I am in the not-very-unusual position of being a teacher in a private, fee paying school whilst having my own children educated in state schools. I too went to state school (except for a few weeks at a hideous crammer in Oxford which my mortified father shelled out for on the back of his extreme disappointment at my exam grades – well, had there been exams in creative excuses for non-production of homework and early-hours sneaking back into the house past the creaking stairs, I would have totally ACED it all, but the academic stuff was not lighting my 16 year old fires)
However, though a series of adventures, forks, and basically avoiding an essay on Ernest Bevan’s Social Reforms, I ended up teaching – and what d’ya know? I’m pretty damn fantastic at it.
I have never been in the Senior Management Team, I’m still at the chalk-face (which is where I WANT to be, with the brilliant kids rather than in a meeting about budgets and policy) but from my vantage point at the ol’ whiteboard and out of the window to the Cayenne lined car park, I can see clearly what we are providing for these children.
For over 22 years I have worked in State Schools, International Schools, Single Sex Schools, and a couple of the top colleges in the South East of England. I can see what you get for your money if you have that money to spend. And the two biggest things I can see (as the teaching is often amazing and occasionally mediocre in BOTH…) are Sport and being Buffed.
Oh, and then there’s ‘The World’ – I’ll get to that at the end.
The most obvious difference is sport. There are HOURS of games and PE teaching woven into the culture at Private schools. Kits bags the size of fully stuffed sleeping bags are dragged into boot rooms across the campus. There are bits of kit that I have no idea which part of the body they are to be strapped across. They swim, they whack hockey balls, they know what terms like ‘First Eleven’, ‘Colts’ and ‘MUGA’ mean. They travel, they have coaches (wheeled and human) they are hosts, they have ‘Match Tea’ – they rank other schools on the quality of ‘Match Tea’. These children are so used to the language and the culture of sport that I now find it completely baffling how any state school child manages to perform at County level or above. They do, but OH, what a head start the private school kids have. My kids bring their kits home at half term. Sometimes it doesn’t need a wash.
This is not a real term. This is the term that I am going to attribute to the way that parents are looked after in private schools. They are buffed. They are the customers and we feel that more keenly than we feel ourselves as customers of the state school system. They are protected from parking issues, flowers are assembled for their arrivals, fires are lit in the grand hall, posh soap goes into the visitors’ lavatories, they can call and say they will be late and arrangements are made for Arabella to attend prep. They can ask that their child stays for prep (supervised homework session) or even for supper. They don’t have to be out of work by 3:15pm ready to collect and have a play date and it’s a bloody good job too as they are having to clear at least £150K salaries in order to have the money to pay tax and then pay school fees for ONE child. They can ask why Harry isn’t getting a leading part in the school play again this year and they will be listened to and it WILL go to staff meeting and we will all try to ensure that Harry feels good about himself. They are powerful players, we know they are and we have to do all that we can to get every last inch of progress and happiness and performance out of their most treasured belonging. This is a buffed existence. This is what you pay for. The teachers are the same. I am telling you. There are fantastic teachers in the state system too. There are often BETTER resources in state classrooms (not sport, not estates and grounds) but point-of-delivery stuff in the rooms of state school is often newer, cleaner, smarter than the dusty old shelves of the Latin room or the 11 year old Atlases in Geoggers. But if you can pay, you will get buffed. Not just your child, but you. It’s the difference between the local pubic-soup swimming pool changing rooms and going to The Ashdown Park Hotel’s Health Spa – you just feel buffed.
Grades aside – although grades are a MASSIVE deal and we will make sure that Cuthbert gets the absolute best even if we are staying at school until 7pm to run individual booster sessions for him – your child will enter a whole different world if you can stump up the fees and get them in. There is a new language to learn (and I’m not talking about the Mandarin or Latin lessons) but about ‘Mufti’, ‘Cloisters’, ‘Chamber Choir’, ‘Exeat’, ‘Etheldreda Weekend’, ‘Prep’, ‘Buffet’ – terms that bewildered little old state school me. There’s a confidence and a swagger in this world with its own words. There are complex uniforms and tie systems, blazers and metal pins. House points and contests, cups and shields. Matches and matches and matches. Exams. Pre-exams. Pre-testing exams. Verbal Reasoning. Non-Verbal reasoning. Golf. Lacrosse. Formal dinners. Speech days. Etiquette. You pay for all of this and we will provide it and it will be slick. And your child will enter a world so different to the state system that it really may as well be Hogwarts.
The teaching may be no better at all. But you will get the attention your money allows. You will get all the pushing you demand for little Beatrice.
You will get the sport and you will be Buffed.