By Nicola Woolcock, Education Correspondent, in THE TIMES, 3 May 2019
Being middle class is now seen as a sin rather than a virtue, the head of a private schools’ group said yesterday.
Barnaby Lenon, the former headmaster of Harrow School, criticised the way in which parents were judged harshly for paying for their children’s education when they would not be for buying a big house or car.
He also attacked left-wing commentators, many privately educated, as hypocrites and “virtue-signallers, taking offence on purpose as a cost-free way of gaining superiority over those who don’t agree with their one beautiful idea, which is the dependence of the citizen on the state.”
The chairman of the Independent Schools Council told an education conference at Brighton College that making life difficult for private schools would not help state-educated children. He said that critics were motivated by a disgust of Old Etonians such as Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Jacob Rees-Mogg and by “duck houses and expenses scandals”.
He added: “Selection by house prices, access to tutors, manipulating the system by going to church — these things will remain, even if our schools are abolished.
“There’s an attitude that it’s OK, if you have money, to buy a big house or a big car. But if you buy education for your child, it comes at the expense of other children who can’t afford it.”
This was not the case, he said. “White working-class boys won’t be helped by the abolition of private schools. They will be helped by a state system that pays teachers more to work in struggling areas.”
A growing proportion of school-leavers are going to university, with about half of young people aged 18-30 likely to participate in higher education. Critics have bemoaned the lack of suitable apprenticeships for teenagers disengaged from academic work.
Mr Lenon said that Britain needed more specialist sixth-form outlets for those talented in other areas, similar to the Brit School for performing arts, the Royal Ballet School and Westminster Kingsway College, which trained the chefs Jamie Oliver, Ainsley Harriott and Antony Worrall Thompson.
He acknowledged that high fees were a “bit of a problem”, and said that independent head teachers should invite local MPs to see state partnership activities to “get them on side”.
Jeremy Corbyn, who was partly educated at the fee-paying Castle House School in Shropshire, has said that Labour would charge VAT on school fees to pay for free meals for primary pupils, and require private schools to earn their charitable status by opening facilities to state pupils.
Mr Lenon said that there had been three books attacking independent schools in the past year.
Naming Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, he added: “Many system leaders say that the main purpose of education is to get children from poorer homes up to the academic standards achieved by middle-income children. It is as much about equity as national standards. And this is why independent schools, who still have relatively few children from disadvantaged homes, could be in trouble. This is why Mrs May’s first step was to publish Nick Timothy’s 2016 green paper threatening our schools if we did not sponsor academies and establish strong partnerships.
“So the books attacking us . . . are the product of the left but they will have plenty of readers in the centre ground”.
Mr Halfon said that private schools had huge tax and charitable benefits so a levy should be introduced to fund places for the poorest children. “We should be ensuring that people from the very poorest backgrounds should have the chance to climb the private school ladder of opportunity,” he said