Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Price of Privilege

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Price of Privilege

Article excerpt

In my final year of primary school, I passed my 11-plus. To be more accurate, I scraped through after my mother made me do some practice tests and showed me how to tick the boxes correctly. And so, while my friends headed off in large sociable groups, I found myself alone, travelling on four buses a day to an institution that, after my cosy primary, was like landing on a different planet.

It wasn't just the sudden absence of boys, it was the entire place: Victorian desks with inkwells, a school hall that resembled a stately home, and a gowned headmistress on a dais. She reminded us on a weekly basis that we were the top 10 per cent of the country; the elite saved from the comprehensive system who would go on to be prime ministers.

Even at 11, I remember thinking this was a pretty obnoxious thing to say. It was also inaccurate - from where I stood, the privileged ones were those who got an extra hour in bed before walking to school with their mates instead of traipsing across town.

And yet there I was, destined for greatness. Only it didn't happen. From sailing high at my primary school, I was now bottom of the heap: tested, found wanting and duly despatched to the lowest sets where, if truth be told, a lot of the teaching was pretty lousy. Many of our teachers were Oxbridge-educated, long-serving and as set in their ways as concrete. A lot of them had spent their entire career at the school and their delivery was as inspiring as a ginless tonic.

Maths (never my strong point) might as well have been taught in double Dutch. …

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