State and private are not equal, but on the whole all pupils are given a chance

7th December 2012 at 00:00
Unlike some children in developing countries, ours have an opportunity to become whatever they want

This is a request to people who run independent schools close to motorways. In the interests of road safety, please make sure that you show both parts of your two-part aphorisms at the same time.

To explain: there I am, hybriding my way home, when I see a sign below the school's name that says: "Education is not about what you know".

Completing the quotation by myself and being in full-blown take-thing-literally-and-don't-even-consider-that-there's-an-alternative-to "it's about who you know" mode, I fight against swerving wildly into the bushes, so outraged am I at this apparent brazen cynicism.

Suddenly, my cheap shots at the private sector seem justified. The Schadenfreude I felt when, some years ago, my pal's school affixed a state-of-the-art data projector to the ceiling of a basement room and found that the image bounced up and down in synchronisation with the basketball game taking place in the gym hall above no longer seemed petty. For days I went around wearing long-abandoned prejudices, like a jacket I'd found in a forgotten corner of a damp garage, made heavy by the presence of mould.

Then part two of the quote appeared: "It's about who you become." Oops, who's the cynic now?

I've grown to enjoy the weekly homilies about anyone being able to steer ships on calm seas and so forth. You can still annoy me about private education, though, if you say something like: "In school X (where X is the name of a school in a deprived area of a large city), it costs as much to educate a child as a parent pays in fees to send their child to school Y (where Y is the name of an independent school in the same city)". Really? Is that all, when a huge diversity of children, many with complex needs go to X?

You know what? I'm not going to make a big deal of this, because of something that happened to me this week. I had the privilege of hearing former prime minister Gordon Brown speak. He was at the annual conference of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, there due to his role as UN Special Envoy for Global Education. As ever, he had the figures to hand. It costs about #163;5,000, on average, per annum to educate a Scottish pupil. The whole world gives, as aid, less than #163;10 per year to help with the education of each African child.

When I look at the figures on, I see that while our own country's inequalities are not unimportant, the chance to become the person you have the potential to become are achingly smaller elsewhere in the world.

Gregor Steele needs to keep his hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road ahead.

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