12 March 2014

the awfulness of one’s alma mater

● The Camerons’ decision to send their daughter to a state school reminds me of a recent disagreement reported in the papers, between actors Billie Piper and Lawrence Fox over which school to choose for their sons. Ms Piper appears to be biased against the state sector, arguing that “quality of the school” should be the most important factor. Mr Fox, on the other hand, has a poor opinion of private schools, apparently having had bad experiences at Harrow.
I can believe Fox had an unhappy time at his school. I knew an old Harrovian who said he hated the place. Apparently the teachers made him feel stupid and undermined his confidence, so that he fell (or so he felt) well short of his potential.
Private schools aren’t always nice environments, particularly if you’re in any way unusual. If you carried out a survey of published moans about school experience, I expect you would find the results heavily skewed in the direction of private schools. This may of course have something to do with the fact that in most such cases, there was a boarding element, which often seems to be the part that was found particularly unpleasant.
On the other hand, if you did a survey of people who get to express themselves in print about anything at all, you would also find the results heavily skewed towards the privately educated.
More significantly, if you compared alumni of the two sectors to see which of them were confident and self-assertive enough to criticise things from their own experience, schools or otherwise, you would probably find an even more pronounced skew.
So the finding that Mr Fox et al. appear to complain more loudly about their schools than Joe Bloggs, John Doe etc. do about Comprehensive X or Academy Y should be taken with a pinch of salt.