Justine Greening is wrong to pick on Eton

The former education secretary, Justine Greening, has urged firms to discriminate against applicants from Eton on the grounds that it is easier to get good A level grades if you’ve been to Eton rather than a comprehensive. There are several odd things about her statement. First, why single out Eton? In terms of A level passes at grade A* or A, Eton is 12th in the independent school league table, behind Westminster, Wycombe Abbey, St Paul’s and City of London School for Girls, among others. Cardiff Sixth Form College is top, with 91.9 per cent of its students gaining A* or A in their A levels last year. I guess urging

I wish I had kept my Brummie accent. I’d be taken more seriously

‘No one wants to send their son to Eton any more,’ I learned from last week’s Spectator Schools supplement. It explained how parents who’d been privately educated themselves were increasingly reluctant to extend the privilege to their offspring; some because they can’t bear for their darling babies to board, others because the fees are way out of their reach, or because class prejudice is so entrenched these days it means their kids probably won’t get into Oxbridge. Then again, if you don’t send your kids to public school, you’ll be denying them never-to-be-repeated opportunities like the ones that boys at Radley have had this week: the chance to see not

Eat, pray, learn

My greatest spiritual moment this year came in Eton College Chapel. I was there for Evensong with a friend who’s an English master at the school. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the congregation belted out Verdi’s ‘Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’ — in English. Part of the pleasure came from the shock of hearing 1,300 upper-middle-class schoolboys imitating Hebrew slaves singing a lament about their Babylonian captivity in 500 BC. But it was also the sheer joy of the music in Henry VI’s chapel, a triumph of the Perpendicular Gothic. In quieter moments during the service, I examined the 15th century wall paintings, which are splendid, Flemish-style pictures of miracles of the Virgin

The Spectator’s Notes | 15 June 2017

Before knowing the result of the election, I composed my Chairman’s message in the newsletter of the Rectory Society. In it, I noted that Theresa May was the third prime minister in a row to have been brought up in a parsonage house. The first was Gordon Brown, son of the Scottish manse. The second was David Cameron, inhabitant of an old rectory owned by his stockbroker father. And now there was Mrs May, only child of a High Anglican vicar in Oxfordshire. ‘Whatever our political views,’ I went on, ‘I feel we [in the Society] should be proud of the fact that the buildings we love continue to produce

Sink or swim | 15 June 2017

I used to worry that I would never be a good writer because my childhood wasn’t interesting enough. I now think there must be some other explanation. Because the truth is that, when I was still pretty young, my parents banished me to an isolated community where for years on end I was compelled to dress in heritage costume, endure the uncanny absence of women and participate in ritualistic group activities, often of a physical or religious nature. That’s right. I am an Old Harrovian. On the face of it, this seems like an odd choice for my parents to have made for me — although it isn’t as bat-cave

What does Putin’s fascination with Eton tell us about him?

How does Vladimir Putin think about the world? It becomes dangerously important to know. I still have not seen a revealing speech by or discussion with him. I have found out a bit more, however, about the two-hour private interview conducted with him by several young Etonians last summer. One reason they got into the room, it seems, is that Mr Putin wanted to know about Eton and why it produced 19 prime ministers. The boys explained that one of the school’s great advantages was its societies — Political, Literary, Cheese etc. — largely organised by them, not by masters. They said these brought them into contact with a wide range

The Spectator’s Notes | 16 February 2017

How does Vladimir Putin think about the world? It becomes dangerously important to know. I still have not seen a revealing speech by or discussion with him. I have found out a bit more, however, about the two-hour private interview conducted with him by several young Etonians last summer. One reason they got into the room, it seems, is that Mr Putin wanted to know about Eton and why it produced 19 prime ministers. The boys explained that one of the school’s great advantages was its societies — Political, Literary, Cheese etc. — largely organised by them, not by masters. They said these brought them into contact with a wide range

In the company of queens

Steven Runciman, the historian of Byzantium, is a puzzling figure. He was an outrageous snob, once remarking that he would have enjoyed being the widower of a Spanish duchess, which would have made him a dowager duke in Castile. He particularly relished the company of queens (of the female variety), and he took the Queen Mother out to lunch once a year at the Athenaeum. But as Minoo Dinshaw shows in this richly original life, the snobbery was a subtle pose. Runciman was a tease who liked to play games with people, and he made a career out of being enigmatic. His family were wealthy shipbuilders in Northumberland. His parents

Meet Boris Mark II

The make-up lady at the BBC’s Millbank studio in Westminster has noticed a change in Boris Johnson’s look. ‘His hair is much smarter now,’ she told me as she slapped anti-shine talc on my pate for the Daily Politics show. ‘But he still messes it up a bit after I’ve combed it.’ Boris Mark II has entered the fray. As his conference speech this week showed, he’s still making the gags but they play second fiddle to his more serious aspirations — as a successful Foreign Secretary and, ultimately, PM. Like some rare species of blond cockroach, Boris survived the post-referendum nuclear fallout while the other Bullingdon boys and the

Importing the gentleman

 Beijing Gerard Manley Hopkins said that if the English had done nothing but ‘left the world the notion of a gentleman, they would have done a great service to mankind’. He was right. Yet in Britain today, you’re so very embarrassed by what we regard as your greatest single industry — turning out polished young people. Here in China, we look at the education statistics you view with horror — the ones that show how independent schools teach just 7 per cent of the population and yet their alumni account for 51 per cent of solicitors, 61 per cent of senior doctors, 67 per cent of Oscar winners and 74 per cent

