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Private schools and public cash

If our school should ever be the beneficiary of a legacy then I have a great idea what we could do with it. We invest it wisely and use the annual income to send the handful of kids who cause most of the bother to a local independent school. Come to think of it, an annual levy of around Pounds 20 per head from the parents of the rest of the children would let us do the same thing.

Yes, let's put the boot into private schools this week. I personally cannot conceive of the situation arising whereby all my local state schools degenerated so badly that I would feel compelled to blow my money sending my kids to the independent sector. Don't give them a penny of taxpayers' money, I say, and if they close down, tough. Most people only send their kids to private schools because it's a family habit or because they read bad newspapers. And yet . . . 13 years ago I was having a great time teaching in a private school that was kind enough to take students into its top-notch physics department.

It was all a bit foreign after the inner-city comprehensive and the rural school of previous placements. Everybody gathered in the staffroom each morning. The head then entered in his gown and I seem to remember everyone standing up.

He read some intimations. If these concerned the achievements of pupils or former pupils there was polite applause. Something inside always made me want to blow it all by whooping and yelling like an American sitcom audience, but I never did.

It was the beginning of a glorious summer. Most of the pupils were just back from sitting internal or external exams and were thus beginning new courses. The school was sufficiently well thought of that it could pick and choose rather than taking the money for any reprobate whose maw and paw could flash a wad. As a consequence, classes tended to be hassle free discipline wise. I had a dream crit in physics with a lesson involving stroboscopes, a vibrating duck and the principal teacher's bicycle.

For the first time, though not the last, I met with real enthusiasm from the kids and was able to feed on this. With one class in particular I had the feeling of being able to let rip on the open road. In maths I was brought down to earth, having proved to myself that it was possible to muck it up even in a rarefied atmosphere by being half-hearted about one's subject.

Some of my best friends are teachers andor former pupils from private schools. They are nice people, caring, unsnobbish, not arrogant. The male ones who went to single sex schools always used to amuse me.

With their easy confidence - surprising in the case of one pal who claimed he had been bullied for five years - they had no trouble in getting dates but seemed to have bother sustaining relationships. I likened them to dogs chasing cars, having tremendous fun but not sure what to do when they caught one.

So I have something of a soft spot for one or two independent schools despite my views on the need for them or the morality of subsidising a form of education not available to everyone. Here's hoping I never have to eat my words. What I do not feel I can criticise is the whole concept of paying for education. The reason is that, like a huge number of teachers, I have taken money for tutoring.

Let those who have not done so cast the first stone.

Gregor Steele Gregor Steele got his first teaching nickname at the independent school - Metal Mickey.

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