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Do private schools give children a head start in life?

James Blunt

Recently, the British public was treated to the dubious spectacle of shadow culture minister Chris Bryant and superstar balladeer James Blunt trading verbal blows.

In a nutshell, Bryant name-checked Blunt (along with Eton-educated actor Eddie Redmayne) in remarks he made about the arts being dominated by those from posh schools.

Blunt fired back with some questionable swearing, whilst accusing Bryant of ‘classism’, and retorted that no one at his boarding school encouraged him to go into the music business.

Nonetheless, privately educated people are disproportionately represented in many areas of British life, be it music and acting as in the cases of Blunt and Redmayne, or politics, with 36% of the cabinet having attended private school (compared with just 7% of the population).

Even if, as Blunt says, he was given no specific encouragement to pursue music, is there something about a private school education that means your child is more likely to pen the next ‘You’re Beautiful’ (or, perhaps more pertinently, lead the government of the United Kingdom)?

Aside from the commonly cited benefits of academic competitiveness and lower class sizes, there are a number of ‘soft’ factors that could contribute to the success of children from private schools.

For instance, many private schools place great emphasis on their history. Children who attend lessons in venerable old buildings, watched over benevolently by portraits of former head teachers are subtly encouraged to think of themselves as belonging to a tradition. Not only does this confer a sense of ‘specialness’, but it also exposes students to the language and iconography of power early in life. A child who has attended an old private school is likely to feel more attuned to the ceremony and pomp of Oxbridge than one who has attended a modern comprehensive.

The same could be said of the speech patterns children pick up in private school. Received Pronunciation remains ubiquitous on our screens and airwaves, and, unfair though it may be, surveys continue to show that posh accents are regarded as more intelligent, honest and charming by the public. So our ingrained preconceptions means we’re more likely believe being told ‘You’re Beautiful’ by James Blunt than, say, Alan Sugar.

Young Blunt and Redmayne undoubtedly benefitted from after school activities too. Many private schools offer all sorts of clubs and societies, offering students valuable opportunities for personal growth and exploration. An Eton boy like Redmayne could see as many as thirty plays per year performed by his peers – that kind of cultural capital is priceless.

Then there’s the culture of expectation. Many private schools regularly achieve rafts of outstanding grades, and it’s far less remarkable for students to apply for places at Oxbridge. In an atmosphere where this kind of success is expected, children tend to rise to meet those expectations. Perhaps James Blunt inherited a drive to rise to the top of the charts from this kind of competitive environment.

Of course, it’s often argued that this can turn private schools into hot houses, where children are put under immense pressure to achieve top grades, at the expense of their individuality.

Critics also point to the lack of diversity in many private schools as compared to their state counterparts. Learning respect and emotional intelligence when dealing with people from all backgrounds is a vital life skill that is perhaps more readily achieved in the state sector than the more homogenous private demographic.

Furthermore, the success of Blunts and Redmaynes may be attributable not to anything special about their schooling but simply their parents’ connections. Parents from more privileged socio-economic groups tend to have the financial and cultural capital that gives their children an advantage, and the luxury of time, when it comes to pursuing their calling.

The fact remains that private schooling is typically part of a more complex picture. The likelihood is that if you can afford to send your child to a private school, you can afford to help them in many other ways too – many of them hard to quantify. Blunt may not like to admit it, but a private education remains the most reliable marker of a head start in life.

Gove is Gone

It’s official. Michael Gove, in all of his divisive glory, is no longer the Education Secretary, and will be setting up camp instead in the Chief Whip’s office. Teachers across the country tripped over themselves in the rush to cheer his demise, but what does Michael Gove’s removal, and his replacement with Nicky Morgan, mean for education in the UK?

The decidedly unexciting answer is: probably not much.

Nicky Morgan, first elected to Parliament as Member for Loughborough in 2010, has moved to the education brief from a stint as a Treasury Minister. She will also hold the Women and Equality portfolio—something which is already raising eyebrows considering her votes against same-sex marriage and her points of view on abortion access. Apart from serving, for a time, as a school governor, little seems to qualify Mrs. Morgan for her role at the helm of the Department for Education, and her voting record suggests that she agrees with the vast majority of her predecessor’s reforms.

Many may laud the raising of a woman to such a high position, as opposed to the ‘pale, male, and stale’, but Mrs. Morgan’s privately educated background would appear not to be a vast departure from the Tory stereotype. Michael Gove’s personal story, and his personal experiences of education, may have been more of an asset to him in his Education role than Mrs. Morgan’s may prove.

More importantly, perhaps, is the timing of Mrs. Morgan’s appointment. With this reshuffle coming as close as it does to the next general election, it is unlikely that she is expected to implement anything real or new, and, assuming that she wanted to, there would be very little time in which to do it. For the time being, she is likely to remain a place-holder of sorts, and to be one of the many recently promoted female MPs intended to make the Conservative cabinet more representative of the party as a whole.

Though many of Mr. Gove’s reforms were controversial, and he singularly failed to get teachers and other academic professionals on-side, the broad sweep of his reforms was generally in the right direction. Moves to increase accountability, create a more rigorous curriculum, and free schools, teachers, and parents to create dynamic and independent learning environments have followed the patterns set elsewhere in the world that have achieved strong results for students.

That is not to say, of course, that every reform, or reform proposal, was on target. Nor did his abrasive approach win many friends. However, his time as Education Secretary forced schools, teachers, parents, and society at large, to think seriously about what is most important about education and different ways to achieve it.
If we are to take anything from Mr. Gove’s replacement, it is that the Government seems willing to acknowledge that the furious pace of his reforms needs a cooling-down period, and reforms need time to settle in. While teething problems with policies are worked through, it may be helpful to have a face in the Department for Education without such a strongly established agenda.