Inside David Cameron’s personal Brexit

In the days following David Cameron’s resignation as prime minister, Michael Gove tried to persuade the Cameroons to back Boris Johnson for the job. He argued that the former London mayor was the real continuity candidate. While Johnson would strike a very different path on Europe, Gove argued, he would keep Cameron’s domestic agenda going in a way that Theresa May would not. This was something Gove got right. But the referendum result was far too raw for this argument to work. The rest, as they say, is history. Since May became Prime Minister, it’s been clear that she does not represent continuity. May is her own woman. The Cameroons

A home from home at school

The Earl of March, who owns the Goodwood Estate in West Sussex, said recently that he ‘hated’ Eton and ‘couldn’t wait to leave’. This came as a surprise to the interviewer, who immediately asked Charles March why on earth he then packed his own three sons off to his horrible alma mater. ‘Amazing, isn’t it?’ came the reply. ‘It’s completely different now to how it was in my day. Fathers and sons have a completely different relationship — warmer, loving. People I was at school with often barely had relationships with their fathers. Mine was different; my parents have always been modern, liberal thinkers.’ It didn’t make much sense. So

Theresa May’s purge of the posh

It’s not a great day to be an ambitious Tory who attended a private school — let alone Eton. After Theresa May promised to work to build a society with a focus on helping the working class rather than the rich, she has started by implementing this approach in her Cabinet. George Osborne, Nicky Morgan, Theresa Villiers and Oliver Letwin are among the privately-educated politicians to face the axe today. Meanwhile, the majority of the high profile briefs have gone to state school educated politicians. Alongside May, the Chancellor — Philip Hammond — and the Justice Secretary — Liz Truss  — attended a state school. Meanwhile Justine Greening has made history by becoming the

Elite sport

England’s cricketers won a remarkable Test match inside three days in the bearpit of Johannesburg, a victory that put them 2-0 up in the four-match series, with only the final Test to play. It is a remarkable achievement by Alastair Cook’s team because, before a ball had been bowled, most judges expected South Africa, the No. 1 ranked team in the world, to claim another triumph by right. In particular it was a wonderful tribute to the public schools which sharpened the skills of the star players. Stuart Broad, who took six prime wickets for only 17 runs on that tumultuous third day, reducing South Africa’s second innings to rubble, was

The Spectator’s notes | 26 November 2015

Because, it says, of its ‘liberal values and respect for human dignity’, the Economist has put out a film about Emily, a 24-year-old Belgian woman, who wants assisted dying. She is physically healthy, and comes, the film assures us, from a happy family. She has suffered from severe depression since childhood, however. By her own account, her self-made video (two years ago), in which she says ‘I don’t want to live a lie’ and ‘It keeps feeling empty whatever I do’, made her feel empowered. It inspired her to seek death at the hands of doctors. Belgium is one of two countries in the world which permits assisted dying for

Why my book is no longer a bestseller at Eton

After my experiences promoting volume one of my biography of Mrs Thatcher, I had focused on boarding schools for sales of volume two (just published). This was because I discovered that pupils liked to buy the book to give to their parents for Christmas, secure in the knowledge that they could put it on their parents’ extras bill. As a result, sales were brisk. So imagine my dismay, shortly before addressing the Eton Political Society recently, when I received an email informing me that the ‘Lower Man’ (not a term of abuse, but the Eton slang for what other schools would call the deputy head) had just banned this practice.

Charles Moore’s Notes: If we want to save the elephant, we must legalise the ivory trade

How good a deal for Britain is it that the president of China got a state visit and a nuclear power station and Prince William got the chance to go on Chinese television and complain about the ivory trade? The Prince was listened to politely, of course, but the Chinese will not give up their enthusiasm for the stuff. The elephant in the room, to misapply that expression, is that only a legal trade in ivory will save the species. Just as cows exist in any numbers only because we eat their flesh and drink their milk, so elephants have a future only if it is profitable to breed them.

Eton’s recipe for success

One of the first things you realise on arriving at Eton is that while you may be at arguably the best school in the world, you’re also possibly among Britain’s most hated. It’s great being surrounded by 15th-century quadrangles and Georgian boarding houses, and your uniform is as dapper as it gets (so long as you don’t mind dressing like a penguin). But you can’t walk into Windsor wearing a college crest, for fear of being mugged, and the papers are filled with stories claiming you’re overprivileged or not actually that clever. It’s a double-edged sword. You have the advantage of a brilliant education, but bear a stigma that can’t

Common sense, moral vision — and the magic touch

An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education is Tony Little’s valedictory meditation on his profession, published on his retirement as headmaster of Eton. In a series of loosely connected essays, erudite and eccentric, he contemplates issues of fundamental concern to us all. What are schools for? How should teachers be educated? How do good schools work? The book is rather oddly larded with insights from The Schoolmaster (1902) by A.C. Benson (brother of E.F. and Robert Hugh) who was, like Little, an Old Etonian who went back to teach at the school. Benson’s commentary on his own teaching experience is used as a touchstone, generally reinforcing Little’s civilising, rational approach to

William Waldegrave: too nice ever to have been PM

‘Lobbying,’ writes William Waldegrave in this extraordinary memoir, ‘takes many forms.’ But he has surely reported a variant hitherto unrecorded in the annals of politics. The Cardinal Archbishop of Cardiff (‘splendidly robed and well supported by priests and other attendants’) had come to lobby him (then an education minister) against the closure of a Catholic teacher-training college. After discussion the archbishop suggested their respective entourages leave the room. Face to face and alone with Waldegrave, the archbishop told him he had a distinguished 16th-century ancestor, who was a candidate for beatification. The unspoken implication was left hanging. ‘The Roman Catholic college duly closed,’ adds Waldegrave, ‘and I heard no more