The British Class Room War and the Tory and Elite Feminist Promotion of Private Education

There’s massive outrage at the way the education authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have downgraded pupils’ marks according to a set a algorithms. This has unfairly affected the mass of these children, damaging the hopes of all-too many for a university education. In the poorer areas, according to an I headline yesterday, 36 per cent of students have been affected. This is despite the hard work, time and effort these children and their teachers have put in despite the lockdown and necessary school closures. Teachers are angry, students and their parents are angry, and the schools are protesting. The Scots are trying to correct their errors, but there’s been precious little from the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, except excuses and bluster. And only the mildest criticism from the useless Blairite leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer.

Private Schools and the British Class System

But strangely, none of this downgrading has affected students at the elite private schools, like the Eton from which our clownish, mass-murdering prime minister Boris Alexander, DePfeffel Johnson and so many of his cronies and cabinet have attended. Mike has published a couple of excellent articles pointing out the class dimension to this marking down of the hoi polloi on their schools.

And he’s right. This isn’t accidental. The elite private schools are an intrinsic part of the British class system. They supply and educate this country’s elite, who heartily despise not just those below them, but the state schools that educate them.

Britain is one of the few country’s in Europe that has this devotion and the attendant promotion of elite private schools. It simply doesn’t exist in France and Germany, where most children, I believe, attend state schools. Private schools exist, but there isn’t the same cult surrounding them. There have at times been attempts to introduce it in Germany, but it’s failed. And a Fabian pamphlet on education I read in the 1980s stated that in France many pupils at private schools were there because, er, they were less intelligent than those at the state schools.

Some of this difference in attitude comes from the different history of education on the continent. In France following the French Revolution, there was a bitter conflict over schooling between the Church and the liberal, secularist authorities. This has been decided in favour of the latter, so that French republican society has an official policy of laicism – secularism. Germany also had its Kulturkampf with the Roman Catholic church in the 19th century over the Roman Catholic schools. But I think both countries, as well as Italy, had a very strong tradition of state support for schools and state or parish school provision. There was mass illiteracy in these countries in the 19th century, but I got the general impression that after the Napoleonic invasions where education was provided, it was through local school boards. In Britain education tended to remain a matter of private industry and provision. I’d also argue that the attitude that Eton and the rest of the private schools represent the acme of the British education system is actually only quite recent. Well into the 19th century wealthy children had a broader education at the grammar schools – the public schools were criticised for their narrow specialisation on the Classics – and bullying and brutality by the teachers was rife. The diet was also so poor that the pupils boarding there sometimes died of starvation. This changed after Matthew Arnold became the visionary headmaster at Rugby, and his massive improvement in the standards there and influence across elite private education.

There is, apparently, also a class divide in France in their secular, state education system. The children of the technocratic elite attend a set of similarly exclusive, but state-run schools, which are very difficult for someone outside that class to get into. This was part of the argument the Daily Heil advanced in favour of the British public school system in article back in the 1990s, when Eton and its fellows were coming under attack again as bastions of class privilege. According to this article, British public schools were superior because they developed in their pupils an independence of thought impossible in the French state system. This was roughly at the same time the journo Danny Danziger was interviewing old Etonians in his book, Eton Voices, who droned on about how wonder the old school was, praising it for its tolerance. How ideologically independent private school education is, is a highly questionable point. I’ve met a number of ex-public schoolboys who have rebelled against their upbringing and affected a very working class persona. But for the most part, since Arnold there has been a definite emphasis on moulding character – no bad thing in itself – and the existence of these schools and their very narrow class background is responsible for the maintenance of the British class system and all its attitudes against those further down the British social hierarchy.

Tory Hatred of State Education

And the Tories themselves hate state education. Some of us can still remember how they tried to part-privatise it in the 1980s by encouraging schools to leave the Local Education Authorities to become City Academies. That failed, and was quietly wound up. Until it was revived and expanded again by Blair and New Labour. And the Tories have continued, expanding the academy chains and even trying to bring back grammar schools to absolutely zero enthusiasm. I also remember the ignorant pronouncements of some Tory businessmen in the 1980s, who showed their own contempt for education. Pupils, according to these ignorant blowhards, should just be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Nothing else was necessary, and they should then be sent out to work. But although it wasn’t said, they probably didn’t mean children from the upper and upper middle classes.

