in March that it’s cutting ties with its local independent choir school, St Edmund’s, ending a happy relationship that has lasted for 50 years. St

Lisa Haseldine

The crisis in language teaching

The British are, on the whole, rather rubbish at languages. We all know people who live up to P.G. Wodehouse’s description of the ‘shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French’. As more of the world speaks English, our monolingualism is getting worse. According to the British Council, only one in

Melanie McDonagh

Teaching children mindfulness is a waste of time

A friend from Lewisham, south London, reports occasionally on her children’s state school, which has a reputation for being strife- and strike-prone. However, the children themselves – nursery and reception – are engaged in more calming activities. They are doing mindfulness. ‘My son loves it,’ she says. They sit down cross-legged at least once a

Is Labour right about the power of oracy?

It is no surprise that a speechwriter and a barrister-turned-politician would think the art of speech-making should be taught in schools. It’s like pig farmers at a barbecue eulogising the nutritional value and superior flavour of pork.  The speechwriter in question is Peter Hyman and the former barrister is Sir Keir Starmer, Britain’s presumptive next

School portraits: snapshots of four notable schools

Hurstpierpoint College, West Sussex Hurstpierpoint College – or ‘Hurst’ – aims to provide an ‘excellent all-round education’ that enables every child to ‘achieve their own personal bests’. The school is located in the West Sussex countryside, is co-educational and for pupils aged four to 18 years. Its 140-acre campus is impressive and, having abandoned full

Could you find love with a business degree?

‘D’you know what the acronym MBA stands for?’ The 27 -year-old who asked me this had a deep tan and fluorescent teeth. He may have winked, but the eye twitch was more likely a nervous tic from looking at himself in the mirror so much. I responded with a look of indifference tinged with fear.

Are boys’ schools a thing of the past?

First Charterhouse, then Winchester – now Westminster. In the past two years alone, three of Britain’s most famous schools have recently turned, or are planning to turn, fully co-educational. How many more boys’ schools will follow?  One popular argument for the change is, as ever, that girls will be a ‘civilising influence’ upon teenage boys

How to succeed in exams

Exams start on Monday. Thousands of A-level and GCSE pupils will be swotting hard for them right now. Some will do well; others won’t. Knowledge and ability are the two obvious keys to success. But there’s another factor that’s often overlooked: exam technique. Having taught thousands of students of all abilities at several leading schools, I

The timeless rules of youth

Every so often, one stumbles across some long-forgotten text that could have been written yesterday. It’s a reminder that often the answers to today’s problems lie in the past. I had one of those moments when I read Lord Baden-Powell’s Rovering to Success. Recently I had another such moment reading about Kurt Hahn’s Six Declines

Ross Clark

Independent thinking: private schools need reinvention, not abolition

It is one of those ancient mysteries: why has no Labour government been able to abolish private schools? Harold Wilson didn’t spare grammar schools (and nor did Edward Heath’s government, which followed). New Labour, too, for all its reforming zeal, never dared disembowel the independent sector. When the party did promise to do so –

Rory Sutherland

Private education’s dirty little secret

Someone once said that the two greatest moments you enjoy when owning a yacht are the day you buy it and the day you sell it. You could make a similar case for school fees: nothing feels quite as good as the day you finally stop paying them. Much as we are impressed by the

How to get in to an American university

Angela McAuslan-Kelly is a normal sixth-former at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen. Her dad is a bus driver and her mum works in a coffee shop. ‘They are not very wealthy,’ explains Holly Cram, a former captain of the Scottish national women’s hockey team. Angela, though, is off to Princeton in September. ‘I completely get

Will AI kill homework?

If the success of a new technology can be measured by the speed of uptake, there is no denying the epochal impact of ChatGPT. Within five days of its launch in late November, the artificial intelligence chatbot, which can provide clear, detailed answers to human questions, was being used by a million people. Now it’s

How to tempt parents away from private schools

Destroying private schools isn’t just a preoccupation of left-wing activists. The former education secretary Michael Gove said in 2019 that he wanted state schools to be so good that paying fees would be seen as an ‘eccentric choice’. Labour has explained that if it wins power, the party will scrap charitable status for private schools

Why maths to 18 is a bad idea (by a maths teacher)

Whenever I tell people I used to be a maths teacher the most common response is: ‘I absolutely hated maths at school.’ It is an age-old tale, to loathe maths lessons (or indeed your maths teacher). So, what better way to make children loathe maths even more than to make it compulsory until the age

How to raise a genius

If you want to master something, you should study the highest achievements in the field. To learn how to paint beautifully, visit the National Gallery. If you want to be a great scientist, spend some time in cutting-edge laboratories. If you want to write, read great literature. But this is not what parents usually think

Why become a teacher?

There was an article in this magazine’s last Schools supplement in September that, just for a moment, made me panic. ‘Why I’ve quit teaching’ was the headline. Not great timing. I’d just resigned from my secure civil service job in the Department for Transport to start a Postgraduate Certificate in Education in secondary level history.

School portraits: snapshots of four notable schools

Roundhay School, Leeds ‘While we were taught about racism and sexism, there was too little time spent making sure everyone could read and write,’ said Liz Truss of her alma mater three years ago when she was minister for women and equalities. Roundhay School’s record begs to differ – it has been ranked ‘outstanding’ by