Dickens would be proud

6th May 2005 at 01:00
The responses of some private school headteachers reported in Douglas Blane's article on charitable status tax exemption ("In defence of charity status"), April 22, border on the surreal.

As part of his explanation of the public benefit of private education, the principal of George Watson's College informs us that "our youngsters do community service. Our secondary 3s go off in May for outward bound activities . . . with conservation as a prominent element."

The High School of Glasgow's rector, Colin Mair, is reported as saying that "we deliver Christmas parcels to old folk" and "our school premises are used by outside bodies such as the Girl Guides and the Scottish Association of Teachers of History".

In Aberdeen, the headteacher of Robert Gordon's College reports that "Gordon's is a school which potentially offers access to everyone (sic)" and which attracts "staff from the oil industry and the universities from other parts of the world because they can get their children into Robert Gordon's".

Truly, here is a group of headteachers for whom history is very much alive and well. Indeed, Gordon's "is a place where a lad o' pairts - or a lass o' pairts -can come and get a good education".

Such justifications for privilege are embarrassingly anachronistic in the 21st century, but they do at least give an accurate insight into the Dickensian-like thinking of fee-paying institutions which justify private gain by appeals to public good.

I do not believe that private schools should be closed down; rather that they should be opened up and integrated into a comprehensive system which takes the aim of "inclusion" seriously.

Even more embarrassing, however, than the self-justifying prose of private school heidies, is the failure of the Scottish Executive to commit itself to the vision of One Nation through its education policy.

Alan Short

Broaddykes Avenue

Kingswells, Aberdeen

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