Stop bashing independent schooling. In fact, let’s just stop talking about educational backgrounds altogether

The Telegraph30/09/14, stop bashing independent schooling, writes Eleanor Doughty. In fact, let's just stop talking about educational backgrounds altogether. Richard Harman, Chairman of HMC and Headmaster of Uppingham, is quoted from his Times’ Thunderer column 'Stop the sneering. Private schools are a boon to Britain'

In education, as with anything else, there are sticking points. Grammar schools, independent schools and Trojan horses; oversubscribed universities and Mickey Mouse degrees. In education they are all valid concerns, and topics of discussion.

Of these, independent schooling is prominent this week, owing to the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) annual meeting that has been taking place in Newport.

This association of 260 independent schools is chaired by Richard Harman, the headmaster of Uppingham School in Rutland, and along with the keynote speech he delivered, his words could be read in The Times’ Thunderer column.

The headline reads: "Stop the sneering. Private schools are a boon to Britain". I was cheered reading it, as lately I have observed an increase in anti-private education attitudes.

However, the concept proposed in the headline, that private schools are brilliant for Britain, is fraught with difficulty. Harman clarifies why at the piece’s close: "many who attack the independent sector have themselves benefited from it. Many do not like to admit they send their children to our schools."

Admitting that you can afford to pay for your children’s education shouldn’t be a bad thing, but of late, this has been the case.

Independent schooling is often used as a large, hefty stick to beat up so-called middle class parents, Oxbridge, the political classes, the ‘metropolitan elite’ and anyone else that has’ imposed’ this condition on their children.

I must admit my vested interest, in having attended an independent school, but I am not embarrassed about this. I am proud of my education and grateful that I was able to receive it.

But the reality is, as with many of my peers, that had there been a good grammar school in the area, I might have gone there. My parents were left invariably option-free.

It wasn’t about snob value, per se, but the standard of education in the area, another point that I concede is luck of the family draw.

In all honesty, I couldn’t give a hoot where anyone went to school. When I was younger, I did care, because I was a snob, but being a snob gets you nowhere. It doesn’t matter, it’s school. School is just school.

Once you’ve gone to university – or to wherever else you might progress – it doesn’t matter.

Former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn ignited the debate again recently, calling for British businesses to declare the social mix of their work forces. A measure that smacks of dystopian fiction too much for me.

Making a meal out of decisions that your parents – and we should be clear that, in most cases, the children do not choose their school or catchment area – made more than a decade ago is unhealthy, in my view.

It works both ways too: the stigmatisation of education, state or private, is boring, predictable and childish

In a job interview this year I was asked what school I attended, the interviewer clocking my plummy voice. Before I answered, I asked if it mattered. He said, not. "Well then?" I inquired, "why would you ask?" He couldn’t answer that.

Sadly, references to educational backgrounds are made in the newspapers almost daily. It is barely possible to get through a mini news story without someone’s education being brought up.

If the story’s protagonist attended a public school, it will be detailed – as will the annual fees of said school and, depending on the length of the piece, alumni in the public sphere.

I don’t care – as a reader, I don’t care. I don’t want to be tempted to cast aspersions on someone’s character based on where they were educated. It is unfair, and shallow.

Richard Harman asked in yesterday’s speech that we stop using independent schools as "lazy shorthand for the social ills of our country." He said that politicians need to spend more time curing the UK’s social mobility “disease” rather than engaging in “class war” against independent schools.

Truly, I wish we could.

Read the full article © The Telegraph.