Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Of Pirates and Prisoners

So, my horrible secret is out. I am stolidly middle class and send my kids to private school. I’ve been oddly reluctant to say it. Being middle class in Britain today is to be somewhat tainted, unclean. I also was brought up in a very red household. My father was a vicar, my mother an activist of many flavours. I grew up in a commune (I really did, but that’s a post for another day), and was nurtured on Christian Socialist values.

I feel odd about sending my kids to be educated privately. If my wife and I lived in Canada I would not consider other than sending them through the state system like I did. My wife too was educated in the state system, though both her parents are public school, oxbridgites.

Yet, I’m a parent, they are my children. The need to give them the best is an solid unbending rod within me. Its why we live in the country and I put up with a gruelling commute. I want my kids to have space, fresh air and fresh food. It means they don’t get me during the week, but they get me at the weekends.

We spent a lot of time looking at schools, and the contrast between the state system and the private one is stark. Our local state infant school is OK, but it had class sizes of 30. The Ofsted report, though mostly complimentary, did note that boys where educationally neglected. Local parents we talked to also complained about this. Worse, the next level up, plus the one beyond that had bad reputations. Poor behaviours, poor results, and the facilities we saw where dated and badly maintained.

Partially I think that is where we live. Surrey is filled with the best private schools in the country. Everyone with a scrap of money pulls their kids out of the state system, and that pulls out everything associated with that.

So, the conundrum, a prisoners dilemma really. Do I put my children through the state system, put my resources, skills and parental love behind their education and school? There would be some small benefit to others, but my children would be disadvantaged because none of my neighbours, my peers in income, do the same.

The prisoners dilemma is that if no one pulled their children out, if all those middle class values and parental devotion remained in the state system as if did in Canada where I grew up the system would flourish. The dilemma wouldn’t exist.

The problem is, the independent sector is really so good. My children are in class sizes of less than 15, there is a full time teacher and an assistant. They get specialist teachers in French, Art, Music and have a rigorous and totally fun physical education programme. The school has the best facilities money can buy. The kids are in a supportive, completely rounded environment, and all the other kids come from solid middle class back grounds, brought up with solid middle class values.

So I guiltily put my children through the best education money can buy. In so doing I disadvantage society as a whole. I wish it were otherwise, and sometimes wish the independent schools vanished overnight. Yet that won’t happen, and as I am lucky enough, and work hard enough to afford it, my children are in a private school.

Mea culpa.


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