From the Archive - 05.02.1988

27th July 2012 at 01:00

How the other half learns

Take 10 pupils from a famous public school and let them swap places for a week with 10 kids from a state school on a miserable edge of Liverpool. The result can be seen in BBC Two's 40 Minutes, a series of social documentaries.

The public school is Rugby. The other, Ruffwood, a comprehensive, was purpose-built to cater for the dreary Z Cars council estate of Kirkby. It has 1,800 on roll, but only 160 in the sixth form. Rugby has 750 on its roll and 350 in the sixth-form.

Ruffwood bats first. The 10 boys and girls are driven to Rugby to be billeted in "house" for a week, though some can hardly get up the bus steps for the plank-sized chip on their shoulders.

"I think they'll find the boys very arrogant," one young Rugbeian confides to the camera. Where does self-assurance stop and arrogance start? "Can I see Hewitt, Gadham and Humphries immediately afterwards?" says a prefect, concluding a sixth-form meeting. The construction was interrogative, the tone of voice was not. They knew they had to be there and they knew they would be there.

"None of us 'ad played tchennis before." (The Scouse is comprehensible, but the unexpected changes of pace characteristic of it are sometimes bewildering.) "Shtead o' teachin' us how to, they gave us the racket and balls and stood and laughed at us."

But it was not just a cavalcade of superiority. There was grace and style in the May ball, his own kind of martial art from the Corps regimental sergeant major (RSM), and a visit from a handsome silver-haired man in an expensive suit - Jim Prior, the former cabinet minister.

The next week, Rugby arrived at Ruffwood, and as they entered the homes where they would stay, it was they who were putting the mothers at ease.

The RSM had warned them to watch out for pinko leftist, gay lib, one-earring-wearing teachers. None appeared, but just as bewildering must have been the games announcement that for senior cricket, please bring a white top. What was usually brought and what colour was worn for bottom, they must have wondered.

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