Does It Matter What School You Went To?

Department for EducationMuch has been made about the fact that the new head of the Department of Education (DofE) Nicky Morgan, and her team, are by and large privately educated. The photo attached has evidently proved to be a huge problem for many. I am curious as to why so many see this as problematic and based on what evidence?

Firstly let me state that the quote at the top of the picture “this team represents modern Britain” was a comment David Cameron made about his cabinet reshuffle and not the DofE. Just to be clear.

So lets address some key points here.

1. Shared Experience
There is the assumption that without a shared experience of state education, people who are privately educated will not be able to understand or empathise with those in state education.

I am curious as to why this is the thinking behind it?
Yes of course there could be some issues by why the default assumption?

One of my favourite MPs ever was Tony Benn. A guy who was continuously portrayed as one of the most loveable members ever on the left of politics. He came from a very privileged background, in fact he actually almost never became an MP because he inherited his father’s peerage and had to fight against being prevented on this. Do we think he was a less effective politician and activist because of his privileged background?

I get it. I really do. The Conservatives have not done much to assuage any fears about there preference to privately educated, middle class people, but that doesn’t mean that we should assume those who fall into this camp are not empathetic.

2. Political Bias?
I am apolitical. I have voted for both Labour and Conservative. Across the board the others have not presented either coherent local or national policies, or demonstrated overall local leadership that made we want to vote for them. So I am curious as to why we think policy is determined by private or public schooling.

Charles Clarke who caused a furore with his top up fees for unis, Ruth Kelly and her controversial extended Schools Policy and the her failed attempt at incorporating trust schools, and Ed Balls all went to independent schools. They were all education secretaries in the last government, all Oxbridge alumni and yet there was no comment then. We need to ask ourselves why is this?

3. Does it really matter?
Whilst researching this blog I found that almost all but two of the Education Secretaries either attended an independent or leading grammar school. Both of these types of school are incredibly selective, either through money or academic achievement.
The experiences, curricula and mindset of these types of school are very different from mainstream state schools. So in essence only two secretaries, including David Blunkett (a huge exception to the rule) have not attended independent school so I am not sure why this assumption only lies with this group mentioned.

As an educator I work in a number of schools around the country. I read a heck of a lot about experiences, pedagogy and educational policy to help keep me informed in the work I do. I dialogue with a number of teachers (online and face to face) and get to converse with policy makers of all political conversations.
In the interests of disclosure I will state that my eldest daughter attended a private school and my youngest currently attends a girl grammar.

I don’t think it matters as much as many people think it does. For all his hack handedness and clumsy way of delivering it I do think that Michael Gove used his own experience to push through reforms for more state school students to have the advantages that are enjoyed by grammar and independent school students. I don’t think the new office will try to veer to far from that. Nick Gibb has returned and again although his approach (and I have personal experience of meeting both him and Gove) grates me, I don’t think that his or the other members of the team means be default they would not have empathy or the best interests of students at heart.

Time will tell.


4 thoughts on “Does It Matter What School You Went To?

  1. Perhaps a problem occurs when we reflect upon the role of DofEd. National Curriculum for example is not expected to be followed in private schools. People privately educated may see certain subjects or content – syllabi as useful perhaps before a law degree or Oxbridge application. However, state schools largely cater to a very different clientele whose needs are not met in the same way. Education should not be one mould fits all. As they largely make decisions that effect state schools surely they should have some experience of the true needs of state schools. Just one thought though…

  2. Empathy can mean very different things, based on one’s standpoint. I trust empathy more from somebody who has had a shared or similar experience to those with whom he/she empathises, than I do for somebody without that experience. Real empathy requries the ability to think not only in somebody’s best interest, but to be able to think from their own perspective, taking in the full range of influences.

    I don’t think that having attended a private school necessarily leaves somebody empathetically impotent, but I don’t think it necessarily leaves them with any universal trait. I like to think that now, what with the phenomenal improvement in London’s state schools, that the tables might turn. If we keep in mind that state school pupils outperform privately educated pupils in Oxbridge, perhaps this persistent myth of the intrinsic superiority of private school education will wither away.

    This myth is the core of my suspicion about a privately-educated cabinet. Some private schools provide an elite education, but some just provide a fairly average education – friends who have transitioned from state teaching to private teaching have been surprised to find that the standards and expectations are actually lower – but that private education provides the contacts, the networks and so on.

    The flagbearing of private schools’ superiority focuses on their rigour and their teaching, not on the socially elite intakes and so on. Would a privately educated cabinet be willing to acknowledge the unearned privilege that a private school confers, or would they be more likely to trumpet their fantastic curricular curios and suggest that state schools should mirror their practices? Time will tell, and either way, we have no say in the process.

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