Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
I left prep school in 1989 - an aeon ago in the fast moving, ever changing world of education you might think. Back in 1989 it was another seven years before the oldest pupil currently at Oswestry was born. There's clearly been a lot of water under the bridge since then...
A year or so before I left the school was having a clear out. Hundreds of surplus copies of the school magazine - of various vintages - had been thrown into a skip. My friends and I eagerly fished them out. In true prep-school fashion we collected one from each year to make up our sets. Much hilarity ensued: "Look, in 1977 Mr Bull wasn't bald!" or "Here look at Mr Parke's trousers in this photo!" or "See this one, the dining hall isn't yet built."
Over the years I've had many clear outs myself but I've always held back from chucking out my collection of old school magazines. Flicking through one the other day I came across this editorial which I share with you now, in it's entirety. It's from 1976. The cost of school fees might make you smile, as might the idea that we should save costs by having pupils mow the grass; but there's plenty here that's much the same today, nearly 40 years on. I think it's rather lovely:
A parent whose son has just passed his Common Entrance said to me sadly last week, "I am afraid he will never be able to send his children to an independent school."
The reason? Not any dissatisfaction with independent schools (quite the contrary). Not a feeling about the inadequacy of his son (he gained a good pass to a good school). No, it was the fees.
Can the hard-pressed tax-payer go on paying the rising fees for even one child, let alone two or three? Even Great Walstead boarding fees have reached £1000 a year, while some public schools have reached the £2000 mark.
It is all very well for schools to say they give value for money. Most of them do, but that will not save them if parents cannot find the money. A Rolls Royce gives good value for money, but not many of us have one. It is essential if independent education is to survive (and I am bold enough to say it will be a sad day for many young people if it does not) that independent schools keep down their fees by as much as possible. Not only this, but they must make it clear for all to see that they are doing so.
How can we in independent schools do this? Here are a few suggestions:
- Rather an obvious one - we must all work as hard as possible., The teachers at any rate are comparatively better paid than ever before, and thus it is up to us to make sure our productivity is as high as possible (do not ask me how you measure this). In particular, we must not increase staff in any department, unless it is essential. Parkinson's law operates in schools.
- By keeping numbers up. Our Association suggests larger forms, rather than economising on quality of staff. To do this, we must make more widely known what we have to offer (parents are our main allies here).
- By keeping uniform requirements to a minimum. Incidentally, I am still a believer in uniform. Abolishing uniform does not decrease parents' clothes bills.
- By making the fees inclusive as far as possible. I heard of a school the other day whose fees are £375 a term, but who sent an account out for a ten-year-old boy for £428. Unless the boy played five musical instruments and loves judo, this seems unfair (and that is being charitable).
- By doing jobs ourselves, e.g. painting, repairing, tending the grounds, sweeping etc. Some pupils enjoy cutting the cricket pitch more than playing and many boys enjoy cooking and preparing meals. (Guess who made those delicious Open Day sandwiches).
- By eschewing demarcation disputes. In my first term at Great Walstead, a master never came in for Sunday supper when he learnt that he might be asked to help with the washing up. He said, "I was appointed as an English teacher, not a domestic." We are all domestics nowadays.
- By cutting out luxuries, e.g. lavish entertainment for a few, acres of beautifully manicured gardens, and what about glossy school magazines?!