School Swap – The Class Divide

ITV, 18.07.15, in a unique experiment Jo Ward, the head of 700-pupil state secondary Bemrose School in Derby, takes three of her pupils - Brett, Nazh and Qasim – to meet Mark Mortimer, who runs 400-pupil Warminster School, an independent boarding establishment, and three of his own pupils - Xander, Katy and Jon in a new two-part documentary. HMC member Mark Mortimer, head of Warminster School features.

“I am really interested in what it is in the private schools which is leading to those more high prestige careers, because if there is something I can replicate here, I’d like to do that. And I like to think that they might learn one or two things from us as well.”

Jo Ward, headteacher, Bemrose School

“I think that what the independent sector delivers is superb, it’s rightly regarded as just about the best education in the world. If every school in the country focused on what the independent sector focuses on, then I think frankly we’d be sorted.”

Mark Mortimer, headmaster, Warminster School

With GCSE A to C grade pass rates of under 50 per cent and an admissions policy that means more than half of new students don’t speak English as their first language, Bemrose could be said to be a typical urban comprehensive. And with annual boarding fees of more than £27,000 and a dozen tennis courts, Warminster fits the perception of many fee-paying independent schools.

This programme provides a close insight into the perceived educational gulf between the two schools, the attitudes of the students and their teachers towards each other, and asks whether a private education is a ticket to a top job later in life.

In the first episode, Mark Mortimer and his trio of pupils from Warminster visit Bemrose. The students are among 13 new joiners in their week at the school.

Headteacher Mark is surprised to discover just how many pupils are admitted direct from overseas. He says: “I mean for a child who comes from overseas, and hasn’t potentially been to school in his or her own country, it must be a culture shock of an enormous proportion.”

In their admissions tests at Bemrose, the private school pupils scored average reading ages of over 18 years old. By contrast, all the other entrants had English as a second-language and scored an average reading age of a seven-year-old. Xander goes into class with his Bemrose counterpart Brett, who says he likes messing about in lessons for fun. However, he says he realises how important education is. He says: “If I don’t get my head down at school, I’ll probably end up doing nothing with my life."

Xander says he’s not worried about being teased by other pupils because of his background. He says: “They are likely to have some sort of stereotype of me as some sort of posh kid who has a mansion and 50 cars or something. But hey, let’s break a few stereotypes.”

Mark says he believes the difference between the private and state sectors can simply be a matter of instilling confidence into pupils. “I think the answer is many pupils leave independent schools genuinely believing they can achieve anything they like if they set their mind to it. They have high self-esteem and self-confidence.”

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