Why Prince Charles should lighten up

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
With the Prince of Wales's words on people "without natural ability" attempting to rise above their station ringing in my ears, I went into my BTec national business class today with more than the usual trepidation.

What would be awaiting me beyond the door?A bunch of pop wannabes, marking time until their 10 minutes of fame on primetime TV? A set of deluded would-be celebs? Or a man with large ears and even greater privilege lecturing us all on our station in life?

I breathed a sigh of relief. It was just the usual good-natured, slightly too lively bunch of ordinary kids negotiating a path through their late teens. They don't have inflated and unrealistic ambitions. If anything, they have depressingly low expectations. Funnily enough, they seem to accept that they are not all going to be game-show hosts when they leave college. A few want to sign up for an HND and the others will take their chances in the local jobs market. And none of them think they will walk into Oxbridge on the strength of a single A-level; that kind of thing only happens to princes.

They were not impressed with HRH's analysis. "Out of touch" was one of the kinder responses to what they perceived as an unfair and unwarranted attack on their generation. "He ought to get out more" was another. All rather sad, as this is one royal who prides himself on his rapport with younger people. After all, he did set up the Prince's Trust, a fact mentioned by the hordes of toadies who queued up to defend him after the storm broke.

That's their OBEs as good as booked, then.

My students are recruited from a media-savvy age group. They are not so stupid as to swallow whole the media portrayal of their generation. They know that hype and reality are two separate things. And they know that "celebrity" is one of the most misused words in the English language. They understand the game; they were born in the late 1980s, not yesterday. They know their place only too well.

These teenagers are probably more clued up than the heir to the throne, for all his advisers and PR staff. He probably makes the mistake of taking it all too seriously. For it is he, rather than pupils such as mine, who has got things out of proportion. Yes, he does have a point, and it has touched a chord or a raw nerve, depending upon your sympathies. But the fact is that teenagers - if my sample is anything to go by - have no delusions of easy fame and over-achievement.

In this respect working with teenagers is something of an eye-opener. They are not so different from the way we were at the same age (and I don't care whether you are 25, 35 or 55). They are just less naive.

The ultimate irony is that many of this generation probably agree with some of the Prince's observations. They are often their own greatest critics; they are "grounded".

Perhaps Prince Charles has done us all a favour, by unwittingly provoking a debate on the role of schooling in our society and its relationship to social mobility through merit (or lack of it). It is, of course, the sort of debate usually initiated by those who are the royal family's greatest critics. You would have thought that Prince Charles, of all people, would have been heartily sick of hearing it.

Whether the ranks of the critics will be swollen or diminished following this latest contribution from the man who would be king is another matter.

But I don't think he has won many friends under 25.

John Bateman is a business lecturer at Northbrook college, Sussex

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