Elite Feminist Attacks on State Education

And part of the defence and promotion of elite private schools has come from ex-private schoolgirls arguing from feminism. There’s a reasonable point there, but it’s mixed up with much elite class ideology. And it includes the liberal, Blairite elite as well as Tories. Way back in the 1980s there were articles in the paper during the debate about girls’ education which pointed out that girls in single-sex schools had better grades than their sisters in mixed schools. Girls tended to be pushed into the background in school performance by boys. I don’t know if this has changed, but since then there has been a reversal in academic performance between the sexes. Girls have been outperforming boys for several years now, and the worse performing demographic are White working class boys. Despite this reversal, feminist arguments are still being used to defend what it basically class privilege. Single-sex schools are centres of female excellence, and away from boys, more girls take STEM subjects. So said an article by one of the female hacks in the I. I don’t doubt she’s right.

But this does create some very skewed attitude towards state education in ex-private schoolgirls. I came across about a decade ago when I studying for my Ph.D. at Bristol Uni. Passing through campus one day, I overhead two former private school inmates, who I think I had just met, who were overjoyed to find that they both had the same educational background. They were glad to find another you woman, who went to the same type of school. Which, one of them declared, was better than ‘the little woman thing they teach in state schools.’

What!

Not in my experience, nor my mother’s. I went to the local primary school, and my mother was a teacher in one of the other primary schools in Bristol. Mike and I were also lucky to get into a church school. This had been a grammar school, but was now a state-assisted comprehensive. And in none of them was there any teaching about the ‘little woman thing’. Now there was a debate within the education system at the time about gender and schooling. There was an article in an edition of Child Education about whether girls should be allowed to play with traditionally boys toys in school, like Meccano sets. But this debate, I think, has been settled a very long time ago. And I do remember that there was a positive attitude towards feminism amongst some of the staff at the Church school. I was in our house master’s office one day – I honestly can’t remember why, but I don’t think it was as a punishment for anything – when one of the women teachers came in. She had some materials on the Suffragettes she wanted to show him. ‘Ah, excellent!’ said the housemaster, ‘a bit of feminism!’

By  contrast, I’ve also come across teachers of both sexes, who in my opinion couldn’t teach boys. One of them was a male teacher, who gave sneers and put downs to the boys if they couldn’t answer questions or gave the wrong one, but was extremely encouraging to the girls. He clearly thought that girls needed gentle encouragement, while boys needed to be kept in line by shaming and humiliation. But it gave the impression he didn’t like teaching them. I’ve also come across some horror stories about the way girls have been treated in schools as well. Another story I heard back in the ’80s was about the headmaster of a London school, who immediately decided to divide the pupils into two classes, an ‘A’ and ‘B’. And all the boys ended up in ‘A’, and the girls in ‘B’. The headmaster, apparently, was Turkish, and this looks like the product of a traditionally Islamic cultural attitude to education. It was mostly definitely not common throughout the British state system and there were very loud complaints.

Blairite Feminism and Class Snobbery

My guess is that these skewed ideas about the sexism of state education are shared not just by Tories, but by Blairite liberals. The hacks writing in newspapers like the Groaniad and the I, although that’s technically non-aligned politically, seem to come from the same wealthy, privately educated class. And I think they share the same attitudes towards social class as the Tories, but argue for it from a liberal, feminist perspective. A few years ago the I carried a piece about a female Labour MP or activist, who was very definitely a Blairite. She commented on how male-dominated the old, trade union dominated Labour movement had been. And so we see the same attitude directed towards state education, by people, who have never once set foot in a state school except perhaps on an official visit.

Conclusion

Boris Johnson famously declared that every school should be like Eton. Well, every school could if it had the money spent on it Eton has. As for the academies, ditto. Once you account for the masses of money they have had spent on them, far in excess of the state sector, and the way they skew their results by excluding difficult and underperforming pupils, they are very definitely not better than state schools. See the book The great Academy Fraud for a very detailed discussion of their failings.

But ‘failing state schools’ is a nice mantra to justify the privatisation of the education system, even though one academy chain has gone down the toilet after the other. The Tories hate state education, and, in my opinion, will do anything to sabotage it. As will the Blairites.

And that includes deliberately marking down state school pupils, while awarding high marks and grades to the privately educated children of the elite.

 

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One Response to “The British Class Room War and the Tory and Elite Feminist Promotion of Private Education”

  1. A6er Says:

    Reblogged this on Tory Britain!.

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