It's not all OK-croquet at independent schools

27th November 2009 at 00:00

It's almost 9am on a weekday and I am only just at the bus stop. Panic not - I am not late: I am on Inset.

Oh, the unexpurgated joy of not needing to be anywhere until 10am. And a proper lunch break, with none of the horror that is wet lunch duty or having to hurriedly check emails. Almost teacher nirvana.

Almost. The part I am disliking more and more is the introductions. "Tell us who you are, where you've come from and what you hope to gain from today." All fine until they question the type of school I work in. The accusatory snarl that accompanies the words: "Is that an independent school?" At which point I feel I have been found guilty of something without any kind of trial.

Yes, I teach in an independent school and do you know what? I love it. I am not afraid to be "outed" by state sector combatants who rattle on machine gun style about how big their classes are, how terrible the behaviour is, how under-resourced and over tired they are doing "real" teaching.

Apparently, I must have a tiny class of angel darlings sitting obediently while sucking on their silver spoons. Supposedly, those pupils are all so naturally bright we just keep them on hold until the A*s get delivered.

Time to debunk those myths, folks. Yes, 68 per cent of top barristers and 75 per cent of judges are from independent schools. I know all that. Who am I to defend it? I am a working-class, grammar school-educated girl whose parents were appalled to find out I wasn't going to the local comprehensive.

I trained as an NQT and worked in London state schools until policy "initiatives" drove me to the other side. So I can comment.

Pupils are pupils. They are still adolescents and they face similar life challenges regardless of what type of school they attend. They self-harm, face bulimia and anorexia, struggle with peer and media pressure, drink, drugs and sex, gang culture and violence. I don't deny that many of them are in materially better circumstances, some of them better than the staff. Welcome to the harsh reality of the world.

Take Fred, who slept on the sofa having no room of his own once his sister came back home with a baby, always so tired as he wasn't getting any sleep with everyone watching the TV until late in his "room". Michael, who had canvas shoes so small they would not fasten across his feet in winter and who often had wet feet. No wonder they were such angry young men whose behaviour could be awful. Being in an independent school does not make these things go away.

And then there's the parents, some of whom do several jobs so they can pay the fees and are thus never seen at parents' evenings. Those like Yan's family, who barely spoke any English, ran a takeaway and yet had aspirations for their son. Parents who are themselves state educated, separated, divorced, alone, bereaved, struggling. Who has the right to criticise them for exercising their right to choose?

So Inset attendees: bring it on. Show me your scars and tell me your tales of woe. We have those too. I am Julie: I am a teacher in an independent school, out and proud.

Julie Greenhough English teacher at an independent school in London.

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