Public schools' secret? Er, all that extra cash ..

21st January 2011 at 00:00

Whilst I would quail at the prospect of being identified as a total cad or bounder and tremble at the thought of a beating in the dorm after lights out, I would have to say that the TES Magazine article on public schools ("Class Act", January 14) was rather light on the charge sheet.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the public schools successfully operated a form of "social closure", shamelessly breached their original endowments and excluded local tradesmen, shopkeepers and artisans. They had become the exclusive preserve of the wealthy, the jaded aristocrats and rising industrial class.

Public schools were characterised by the games cult, anti-intellectualism, philistinism and the narrow curriculum. Their main aim was to inculcate "Christian manliness", as HH Almond, headmaster of Loretto, wrote: "First - character; second - physique; third - intelligence; fourth - manners; fifth - information."

By the end of the 1960s, public schools were still a 19th-century anachronism, reflected brilliantly in Lindsay Anderson's film If.

What is the "secret" behind public schools' "success"? It isn't hard to fathom - spending three or four times more on pupils compared to state schools; state-of-the-art facilities; academic selection via the Common Entrance Exam and smaller classes.

You also have to ask whether our society benefits from continuing to educate an elite in isolated, privileged environments. Does this lead to the haughty contempt that was evident in the scandal of bankers' bonuses and the MPs' expenses saga, with taxpayers' money used for the renovation of one's duck house and the cleaning of one's moat?

Richard Knights, Liverpool,

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today