Boarding education becoming a grotesque caraciture of itself?


When I first started out in a posh boarding school, although I was well aware of the huge privilege my surroundings offered, there were enough 'normal' kids around to mean that the education I received was grounded in the real world.

True, most of my schoolmates came from determinedly middle-class backgrounds and there was a scarcity of pupils from 'traditional working class' backgrounds but there were plenty of pupils who lived in pretty modest homes and whose parents had to scrimp and save to afford (even discounted) fees.

I am concerned that this is no longer the case. Boarding fees, which hover either side of £30k even in the most modest establishments, are out of reach for the category of parents with children that I rubbed shoulders with (teachers, doctors, soldiers, accountants etc.) Increasingly the schools with these exorbitant fees are populated by the global super-rich who live in a world quite detached from normal people's reality.

Whereas I would have been quite happy for my children to spend their formative years in the company of 'people like us' (if you'll pardon that horrible phrase) I am much less sure I'd want him in a school where they only come into contact with the children of hedge fund managers or Russian oil oligarchs.

Nor is it good enough to allay these fears by pointing to a bursary/scholarship programme especially if that programme is only used to afford access to the tutored-to-the-hilt-super-boffins. A dose of reality and balance is needed if such schools are to avoid becoming hideous caricatures of their former selves.

As I have explained here independent schools are, on balance, a good thing. But there is a certain category of school - typically the 'premier league' boarding type - where a ludicrous facilities arms race has resulted in too much exclusivity. There needs to be a reality check: bin the plans for a new tartan athletics track, or Olympic-sized swimming pool (always shamefully underused in any case) and focus on the core mission of providing a good eduction to a healthy cross section of pupils.

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