THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
RIP Steve
London’s Pub Cats: Tom Paine

STOP PRESS: Robert Peston has a good idea

Robert Peston sends star speakers to state schools | Education |

One of the things I most enjoyed about Cheltenham Ladies' College, my daughters' private school, was Speech Day. Partly because the then Principal had a wicked sense of humour and gave an hilarious, but still informative, account of the year's events. But mainly because of the 'old girls' who came back and gave, for the most part, very inspiring talks. Nothing could have been more empowering than for the pupils to see what girls before them had gone on to achieve. I said to Mrs P. on one such occasion that it was a shame our old school, a bog-standard comprehensive up North, didn't ask former pupils back to speak. I remembered how little idea we had of the world's possibilities at that age and imagined how it might raise the aspirations of kids like us to hear about interesting lives. She observed drily that 'no-one remembers we were there so how can they ask us back?'

Private schools have an ethos, a history and a need to maintain contact with pupils and their families for marketing and fund-raising. State schools don't. Not only do they have no incentive to tell the world what a good job they do, they are under no pressure to be any good. In the topsy-turvy narrative of the state sector, outcomes are determined by social conditions. Success and failure are mere accidents to be equalised. They have nothing to do with talent or effort. Given such a world-view, it's amazing that any state schools do great work. The occasional inspiring leaders who make that happen deserve to be national heroes - not treated with suspicion by their 'right on' professional colleagues.

I have encountered many interesting jobs in my professional career that I had never heard of when I was at school. As the teachers had effectively never left school, they were no help in this respect. The idiot careers teacher even suggested Mrs P join the local electricity board as a telephonist. How epic a fail was it to recommend a job that would shortly cease to exist anywhere in an organisation that was about to be abolished? But she was a working-class girl from a council estate. Her life outcomes were socially-determined. For her to do better than end up on the dole would have undermined that all-important narrative.

Not to cavil, because I am genuinely pleased by Peston's scheme, but the one flaw is that it's not going to match speakers with their own schools. It's much more confidence-inducing to meet someone successful who once sat in the same classrooms as you. For example, it's great that the Prime Minister has volunteered to take part. I congratulate him, but will it really be empowering? It may only confirm the self-destructive ignorance of the public sector narrative. There's nothing wrong with Eton, you understand. It's a great school. If the Misses P had been Masters P, that's where we would have sent them. But surely the last thing Eton needs is to perpetuate the legend that it can put rich buffoons into positions of power?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


But surely the last thing Eton needs is to perpetuate the legend that it can put rich buffoons into positions of power?

I scarcely think it's of any consequence to them one way or the other.

john miller

The best thing to be is funny.

The next best thing is to be interesting.

If you can't be funny or interesting, then just pay attention...


Tom, You say “Socialism is only attractive.. ” I agree, it surely looks that way today, especially if you look at the UK. Maybe since the middle of the 20th century? Getting worse.

But it was not always that way, not if you look at the history of socialism, especially in the UK.

I won’t go into what were surely socialist threads of a sort in the British civil war.

But in the 19th century Socialism had a strong theme of improving and improvement running in it. Not just something imposed, but lifting by the bootstraps. Self improvement. No dragging down there.

Improving working conditions, improving living conditions, improving and making available education. Working Men’s clubs with their penny subscription libraries where there were lectures, newspapers, books on a many subjects. Savings groups, co-operative stores.

No low expectations there, much more self belief. Going as far as a person was able and had the gumption to. Improving your lot?

What happened?


It's not really surprising. British education is fundamentally socialist. Socialism is only attractive if you believe your life outcomes are pre-determined by class, race, sex or other 'misfortune'. If that sounds insulting, by the way, it is. However it's the socialists who are insulting you, not me.

If you believe that outcomes depend on luck, effort and skill in unpredictable combination and that it's therefore up to you to develop your skills and make an effort (as you can't do much about your luck) then socialism is not attractive.

It's a doctrine for vindictive losers. It needs them to prosper. Given control of an education system, socialists naturally set about manufacturing them.


You are making good points. Teachers in Comps so often seem to have built in low expectations. Where did this smothering poison come from?


It is indeed a great thing and the head is to be congratulated. Is he (as the optimist in me immediately suspects) an educational hero in other respects?

Surreptitious Evil

Our local comp has an FP back every year to address the pupils at prize-giving. Last year it was a physicist working on the LHC, the previous year a broadcaster and author.

It's a great thing and the kids really do respond.


Sending kids to good schools and encouraging aspiration? How dare you? How very dare you?

Next thing you know people will be demanding to be left alone to live their own lives-and Nanny can't have that now, can she?.

Peter Whale

Tom I went to a Grammar school.In the assembly hall where we met every morning to hear a reading, sing a hymn and here the headmaster read some notices there was wood paneling which had gold embossed names of all the past boys who had made state scholarships and other bursaries for going on to top universities. A school newsletter also was issued monthly telling of achievements of past pupils. I also wondered why there was never talks by past pupils telling of their life experiences, when we had the likes of Raymond Baxter ( mind you he got expelled for smoking) and John Lyall (West Ham football manager) are well enough said.

The comments to this entry are closed.