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Hate is the Best Fuel

Updated: Mar 13

I feel this blog post should start with a disclaimer. Before I get to the problem of the day (problem of the week, month, year and - why not - decenium), I feel I've got to say something about all the things I am and all the things I am not. It seems to be the done thing nowadays but also, in the context of this blog post, it feels appropriate. So let's start there! Let's check some privileges.


Privilege

Guess who I am. I am a private school parent but I am not rich. I work at a private school but I do not drive a Range Rover. I am privileged and yet I am not so privileged to deny that I am privileged. I am not so privileged that I don't know that I am, in fact, privileged.


If you have no idea what I just wrote, neither do I. Let's go with it though - stay with me.


As a result of the above, I guess you might now call me middle class or, if you do not know me at all, upper middle class. Nothing could be further from the truth however. I am a working class boy from Rotterdam. Not that I am actually any of the above classes because we don't really do classes in the Netherlands. We certainly never used to in Rotterdam because it was so unbelievably pointless. No one had any money.


We don't actually do private schools either. Well, we do now but that's because British and American immigrants - read: Expats - want posh schools for their kids. Before they came and started acting all weird, demanding English-speaking schools in non-English-speaking countries, private schools in the Netherlands weren't for the rich. They were for the thick.


And sometimes the thick and the rich.


I would argue that my daughter, on the other hand, is definitely privileged. For starters, she has no understanding of privilege. She does not know that going on school trips fifteen times a month is rather out of the ordinary. She thinks that visiting speakers that include renowned Egyptologists, authors, Olympians and award winning movie directors are everyday occurances in any primary school and she is also one of those children who will only eat potatoes if they come in the shape of gnocchi.


I understand what private education means in Great Britain and to the British. I understand that it is a completely different world than the world most people inhabit, full of weird little rules, weird traditions, weird lingo and weird secrets. I am also keenly aware that for many people, private education wasn't necessarily a place of happiness, unbridled joy, naivety and - well - just getting educated.


What I have come to understand, as an employee but mainly as a father, is that most of private education has changed somewhat over time. I have also come to understand that for many people, their education, including the fee-paying type, has meant happiness, unbridled joy, naivety and - well - just getting educated.


So how come we're all so hated right now?


This is Depressing

Right, forget the disclaimers. Let's go back to earlier this week. They packed several of us in a lovely room - very posh, privileged, you'd hate it - for a so-called AMCIS regional lunch at Bootham School in York. (thank you AMCIS, thank you Bootham School). It's all rather boring if you don't like schools, marketing, admissions or schools marketing and admissions. In short, if you have a life, you might not have enjoyed this lunch. A bunch of school marketers and admissions people complaining to each other about how hard it is to doour job, basically.


It's just that this time, I think we may have been right. We have a reason to complain.


One of the questions that we tackled was about identifying the key challenges to the British independent sector right now.


And then we didn't stop talking.


And listing.


The slightly frustrating and annoying thing was that everything we listed was actually a very valid point. So much so that we couldn't differentiate anymore. Were these key challenges or were they challenges. Ah, screw it! They're all key. They've all got the potential to put us out of business. That, and make people redundant and get lots of kids schoolless.


And then someone said, 'Well, this is depressing.'


We only have key challenges.


What Labour and Conservative Both Agree on

For many years now, the We-Hate-All-Foreigners-UK has done a fairly sterling job of making Britain the least appealing destination for overseas students and just about everyone who doesn't live on this island. The underhand hate campaign that was Brexit, which was as truthful a campaign as it was kindhearted, sealed and delivered the official stance of the majority of the British public and since then, it has been more complicated than ever to recruit overseas boarding students.


In addition, the number of UK boarders has slowly been declining for the last two decades or so. Chuck in a cost of living crisis, some Covid and some pension troubles; and here come the Labour party to put one more nail in the private schools' coffins.


With the Labour party set to demolish things at the next General Election, Grand Moff Keir Starmer has decided to win some extra votes by ending independent education. Or at least most of it. If you haven't heard by now, and why would you, it's not on the side of a school bus, Labour is all ready to tax private education.


Now, if they were about to paint this stuff on the side of a bus, and they may soon be, here's what that bus would look like:


Key Challenges

Actually, what the side of the bus would really say is that by taxing independent schools, Labour will raise a lot money. That money would be put into the struggling state education sector.


Sound familiar?


You remember that bus? I won't go into the economics of it but trust me, if it fits on the side of a bus and smells like bullshit...


