Private schools

How many countries have conscription?

Halfway points Rishi Sunak told us we would have an election in the second half of the year, and we will have one on 4 July. When, exactly, is the halfway point of 2024? – There are 366 days in 2024, so we will be halfway through after 183 of them. That brings us to midnight at the end of 1 July, a day later than many might assume. – However, there is also the effect of daylight saving, which takes a hour away from March and puts it in October, shifting the halfway point of the year forwards by an hour to 1 a.m. on 2 July. Only two days of

Private schools can’t complain about Labour’s VAT raid

Of course Labour’s policy of charging VAT on private school fees is all about throwing a bit of red meat to those in the party who are motivated by class envy. Why otherwise expend so much political effort on a policy which in the opinion of the Institute of Fiscal Studies will only raise £1.6 billion a year? And that, of course, is mere guesswork. No-one really knows how the parents of private school pupils will really behave when whacked with a 20 per cent uplift in fees. Even if parents don’t withdraw pupils immediately, many might be tempted to do so at the end of prep school – and

Trump II: Back with a Vengeance

47 min listen

On the podcast: what would Trump’s second term look like?  Vengeance is a lifelong theme of Donald Trump’s, writes Freddy Gray in this week’s cover story – and this year’s presidential election could provide his most delectable payback of all. Meanwhile, Kate Andrews writes that Nikki Haley’s campaign is over – and with it went the hopes of the Never Trump movement. Where did it all go wrong? They both join the podcast to discuss what to expect from Trump’s second coming. (03:11) Then: Will and Gus take us through some of their favourite pieces from the magazine, including Michael Hann’s Pop review and Cosmo Landesman’s City Life column. (16:38) Next: Flora Watkins writes

Don’t blame private schools for failing to tackle ‘rape culture’

The allegations levelled against some of Britain’s top private schools have been deeply troubling. Dulwich College turns boys into sexual abusers, one former pupil has claimed. A ‘dossier of rape culture’ has been compiled by ex students at Westminster School; Latymer Upper School has reported sex abuse allegations to the police. These are just a handful of examples: Everyone’s Invited – an online campaign which invites young people to post anonymous testimonies of sexual assault and harassment – has over 4100 testimonies from girls as young as nine. For teachers like me who have taught sex education to 14 and 15 year old boys, these allegations are shocking but perhaps not surprising.

The rise of the Econian

A study has shown that protestors who took part in Extinction Rebellion’s demonstrations last year were overwhelmingly middle-class, highly educated and southern. Well, there’s a surprise. It turns out some 85 per cent of the London protestors had a degree, a third had a postgraduate qualification and two thirds described themselves as middle-class. Three quarters of those charged with offences lived in the south. And, if the accents I heard from the protestors as I biked through the throng on my way to work were anything to go on, a high percentage were public school–educated, too. I’d never seen so many Econians — the public school boys and girls who

Abolish private schools? Bring it on!

I cannot recall a week in which Britain’s private schools have received better PR. The Labour party has pledged to scrap them because of the huge advantages they confer on their pupils — including ‘lifelong networks for the powerful’, according to Owen Jones. Presumably that’s a reference to Jeremy Corbyn, who, thanks to his private school background, has risen to the top of the Labour party in spite of getting two Es at A-level. Laura Parker, the national coordinator for Momentum, welcomed Labour’s new policy on the grounds that ‘every child deserves a world-class education, not only those who are able to pay for it’. In other words, only private

Did I destroy my daughter’s prospects?

Every year, thousands of parents face the situation I did in 2014 when I realised that I could no longer afford to educate my ten-year-old daughter privately. At first, I didn’t panic. After all, I lived near some excellent state schools. After queuing for two hours one cold winter Saturday morning for Open Day, we learned that to gain a place at Holland Park you had to live within yards of it, or win a heavily oversubscribed art scholarship, which my daughter attempted — and failed. I still didn’t worry. Why should I have, when 93 per cent of children under 16 in England are educated in state schools? We

Money can’t buy good exam results

A paper published last week in an academic journal called npj Science of Learning attracted an unusual amount of press attention. It looked at the GCSE results of 4,814 students at three different types of school — comprehensives, private schools and grammars — and found that once you factor in IQ, prior attainment, parental socio-economic status and a range of genetic markers, the type of school has virtually no effect on academic attainment. Less than 1 per cent of the variance in these children’s GCSE results was due to school type. I should declare an interest, since I was one of several co-authors, along with the distinguished behavioural geneticist Robert

Why pay for the privilege?

In downstairs loos of houses of a certain sort, the old school photograph is a constant. When you’ve seen a few of these slightly yellowing portraits, you’ve seen them all. But this trend might soon reach its end. If you listen carefully in particular enclaves, you’ll hear faint whisperings about a new way of doing things. Maybe, just maybe, public school isn’t quite for everyone any more. Say goodbye to the old school pictures; the toffs are going native. Last year, in a Viscount’s kitchen, I spotted an invitation to a school fair — at the local primary. A few weeks later, an Old Harrovian whose family has a 300-year

Letters | 27 April 2017

Aid is not the answer Bill Gates says he is a huge fan of capitalism and trade (Save Aid!, 22 April) but then spoils it by repeating the received wisdom about aid: ‘If you care at all about conditions in Africa – the population explosion, measles, polio — then don’t suggest there is a private-sector solution to these problems. It’s outrageous.’ No. It is not outrageous. A vigorous private sector is the only answer to African development. I have spent my life in Africa, working in 18 of its countries, usually deep in the bush. I have watched numerous aid programmes fail once the external funding is removed, and have spent

