Eton Mess: Britain's feudal education system

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Image: Telegraph/James McNaught

On Sunday 22 September at the Labour Party Conference, Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, announced that – should Labour form a government – all private schools in the UK would be abolished and their “investments and properties” redistributed across Britain’s state schools “democratically and fairly”. All I can say is that it is about damn time.

We in this country live in a medieval feudal education system, where the richest children go to elite private schools and the poorest are forced into a state-run system of decreasing resources and crumbling finances. The Department of Education revealed in June that 8.8 million students are attending 24,000 schools across the UK. Atop 10% of this mounting heap of students and consequent taxpayer investment stand the ivory towers of 2,600 private schools, housing 580,000 (6.5%) students.

These bastions of middle and upper-class segregation charge an average of £17,000 a year; from small ones charging £3,000 a term to ancients like Harrow charging £41,000 per-annum. Not only do they receive hefty private investment, but they also receive charitable donations and overseas contributions. Because of these charitable donations, many have charitable status, meaning they often do not pay any taxes at all; the headteacher’s union, HMC, announced that this would mean £150 million of annual unpaid taxes. Here is a system whereby schools that are struggling to keep up with increasing populations, a 1:22 teacher-student ratio and government cuts are paying taxes in full, whilst schools receiving thousands in private investment with one teacher per nine students pay nothing at all. What is this, if not Victorian elitism?

Yet we hear the same excuses that ‘lots of students are on scholarships’ or ‘I know a student whose family is on benefits’. To these I say, of the half-million students that attend private schools, a mere 41,000 (7%) attend through a scholarship or bursary. So much for ‘charitable status’.

With these facts, only one conclusion can be made of private schools. They maintain an archaic tradition that the richest in society get the best teachers, the best resources and, consequently, the best jobs. How is it excusable that a boy from a rich family in Chelsea with a single brain cell and diabolical grades gains access to an amazing education and jobs, whilst a girl raised on benefits in Tower Hamlets with amazing SATs and engagement in extracurricular activities is forced into a run-down comprehensive with more criminal reports than GCSEs? We are snuffing our future intelligentsia and professionals, and people wonder why this country is in a mess.

But some argue it is excusable. Following Labour’s announcement, many have come forward stating they will go to court on grounds of parental right to decide where their child goes to school. Sadly, with two-thirds of senior judges coming from private schools, it is likely that these selfish elitist bigots will win. Alongside these are the fearmongers who state that 50,000 teachers will be out of a job, not to mention the ‘billions of pounds placed on the taxpayer’, according to teaching union SCL leader, Geoff Barton.

To these arguments, I give these answers. Teachers will not be unemployed unless they resign but will be integrated into a new system where their amazing skills can help more pupils than before. To Geoff Barton, I have this calculation: multiply the average yearly private tuition cost of £17,000 by the amount of self-funded private students, 540,000, the result approximates a possible investment of nearly £9 trillion to the economy. Of course, nowhere near this much will be put into schools by families, but can anyone seriously say that a rich family will not try to improve the school their child has been allocated? Rich donors build libraries or buy computers for private schools all the time, now they could do it for everyone; not forgetting the private schools' assets will be divided too.

Ultimately, I am a dreamer and it would be a gargantuan task for any government to pull this off; but if they do, and all children are taught, assessed and treated equally, can anyone call this unfair? Malcolm X famously said: “education is the passport to the future"; well our collective future seems rather bleak when only 10% of us hold these educational passports.