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Eton Rifles

January 26, 2011


Old ‘Shredded Wheat Head’ Andrew Neil will this week present a programme entitled ‘Posh & Posher; Why Public School Boys Run Britain’ on BBC2. The pre-election fuss made over Cameron and Osbourne’s public school backgrounds seemed a little disingenuous when ex-Fetters public schoolboy Tony Blair had been PM for the past decade and filled his cabinet with fellow privately educated, Oxbridge elitists. Governments of both left and right have always been the preserve of the posh with the odd token prole thrown in now and then but even these Uncle Toms end up in the House of Lords, accepting OBE’s, knighthoods, peerages, directorships and thus become part of the very system that ensures the rich stay rich and the powerful stay powerful. 

It’s always been the same. Even supposed ‘radicals’ like Cromwell were really only interested in their own financial wellbeing. Once he’d cut off the King’s head and reduced his and his landowner chums tax bills he didn’t want the ‘commonwealth’ sharing out the ordinary people and ruthlessly murdered the leaders of the Levellers who demanded equality for their services to the parliamentary cause.  

The conclusion to make Britain less posh Neil reaches is predictably safe and conservative; re-establish grammar schools. This is from an earlier blog from the Murdoch Stooge just before last year’s general election.         

 “Thus has come to an end the great post-war meritocratic social revolution (indeed it is now in reversal) which saw state school children move into so many positions of power previously reserved for the privileged. For example, between 1964 and 1997, under Labour and Tory governments, not one Prime Minister went to a private school.”

The great post-war meritocratic social revolution? What great post-war meritocratic social revolution? When did that happen? What Neil really means is that a few ‘special’ working class kids got the chance to attend a grammar school and whilst this did provide a route out of the usual prole jobs in heavy industry or manual labour prescribed to kids during the 50s, 60s and 70s, nevertheless, the message sent out to kids sitting for their ‘scholarship’ was simple; you can get a break but only on our terms.

As one of those ‘lucky’ 11 plus success stories who attended a grammar school from 1977-82, I can vouch for the myth of the grammar school as breeding grounds for working class empowerment. What became very clear during those five years was that there was a very real educational apartheid system at work within British society and that the comprehensive ‘experiment’, that true arbiter of meritocracy, was never allowed to succeed as it challenged the entire culture of old school tie nepotism, favouritism and elitism that sustained the class system. 

 The grammar school I attended, Helsby was located in a relatively wealthy part of Cheshire whose boundaries stretched to our industrial town. As one of the largest junior schools in the town on one of the poorest estates, our total in-take was three kids (I broke down and cried playing footy for the BB when my dad passed on the good news of my ‘success’ – I still haven’t got over it as this diatribe proves). The posher schools in the town seemd to be proportionately better represented. Maybe they were just better coached or had more parental guidance or maybe each school had its own quota to fill which would explain how some of these kids could barely read or write yet had  somehow passed the ‘rigorous’  11 plus. It was suggested to my mam and dad that I had actually failed the exam but that the school made an exception and somehow managed to wing it. No doubt for all the best reasons, they all thought this was the best thing for me instead of staying with my mates and attending the local comp.  

That attitude ran deep. You were supposed to be grateful for their benevolance. Do you really think that the likes of Princes William and Harry or Charles, Andrew and Edward benefited from a public school and university education? Do you really think that they would have succeeded in ANY walk of life without their family connections and wealth to insulate them from the mythical ‘free market’ where talent and skills decide how high or low you get in the pecking order. Extreme examples perhaps but symbolic ones; public schools are not filled with clever prodigys but the mediocre progeny of (mostly) inherited wealth.

If successive governments have failed to tackle the endemic bias of the education system, that’s because it suits them not to. It’s their kids who’ll reap the benefit of ‘selective’ schooling no matter how they dress it up. Blair’s ‘education, education, education’ mantra claimed to put fairness and equality of opportunity at the heart of New Labour’s programme but infact their response was to make things even worse for most ordinary kids than under Thatcher and Major.  The obsession with targets and a rigid reading and writing curriculum stunted any creative growth and made all schools compete with eachother in a bid for status and funding. The way in which almost any school was allowed to become an ‘academy’ also resulted in a damaging split in the system.

Take my daughters’ comprehensive which miraculously changed from a normal ‘bog standard comp’ to a ‘specialist technology college’ overnight and has a motto ‘we’re in the business of learning.’ What message does that send out to kids? It might be exactly the kind of corporate drivel that appeals to politicians and ‘industry’ (you know cunts in suits) but this attitude became normalised during the past 20 years. Education is NOT a business or atleast it shouldn’t be.

In the film Kes, the options open to Billy Casper and his pals were to go down the pit or learn a trade. The teachers were brutal, dismissive and hostile because the system was brutal, dismissive and hostile. Schools were essentially holding units, taking the poor off the streets and providing them with enough food and shelter to keep them strong enough for the pits or the steel factories or the boatyards. This was a film not set in the 20s or 30s but during Neil’s supposed golden age of meritocratic opportunity. Those schools are still here, those teachers still exist.

The grammar school I attended had pathetic public pretensions (headmaster in robes and mortar boards for fuck’s sake) and the posh kids outnumbered the proles maybe 10-1. The ultimate aim of grammar schools was to prepare pupils for a life of modest success in the machinery of the state; the civil service perhaps which is where I ended up after jibbing it at 16 and going onto a YTS for a year.  The true meritocrat would believe in comprehensive education as the only true method of dividing pupils by ability, which is what they do in the set system. The lie that comps reduce all pupils to a lowest common denominator that disadvantages the gifted at the expense of the dumb has always been a myth. No, the antipathy to comprehensives is that they are COMPREHENSIVE and as such all pupils are judged by the same standards.

For as long as wealthy parents can buy their kids a better education and for as long as public schools can buy their way into the top universities and for as long as the top universities supply the people who go onto to become leading policy makers in education and other areas, then posh kids will always run Britain and Andrew Neil can fuck off back to sucking Rupert’s dick and trying to tap off with brasses dressed in a basey.

Private Eye’s favourite pic.


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