Letters | 6 April 2017

All-round education Sir: While much of Ross Clark’s analysis of the direction that independent education has taken is spot on (‘A hard lesson is coming’, 1 April), he could not be more wrong on one issue. Many (or even most) parents who choose a private education for their children do not do so simply to achieve top academic outcomes: one look at the results league tables would disabuse him of this notion. What the average independent school does deliver is a rounded education (drama, sport, singing, D of E, CCF, debating and so on) with an emphasis on self-reliance, character and values, and competitive reward systems which acknowledge success rather

A hard lesson is coming

It is one of the great mysteries of modern British politics: how public schools managed to survive three periods of Labour government with their tax breaks intact. How was it that an education secretary, Anthony Crosland, could say: ‘If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England, and Wales and Northern Ireland’, and yet do nothing to make life difficult for independent schools? Suzi Leather, Tony Blair’s appointment as head of the Charity Commission, demanded private schools do more to justify their charitable status. They upped their bursaries a bit and invited state schools to use their swimming pools every so often,

Letters | 16 March 2017

Pope Francis’s mission Sir: Despite Damian Thompson’s intimations (‘The plot against the Pope’, 11 March), Pope Francis is going nowhere except onwards and upwards. Jorge Bergoglio has a loving family background which gives him a mature, balanced personality. He is gifted with a fine, open mind, underpinned by an Ignatian spirituality which reminds him of his sinfulness and his constant need for God’s grace. He also has vast experience of the pastoral ministry in the Buenos Aires slums. No doubt there is a ‘Borgia’ element in the Vatican. This lust for power is not at all what the crucified Christ encouraged in His disciples. As the Pope presses on with

Letters | 9 March 2017

On Scottish independence Sir: Alex Massie writes of the order permitting a second Scottish independence referendum: ‘Having granted such an order in 2014, it will be difficult to refuse Mrs Sturgeon’s demand for another’ (‘Back into battle’, 4 March). Surely that is precisely why Mrs May should refuse another? It was the SNP who described the 2014 vote as a chance in a lifetime. The only thing way in which Brexit could have changed matters is if it had been a fundamental and unforeseeable upset. Alex Massie, from this and his previous writings, clearly believes it was. But the Conservatives, at the time of the Scottish vote, had promised to

Big heads

The term ‘superhead’ was first used during the Blair government in 1998: an eye-catching word for a new breed of Superman-style headmasters or headmistresses, fast-tracked star teachers who would be parachuted into failing inner-city state schools and paid six-figure salaries to ‘turn them around’. It reaped rewards and can generally be considered a Good Thing. Sir Michael Wilshaw, for example, now chief inspector of schools, became known as ‘the hero of Hackney’ for transforming the academic record of Mossbourne Community Academy, built on the site of the totally-failed Hackney Downs School. Sometimes power went to the superheads’ heads and they were caught siphoning off funds to pay for their holidays.

Why I now believe in positive discrimination

The Prime Minister no doubt knew he would be fanning the flames when he waded into the argument about the admission of black undergraduates to universities like Oxford and Cambridge. We should do him the courtesy of trusting he means it when he says he feels strongly about discrimination in the awarding of university places – and I think he does. In this week’s issue Toby Young marks David Cameron’s essay with tutorial authority, and finds his case wanting. Particularly valuable among Toby’s marginal notes is his point that you can’t accept applicants if they haven’t applied – and black and working-class students disproportionately don’t. But we enter a vicious

Drinking at school with Plato

Rugby and Ampleforth schools have decided to give their charges experience of sensible drinking by introducing a little alcohol, under close staff supervision, at dinner. But, as Plato realised, what they actually need is experience of senseless drinking. Plato’s last work, Laws (c. 350 bc), depicts a new utopia, quite unlike that of the Republic with its philosopher-kings. Called Magnesia, it lays down a detailed code of laws which its inhabitants must obey without question because the code will inculcate moral goodness. A key feature of that is self-control, which the speaker (‘the Athenian’) proposes to achieve by means of symposia, or drinking parties. For, as the Athenian avers, ‘Drunkenness is a

Customs of the country

There are some things that will always be in competition. The Capulets and the Montagues; William Brown and Hubert Lane; the NHS and Bupa. They thrive on the tension, and there is always a story to be told. Such is the case with schooling in this country. The education system, and the battle between private and state education, receives vast amounts of media attention. We often hear about why the state system is ‘failing’ — or conversely, more recently, triumphing. Then there’s the perennial university conundrum: last year the Department for Education predicted that privately educated applicants would be five times more likely to gain admission to Oxbridge than students

State secrets

So much of the divide between state and private schools is a matter of mere perception — the perceptions of the teachers, the parents and the children. When, years ago, I announced that I would be sending my children to state schools, my colleagues (journalists on a national newspaper) turned on me as a pack of hounds, baying their disgust at what they called my willingness to ‘experiment’ on my own children. Move over Mengele, here comes Waugh. There are of course differences between the two types of education — but how many of them really matter? For my (yes, state-educated) children, many of the differences they saw between their

A lesson in bias on private schools

What’s wrong with low-cost education in poor countries? Quite a lot, you might think, if you read a new report from the Department for International Development. Low-cost private schools serve around 70 per cent of children in poor urban areas and nearly a third of rural children too. But the issue raises controversy among academics and experts, not least because it goes against 65 years of development dogma that the only way to help the poor is through government education, with big dollops of aid thrown in. Every aid agency and government has gone along with that. The only fly in the ointment is that poor parents disagree, which is