Once Upon a Social Divide

By Lois Gilhooly

‘The reason being that I won’t attribute intelligence to money’
Over the past week Barton Peveril entered a debate team into the regional qualifiers of the Oxford Union debating competition. The competition was held by St Catherine Independent School in Bramley, Guildford and some of the other schools/colleges that participated were: Hampshire Collegiate, Royal Grammar School, Peter Symonds, Gordon’s School, King’s School and Collingwood School. One of the most startling contrasts I observed was the domination of private schools as we were ushered into the small auditorium for further instructions. I had my own preconceptions about this division before we arrived but these were confirmed when all the names of schools or colleges were spoken aloud by the organiser and the phrases of exclusivity like ‘Grammar’, ‘Private’, or ‘independent’ came before them. 


To instigate this further two questions became overly common when conversing with others from different colleges. The first being ‘what school are you from?’ And the second being ‘Is that private or state?’ Or the other option as opposed to the second question being the immediate defence of ‘Don’t worry it’s not private,’. In such a tone that it seemed an insult to even assume that they attended a privately funded college. The question then presented itself: Why would it be an insult to attend a college which is naturally assumed to be better? Surely by someone presuming that you belonged to a private school it would speak well of your intelligence and be perceived as a compliment? But no, in this group of individuals all of whom can be academically judged as being intelligent, see it an offence so be compared to what is presumed to be an institution which is better for their own education? 


Moreover the division between private and state funded colleges became physically apparent in the time between debates. The main distinction being a uniform which doesn’t include the word ‘School’ embroidered upon it. These networking clusters mainly formed out of students from their debates (which were mixed with four colleges present in each debate) and acquaintances met through previous competitions or meetings. Again the visible distinction spoke loudly to any onlookers as state students mingling together (with minor exceptions) and the majority of privately educated students staying either with their colleges or other private school students. In one of these circles myself and a few others even overheard the phrase ‘What has state education ever done for anyone?’. 


Furthermore it seems apparent, that the wish for privately educated students to be separated from state educated students is now not only one sided. State schools now wish to make the clear distinction that they did not attend or even wish to be associated themselves with private schools. I personally advocate this view, the reason being that I won’t attribute intelligence to money. Those, like me, who didn’t pay for their education want their intelligence to be attributed to themselves and see it as something money can’t buy. They want to simply prove that they can reach an equal level of academic excellence as those who pay to get to that level.


This then brings into question the future of private schools, undoubtably they will forever be a cultural and traditional aspect of British society. But if this degradation of intelligence funded by money carries on and the idea of a private education is somehow lesser compared to that of a state funded one then the future of these private institutions could become bleak. After all, the whole purpose of a private school is to obtain a better level of academic excellence? So why if this same supposed ‘level of academic excellence’ is achievable and seen as more impressive within a state school by individuals like ourselves do people still insist on a privately educated system? It can be assumed that soon these traditions’ will be changed by public opinion to mean less and less- as a result can only be assumed that eventually private education will fall out of fashion.