The ‘public’ schools really are a menace to modern British society, as this Guardian article, announcing a new book on the subject (yet another!), argues in some detail: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/jan/13/public-schools-david-kynaston-francis-green-engines-of-privilege. There’s nothing here – there may be in the book – about the kind of education offered in them, whose dangers the recent political prominence of two Old Etonians – Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg – must illustrate clearly; both of them being heavily involved in the Brexit movement, of course, as well as many more of its leaders, from the more ‘minor’ public schools. I’ve given talks at a number of them, coming away from which I always used to despair of their pupils’ narrow and privileged world views.
Here I must declare an interest, although it’s one that at least gives me some personal knowledge to base my views on. I went to one of those ‘minor’ schools, albeit as a day-boy, and on a scholarship from my local Education Committee. When that system – the ‘direct grant’ – ceased, Brentwood went full-private. It wasn’t a genuine Public school, though it claimed a 400-year history; for which reason, I imagine, it tried to ape Eton and the rest in many ways: ‘houses’, a school CCF, ‘praeposters’ (who were given the power to beat younger boys), a school song (very dreary), an emphasis on the (ancient) Classics, a ‘Prep’ school feeding into it, vast playing fields, retired sportsmen as games masters, school uniform, including ‘boaters’ in summer (we used to grow mustard and cress on the tops of them: there was no school rule against that, and rules ruled in that society), plenty of buggery (apparently: that was among the boarders), and clever skills in preparing its boys for the ‘great’ universities. That was how I got to Cambridge. My college was, I should say, 95% public school boys.
When I arrived in Cambridge, and realised how privileged I had been, and then later when I became a Fellow of my college, and was introduced to the mysteries of its admissions system, I tried to get that changed, and to persuade the admissions tutor to look for candidates in the State sector; only to be told, distastefully, that ‘we don’t want boys at Corpus from schools like that.’ One of the Senior Tutors of the time, Michael McCrum, went on to become Head Master (or is it ‘High’ Master?) of Eton. He was typical.
I don’t want to speak too badly either of my school, which had a couple of inspirational teachers (for me), or of my public school colleagues at Corpus, with whom I got on very well. They were a bit patronising, but I could take that. One of them – an Old Etonian, son and heir to a great brewing company – on learning that I was a Labour Party member (the only one in the college, I think), said to me: ‘I didn’t know you were Labour, Bernard. I think if I were in your shoes I’d be a socialist too.’ Bless his little silken socks.
So you may be able to understand my animus against the Public schools. But the main reason is the stupidity and arrogance of Boris and Jacob. Only a school like Eton could have produced clowns like these; and only a nation like Britain could have elevated them into positions where they could bring the whole nation down. As they look like doing this coming week. (But hopefully not.)