I’m writing this from the garden of our French holiday home (I know – I’m a walking middle-aged, middle-class teacher cliché).
We’re on holiday with another family this year, which is just fab, because the kids entertain each other, there are extra bodies to man the barbecue, and they’re early risers, which means someone always makes it to the boulangerie before the croissants are gone.
On the surface, there’s little discernible difference between their kids and ours. They all turn their noses up at any attempt to introduce them to French cuisine, and are united in their complete antipathy towards staggeringly beautiful French chateaux, longing only to get back to the house and practise their handstands in the pool.
The advantages of private education
The actual difference resides in the school day. Their children are Londoners. Londoners with money. Their eldest is about to start at a prestigious, much-sought-after school. Although I’m vaguely aware that private education in the capital brings with it certain “benefits”, in my naivety I had presumed that when you paid for education you were simply paying for smaller class sizes, state-of-the-art facilities and a general sense of self-confidence that seems to pervade these institutions.
But this school also has a strong and enterprising PTA, which has set up a LinkedIn group of all parents, so that pupils looking for work experience or considering their career options have a ready-made bank of professionals they can call on for help and guidance.
Now, I know there are countless schools across the country with sky-high aspirations for their pupils, but how many can truly provide this Masons-for-11-year-olds service? How on earth can a careers adviser from an impoverished area of, say, Middlesbrough or Blackpool possibly come up with even one iota of the help and guidance that these children have in their laps?
And it’s not just about hard work and grades. Our friend admitted that, when he looks at CVs, the ones from the state-school pupils always come out as inferior.
“When the grades are all good, it comes down to what you’ve been doing in your holidays,” he told me. “What experience you’ve had in the field you want to work in.”
Help with careers
And there you have it. No matter how hard you work, how focused you are on getting good grades, in the end it’s the extras that clinch it: that week you did in your mate’s dad’s office in Canary Wharf.
But how do you get work experience if you don’t know where to go or who to ask? And, even if you get it, how do you fund yourself to travel and live in London while you do the work? It’s not just a class divide: it’s a yawning chasm between what you know and who you know.
Which is not to say that those cosseted privately educated kids have it easy. For me, being a common-or-garden teacher is infinitely more desirable than being “something in the City”, working 65-hour weeks conducting multi-million-pound deals with overconfident men in pink shirts, before burning out at 47, at which point you discover that there’s no escape, because you still have a decade’s worth of exorbitant school fees to pay.
But what all these networks give you is choice: choice and a more-than-odds-on stab at a job that will be both fulfilling and financially rewarding. With money, you can choose where you live, what and where you eat, what you wear, the type of car you drive. You can even choose to send your children to a school with a built-in springboard to the world of work, and not rely on a government whose current attempt to solve the class divide seems to stop at printing cautionary tales of knife crime on boxes of fried chicken.
Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a primary teacher in the West Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse