I sometimes find myself at inner-city dinner parties where the same question stalks me: "Ought we to send Cordelia to your school?" Mrs Principle explains how she "really wants to . . . believes passionately in the state system . . . never dreamed of going private . . . but . . .'' Unfortunately, Mrs Principle has seen the kind of pupils I teach and it frightens her; these children with their crisps and cola and pierced bits. She also points out that "St Paul's gets 97 per cent". Sixty per cent of this borough go private. Jeeps ferry tots to little ghettos of etiquette. Then they zoom off to St Cymbeline's, from which you can't escape without 10 straights As.
I once dragged my daughter to a St Cymbeline's Open Day. We were ushered through richly resourced libraries, gyms and labs which we could never attend and which all schools should have and never will.
My daughter goes to a west London comprehensive which is poorly resourced and criminally underfunded. She got through most of her GCSEs, in sometimes volatile and rarely contemplative classrooms. Perhaps some state school Cs are worth straight hothouse As, like high diving with a difficulty factor. A Tower Hamlets F might be a solid B in leafy boroughs.
My daughter didn't do Silas Marner or endure Racine's verse. But she is easy and wise and excited by the world. Those are things you can't buy. As for that question . . .
I have another whisky. "All of you should. Make a collective leap of faith and you could have a proper comprehensive - the Eton of comprehensives."
Ian Whitwham teaches in a London comprehensive