Saturday, 19 May 2012

Get into the Gove

I was very interested to hear Michael Gove's views (here) on the dominance of public schoolboys in "every prominent role in British society as being "morally indefensible". The lack of egalitarianism in education in this country bothers me very much. The road to power for public schoolboys starts when they are very young. My eldest went to a state primary school in a 'good' area. There was a boy in this class who is gifted. He is a talented musician who plays by ear, and who possesses an unusual musical memory; he is a brilliant visual artist, excellent actor and debater, a gifted poet and an outstanding writer. He is also academic with an objective and analytical mind, and is the possessor of a cutting wit. This young blade, whom we will call Tom, was also the child of a single mother who lived in social housing. It was a very competitive environment at the school. Some of the playground mums were murderous in their desire to see their kids come first. Black comedy sketches with lots of strangling and buckets of blood tossed around could easily have been written.

Up until year two, Tom easily outshone his peers. Around year two, many of the kids began to be tutored. They began to catch up, quickly. Over the years, Tom, began to get bored and stared out the window a lot. His mother took him abroad for a few months, which enlarged his understanding of the world, but caused him to fall behind in maths and lose confidence. By year 4/5, all of the children (though not the estate kids) were being groomed by their private tutors for the top London schools. This child was not tutored as his mother could not afford him to be. She applied to all the secondary schools in her borough apart from the failing one. It became clear however that the failing one was the only one that would be taking him because of where they lived, so his mother panicked and against her principles, and reasoning that given his high ability, he might crack it, she put him through the exams for two of the private schools.

Tom did not even finish the exam papers as he had not had the training, particularly in timing. He did not get into any of these public schools. A clutch of the tutored boys, none, apart from one (who went to Westminster) were a patch on Tom in terms of raw talent and original thinking. Tom is now in an academy in a borough he has to travel to, and where they are aware of his academic potential. His predicted grades are all A/A* and he is on track to getting them despite the fact that he is in a school where many of the kids are more into music about guns and violence and being cool or 'sick' or whatever the current adjective is, than learning. Were Tom amongst peers who applauded academic achievement he would be flying, his wings being sharpened by coming into contact with others unashamed to fly.

Tom is often bored by the lack of debate or in depth topical discussion at school, but he is often too scared of not appearing acceptable to his peers to spark up a debate. He depends on his photographic memory to get the grades and still fit in. He has already had two trips to Cambridge and his teachers have high hopes for him, despite his 'getting in with the wrong crowd' for a spell (a ghastly one for his mother) and a brief foray into drugs. Tom has been reasonably fortunate, thanks to the support of the school and his mother, and his achievements are all his own, but what of all the other 'Toms' from housing estates and lower income families around the country? What is the country missing out on as these kids lose confidence, pop out of their groove, or use their good brains in ways that may not benefit society? How to make the playing field more even? Comments s'il vous plait. 

2 comments:

  1. This is a fascinating and moving account but you ask the wrong question at the end. I don't think it's principally about ensuring more "Tom"s become high achievers. It's about ensuring that children of all abilities can maximise their potential. And that won't happen until the public-schooled classes are genuinely prepared to relinquish their (strangle)hold on the main professions.
    Think about it; how can the "Tom"s assume their rightful place as highflyers if some of the lesser-brained but better-tutored aren't prepared to move sideways, just a little? But how can they (or their parents) even contemplate that when the loss of status with loss of top job is so vertiginous?
    It's not about a more even playing field. It's about a more equal society.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks so much for your comments. We do need to create a society that ensures that children of all abilities can maximise their potential. Bring on The More Equal Society!

    ReplyDelete