And before you start, we're not asking anyone to take pity on us. These are just the key challenges and we need to discuss them and we need to plan our strategies to tackle them. Trust me, plenty of private schools will be absolutely fine. VAT will be a nuissance, for sure, but there will be money in their banks. Their swimming pools, multi-purpose sports halls, fields for alpacas will continue to be donated and their parents will continue to have space to park their 4x4's. There is no reason to pity anyone. I just want to know one thing.


But why do so many people hate us?


Is it the list above?


Exclusivity and Inequality

According to Keir, private education is at the heart of inequality in England. I don't know whether that's confusing cause and effect and I don't necessarily know whether that is an accurate assessment in all cases. For starters, every article that discusses inequality and private schools only mentions a handful of schools. You can obviously guess which ones and therein lies the problem. The top-ten or top-whatever most exclusive and expensive schools in the country contribute to inequality. That's like saying that the water in the sea contributes to the wetness of fish.


How about everything else that is exclusive and expensive in the world? In some way, everything that's exclusive and expensive, and out of reach to 99.99% of people on the planet, contributes to inequality. I guess it's true but I am not even sure whether a) it matters or b) if it does matter, if that's the way to solve it.


And how are the most exclusive schools in Switzerland not under attack?


Maybe that's a silly one.


Maybe not. Unless everyone in Switzerland is a rich, upperclass toff with a monocle and a gold card as opposed to a Clubcard; where is the inequality? Why is no one talking about these guys right here?


Okay, forget the Swiss. I guess it's less of a debate there because they have nice chocolate and doesn't the Alpine air just seem to solve lots of problems?


No, my question is why we're so hated. Why us? Us, the little guys. Why us, the fee-paying schools you never hear about? Us, the schools that never get a mention in the newspapers or the I-hated-my-private-school biographies.


So, Who is the Enemy?

Look, I am Dutch. I am from Rotterdam. If not now, I once definitely was working class. I am all for levelling the Ampleforths and the Marlboroughs - and I mean levelling. To the ground (no, no only kidding! There's no need for the demolition crew. Besides, the world could do with a few more haunted houses). The thing is that by taxing all of private education, including us, the little guys - and subsequently putting some of the little guys out of business - you're actually helping them. Perhaps inequality is what Keir and his Mad Band of Screaming Anomalies want to abolish. What they're doing is merely shifting the measuring device slightly across.


I am not saying I am not privileged and I think we covered my daughter's privilege. About six percent of this country can afford private education, along with a small number of people who patently cannot afford it but who are fortunate enough to be (part) funded through either a bursary or a scholarship. Or, like me, a decent staff discount. I think we covered my good fortune and, in turn, my daughter's. Forget whether I worked hard to get here and forget whether I still work hard. I know lots of people who worked hard and who are nowhere nearer a decent wage than they were 30 years ago. I know there is inequality and I am in the privileged position to talk and write about it.


As opposed to the position of living it.


The question is whether we are the enemy though. Are we the enemy? Are we the ones causing that huge divide between the haves and the have-nots? Us? That relatively large group of somewhat small, sometimes out-of-the-way, largely insignificant and never-quite-heard-of private schools? Are we really the bedrock of inequality?


We're privileged, yes, but are we the ones whose children think Lego has a silent -t, like Merlot - what exactly are they taking away from other schools and other children?


And Finally...

It's a question. I don't necessarily know the answer to it. I just know the answer isn't this.


Forget the economics that just don't add up. After all, whatever is raised (it is believed some £1.6 billion) might soon be lost on educating the kids coming out of the independent sector. Several people have also commented that in the great scheme of things £1.6b won't move the needle much, especially as state education spending looks to be increasing at almost twice the rate of inflation.


Ignore the debate about whether the independent sector is doing enough to warrant its (largely) charitable status. Most likely, you will find that it is exactly like every other debate about every other problem. Some are doing a lot, some are doing enough, some are doing nothing. If anyone's keen to can visit schools' individual websites to find out how committed they are.


Forget that the current problems of state education cannot be solved by eradicating or downright eliminating private education. For starters, there. Are. Too. Many. Issues. To solve. £1.6b extra isn't going to help much, divided by the number of pupils currently in education in the state sector, that's less than £200 per child. A further influx of children who'd otherwise be in the independent sector will only make matters worse, and obviously decrease the £188 per child spend quite significantly - less money coming in, more going out. And problems have a funny way of not being solved if you don't tackle the actual bloody problem.


So forget the ideology. There ain't no money coming in, teachers won't see their wages going up, the additional children might exarcerbate the problems we're currently facing and the people at the far privileged end of the spectrum will continue to send their kids to expensive private schools with 50m pools, petting zoos and homework oases. Or they'll send them to Switzerland. We will have moved the needle. But not by much. At the expense of a few and the benefit of absolutely no one.


Just like that Brexit bus. Running from city to city, fueled by hatred.


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