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The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword

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A good education is priceless. Of all the tools needed to equip us on our journey through life, education is undoubtedly primus inter partes, more important perhaps than good parenting, although the two generally go hand in hand.

This country, more than any other, boasts a two class system of education.  There is private education, provided by public schools, which are private, so make of that what you will. Then there is state education, for the most part provided by comprehensive schools, where one size fits all.

With a few exceptions, such as my almamater and Eton, Winchester and Sherborne, which were founded by benevolent monarchs or Princes of the Church, most of the public schools sprang up on the back of the Empire, when Britain ruled the waves and most of the known world worth knowing.  To ensure the smooth running of the Empire, the middle classes were dragooned into the diplomatic service, and sent to the far flung corners of the globe to swat the natives and keep law and order.

But with Ma and Pa in Upper Bongoland for the duration, little Johnnie was shunted orff to board at a suitable public school, where he remained until he, too, was ready to serve Queen and Country, and so it went on.  For the most part, gels were sent to convents, although there were a few gels’ public schools, where the emphasis was on needlework, cookery and decorum.

On any view, these public schools were harsh and brutal regimes, applying the axiom that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child, as graphically recounted in Thomas Hughes’s book Tom Brown’s Schooldays.  But whatever else, these schools provided, and continue to provide, a first rate education.  It is a startling statistic that only 7% of the population attend public school, yet this 7% occupy over 80% of the top jobs in every walk of life.  What price indeed, a good education!  Actually, it’s £30,000 per child per annum to be precise.

Fast forward one hundred and fifty years, and enter stage left, with the emphasis on ‘left’, the Charities Commissioners, headed by a fearsome woman with, yes you’ve guessed it, the benefit of a public school education, and with the equally fearsome name of Suzi ‘Hellfor’ Leather. 

For many years, private schools have been run as non profit charities, and as such, are entitled to favourable treatment at the hands of the taxman.  Notwithstanding,  Hellfor  has been tasked by the government to bring the public schools to heel, by ensuring that they open their doors to the less privileged of society, who cannot possibly afford to educate their children privately, as they spend all their money on roll ups, beer and tattoos. 

There will be quotas, and these quotas must be met.  If these schools do not come to heel, then they may lose their charitable status, and if they do, their fees will have to increase by 15% at least, putting them beyond the means of many parents who are already struggling to afford the present fees.  In turn, and if this happens, many schools will have to close their doors.

But there is a school of thought, if you’ll forgive the pun, which subscribes to the view that Hellfor is exceeding her powers in making these threats.  A cursory reading of the Charities Act 2006, the latest in a long line of legislation affecting private schools, suggests that the provision of education is a charitable exercise in its own right, and if administered on a non profit basis, then it complies with the statutory requirements.

I feel a test case coming on, but there may be problems ahead.  Of the judges eligible to try the case, over 90% were privately educated, so presumably they’d have to declare an interest, and possibly disqualify themselves.  Of the remaining 10% who sneaked in under the radar, they too would have to declare an interest. 

What to do?  Perhaps Europe could help in the form of the European Court of Justice, as Europeans don’t boast a two class system of education, or if they do, then private schools are usually reserved for nitwits who can’t cope with mainstream education.  But do we want Johnnie Foreigner deciding issues that affect the very fabric of British Society?  I think not!

Perhaps a panel of five judges should decide the case. Two from the private sector, and two more, if they can be found, from the state sector.  The fifth, and presiding over the panel, could be the newly elevated Lord Sugarpuff, who, on any view, has been untainted by any form of education, and would bring to the proceedings an open [empty] mind. It could work!

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