Toffs to learn geezerspeak

1st July 2005 at 01:00
You have to laugh. Universities, pressed by the Government into joining what is called its "widening participation" agenda, are fined sizeable sums of money unless they offer more places to children from working-class homes.

Some of the rich set, in response, are now paying private companies several thousand pounds to teach their offspring how to shed their poshness.

"I say, old bean, how about letting me into your jolly old university, what ho?", "Look, I don't want to be rude, but that sort of Bertie Wooster retro language will not work nowadays. You've got to be . . . well, more common."

On the surface the notion is hilarious. The filthy rich shell out a fortune to pay for the gloss that private education brings, and then have to hire someone else to sandpaper it all off. Ho ho.

The more chilling aspect of the story is that there is no keeping a good plutocrat down. Threaten privilege and the wealthy immediately purchase an antidote. When Bristol university tried to implement the Government's wider access agenda, some private schools said they would tell their pupils to boycott the university.

No one proposed boycotts when the system appeared to favour the advantaged.

Scratch the smooth surfaced veneer of privilege and its rather more spiky undercoat is soon revealed.

The Government favours offering more places to children from so-called "poor postcodes", areas where the less well-off are supposed to live. These supposedly downtown ghettos, however, can sometimes have a posher corner.

Analysis of those who got in under this rubric showed that many were actually more middle class than the rest of the student body.

Studies of students' eventual degree results show that pupils from state schools get the same class of degree as someone from a private school with two A-level grades higher. In other words, a Bogstandard comp pupil with BBB will subsequently do as well in finals as a Poshville academy pupil with AAB.

This is not surprising. Independent school pupils are usually educated in small classes and their parents can afford additional private tuition, or pay for them to go to an expensive crammer if their A-levels are not good enough.

There is nothing wrong with trying to identify state school pupils who might have the talent, but have missed out on the privileges that wealth can buy.

What is wrong is some of the crude methods employed, like automatically asking for lower or higher grades depending on the school attended, rather than treating everyone fairly, and appraising them on an individual basis.

An exciting new career now awaits teachers from bog-standard schools. They can move to well-paid jobs in expensive public schools, teaching the toffs how to be uncouth.

"Right, pay attention everybody. It's unit 2 of the "How to be common" course today. Incidentally, there are two options for paying the fees. The first is to join my Christmas Club, a score a week, I tick off your card.

The second is cash in hand, used tenners in a brown paper bag, no questions asked. So turn to page eight of the manual, headed 'The Complete Slob'.

Yes, Cholmondley Minor, and by the way, don't put your hand up, just call out."

"Sir, I don't quite understand."

"Sir? I told you last week not to call me that."

"Ah yes, sorry, er . . . mate. I don't understand what you were telling us about eating food and the use of the knife."

"I dealt with knife etiquette in unit 1, but let me repeat it. You can probably get up to a dozen peas - you don't actually have to count them, Cholmondley - on your knife, especially if you dip them in gravy first.

Then all you have to remember is to lick both sides clean."

"Please sir, er ... I mean, ey up, mate ... I bought three dogs, like you suggested, Chinese Shar-Pei, but they won't let me race them, even though I went down to the track in a cloth cap, rather a nice one, actually, tailored in Saville Row."

"No, Frobisher, you weren't listening properly, and I thought you were changing your name to Darren Ramsbottom. I said you should buy three whippets, because they were pretty sharp, not Shar-Pei. They cost a fortune, they're not very fast, and they don't even like supping Newcastle Brown out of a pint glass."

"I've got another question, er . . . sunshine. I tried holding a bag of chips, like you said, but the vinegar ran down my sleeve and it was jolly difficult without a fork."

"A fork? Use your fingers, pal. Right, it's time for our elocution lesson.

"Repeat after me 'The roine in Spoine falls moinely in the ploine'."

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