sat 25/05/2024

Cutting Edge: Too Poor for Posh School?, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Cutting Edge: Too Poor for Posh School?, Channel 4

Cutting Edge: Too Poor for Posh School?, Channel 4

Poor title conceals posh documentary

God's eye view: 'It would be ridiculous,' said the head master, 'to say that Harrow is a reflection of the real world.'

OK, let’s flop it out into the open. Let’s show the cards I was dealt way back when. Those boaters you saw at the start of Cutting Edge's Too Poor for Posh School? I may well, in another lifetime, blameless aeons in the netherworld of one’s past, have been seen wandering along a high street on a hill north-west of London underneath one of those. The tailcoats worn by pews full of adolescents on Sundays? Yep. Once upon a time that was oneself.

(Thank God they didn’t show the top hats we had to wear as monitors.) My name is Jasper and I am an Old Harrovian. Thought I’d better get that out the way.

However little one is inclined to shout about this, the fact remains that in private education elitism still seems to rule the roost. Long after the idea of contracting out the upbringing of your children declined in popularity, and boarding schools all over the country started to close, Harrow School continued to be oversubscribed. I remember one beak (that’s what we called the teachers) telling me years after I left that only three boys’ boarding schools in England had many more applicants than they could possibly accommodate. He listed them. “Winchester,” he said, “because it’s academically elitist. Eton, because it’s socially elitist. And Harrow, because it’s on the Metropolitan Line.”

Public schools don't tend to fare well when they let the cameras in

According to Too Poor for Posh School?, nowadays that queue contains all sorts. Hence the annual scholarship, dished out to boys who, as the title so gracefully puts it, can’t quite scrape together the 30 grand or so required a year to put a young shaver through five years at England’s - and very possibly the world’s - second-most famous school. A chap called Peter Beckwith stumps up the cash, having once benefitted from a scholarship to Harrow and then gone into the property market. He duly flogged his business for 500 million quid, so largesse is not a problem.

Beckwith’s idea of largesse is to give two boys a year the same advantages that once plopped into his lap. So far, 37 have been anointed by his thoroughly Victorian brand of improving philanthropy. Every year the current beneficiaries turn up to lunch to thank him publicly in person. He called it playing God. “With a small g," he devoutly added.

Public schools don't tend to fare well when they let the cameras in. Harrow had doubtless calculated that even the most mean-spirited documentary would struggle to make bad news out of this story. The head master (pedantry alert: in Harrow it is two words, not one) blithely admitted that the horrendous fees were beyond 98 per cent of the population. If you’ve got the cash, of course, brilliance is optional. “It would be ridiculous,” he added, “to say that Harrow is a reflection of the real world.” This exercise in social engineering was designed to make it that little bit more real. And maybe massage the school's league table position, though he didn't say that.

boySo along came the film crew for the day of reckoning when 11 boys were put through a day-long assessment. The surprise was that there were so many ordinary white middle-class boys seeking the scholarship. The non-surprise was that the programme sought out three candidates from ethnic minorities and chose to follow them. Among them were Krishan (pictured right), a preternaturally mature 10-year-old Indian, and Fumi, a black boy with apparently not much more than a lovely manner to set him apart from the crowd.

Despite sharing this aspiration, they had very little in common. Krishan had already completed the transformation into a parody of a young English gent, equally versed in Shakespeare and the Special Operations Executive. “They do things like kung fu and so on and so forth,” he explained. Fumi, quite a talented violinist, had been dragged this far by an iron-willed mother. If he was also a genius, the documentary wasn’t letting on. In the debating section of the assessment, the camera twice lingered on him as his voice petered out, answers to testing moral enquiries barely formed on his lips. Krishan sailed on as if already on Question Time.

They were all asked why they wanted to go to Harrow. The boys had their answers buffed and polished, but you couldn’t discount indoctrination. One candidate, tongue lodged firmly up the institutional fundament, told a teacher that he wanted to come to Harrow for the brilliant teaching. Glad they never asked in my day. The film did its bit, with brochure-worthy shots of historic buildings, pastoral glades and the better class of Old Harrovian. Winston was mentioned. So was Byron - his name is etched into the panelling of Harrow’s oldest classroom. They kept quiet about Mark Thatcher.

Anyway, who got in? Krishan, obviously, waltzed in without a backward glance. He’ll be running a corporation in about a fortnight, just you wait. The second available berth went to a chorister from an evidently comfortable background. So that was that. Having got to share Fumi's dreams, however synthetically implanted by his mother, you glumly awaited the moment he took the call from the school.

When his face lit up, you knew you’d been had by a ruthless bit of storyboarded manipulation. The school were making three places available this year after all. Perhaps the pupils were sufficiently outstanding. Perhaps it was just that the nation was watching. Anyway they needn’t have bothered. The chorister turned down the offer of £200,000-worth of education to consider his options. Eton, naturally, was one of them.

One candidate, tongue lodged firmly up the institutional fundament, told a teacher that he wanted to come to Harrow for the brilliant teaching

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I get a bit sick of all this chip on your shoulder socialist nonsense. I won a scholarship to an all girls direct grant school in Croydon in 1972. It had no basis at all on how much money my parents had, although the uniform was very expensive and I can honestly say that throughout my time there the other girls and teachers never made a single comment about the fact that I was not well off as some of them. I just think its nonsense and sour grapes. I could easily have won a place at Oxford University although i decided not to go to university and I do not believe for one minute that Oxford is elitist in any way apart from the fact that it only accepts the most intelligent.

What people forget is that these elitist schools may have much better facilities (a definite bonus) but in terms of pure education all they really offer is a much higher and more rigorous standard of indoctrination. Much of that indoctrination is identical to the indoctrination inflicted on state educated children, but there are differences, mostly designed to widen class divisions in order to decrease the empathy felt towards the working classes. We can't have our future politicians, bankers and military leaders feeling too much empathy with the masses now can we? (actually a very practical concern for the 'ruling elite') I'm not saying you won't end up with a much higher paying career at the end of it all - you almost certainly will (perhaps not so much now that the economy is collapsing). But if you value true knowledge and intelligence (and dare I say wisdom and contentment too), you are in the same boat as the rest of society ie you'll have to make the effort to learn all about these things for yourself. (once you've managed to un-learn all of that propa ganda you soaked up as a child) Right, i said there was going to be a test!!! (groan!) Test your own level of education (or that currently being given to your children) by seeing if you can answer the following five questions. The Five Most Important Questions

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