7 Habits of Highly Successful Students

The new year has arrived and we have all thought of ways to improve ourselves over the course of 2014. Why not try to make yourself a better student? These 7 Habits of Highly Successful Students will help you improve your academic abilities and make for more effective learning!

1. Ask for help!
Teachers never tire of saying that ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question’…because it’s true! Forget about embarrassing yourself, or that other students may think less of you for not understanding a subject. If you don’t ask questions about things you don’t understand, you’re only hurting yourself! In fact, if you have a question, it is likely that other students do as well, and your teachers are there to help. You can never ask too many questions, or ask things to be clarified too much. If you still don’t feel like you understand something well enough, you can always get extra help. Search the internet, get a tutor, or ask your friends for help…all of the extra effort will be well worth it in the end!

2. Set A Schedule
Getting into a routine has many benefits for students. It helps with time management and assists in setting priorities. Schedules should prioritise schoolwork over things like television and games. This ensures that distraction is kept to a minimum, and helps develop self-control. Getting into a regular routine also helps minimise stress by keeping you organised. The fewer variables you have to worry about on any given day, the more energy you’ll have to dedicate to schoolwork, making you a more effective learner!

3. Eat Well
One of the best things that you can do for your brain is to make sure you eat a healthy and balanced diet. Diets that are high in sugary and fatty junk foods can make you feel lethargic, or prevent you from focusing by sending your body on a sugar rush! Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins will give your body and your brain the best kinds of energy and help you maintain focus throughout a long school day. Likewise, it’s important to eat three square meals a day, particularly a good breakfast! Students who eat a well-balanced breakfast, avoiding sugary cereals or treats, perform better in school because their bodies have the best available energy to help them learn.

4. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Pulling an all-nighter doesn’t do anyone any favours! Sleep is your brain’s way of recharging and processing all of the things you’ve learned over the course of a long day. Without a good night’s sleep, you can’t focus well the next day, and won’t absorb as much information. Getting into a routine will help you get enough sleep, and you should aim for 8 hours at night so that you awaken recharged and ready to take on the day.

5. Do More than the Bare Minimum
The most successful students go above and beyond the requirements set by their teachers. Not only does this show your teacher that you care about your schoolwork and that you are willing to put in a good effort, it also helps you understand your subjects more completely. Not understanding your classroom reading material? Read related books, or books about the time or place in which the book is set. It will help you develop context and give you a more complete understanding. A similar approach can be taken to all subjects. Don’t just stick to the required reading lists or texts, read extra and research more! You may just find that it helps you appreciate your subjects in ways you wouldn’t have imagined.

6. Have Passion for your Subjects.
It’s hard to motivate yourself to excel when you find your subjects tedious or boring. For older students who can choose the subjects that they study, this can be easy to fix by focusing on those subjects you find the most stimulating. However, for younger pupils, the best way to engage with subjects that you find boring is to find ways to apply those subjects, or their lessons, to your everyday life. If you can’t manage to get yourself excited or passionate about maths, try finding everyday applications for mathematical principles. It’s easier to connect with subjects that are relevant and useful.

7. Relax!
While it is, of course, important to work hard and be dedicated to your schoolwork, it is also important to give yourself time to relax. Take time out, relax, and do something special for yourself. Getting overworked or over-stressed leads to poor sleep, fatigue, and an inability to focus and learn. Even when you feel like you can’t, make sure you give yourself a moment to take a few deep breaths, relax, and regroup.

Abolishing the Eleven-Plus

Dr. Christopher Ray, the head of Manchester Grammar school has raised concerns at the Headmasters and Headmistresses’ Conference this year about the ‘hot housing’ process that many children undergo at 11+ and 13+.

According to Dr. Ray, tutoring has become de rigueur for many middle class families when preparing for selective school exams. The problem arises after those students have entered their schools of choice, when intensively tutored pupils may struggle to keep up with their more academically talented peers. Students who have been too intensively prepared, but lack passion for their subjects or broader curiosity and work-ethic, may struggle to keep up with other students as school work becomes more demanding.

This raises an interesting question about the role of tutoring in academic achievement.

Every parent wants their child to do well, and for many, the best options are state-run grammar schools or private educational institutions. Entrance exams are notoriously competitive, leading parents to employ tutors to give their children an edge. But Dr. Ray’s comments highlight something very important: that tutoring should be about more than just a test.

Tutoring specifically for the 11+ or 13+ can have myriad benefits. Tutors can boost a child’s confidence, help them feel comfortable with questions or material that they may not have seen otherwise, and help them work on their study skills and time management. However, there is a danger in focusing tuition too exclusively on one exam. Teaching students only the skills necessary to pass an exam may neglect the wider basis required to form a strong foundation for GCSE and A-level success.

A truly effective tutor will work with children not just to prepare them for one exam or qualification, but will help them to develop their skills more generally. This means not just focusing on drilling through past papers and practice exercises, but broadening the scope of work to make sure that students understand, and can apply, a broad range of concepts and skills. A great tutor will recognise that, in order to succeed, a student needs help developing study and reasoning skills, not just knowledge of specific questions.

This means encouraging children to engage with literature, rather than just tackle comprehension questions, or to apply mathematical concepts and practices to everyday life.

There are, of course, limitations to how much of this broader goal tuition can accomplish on a weekly basis. This means that the most successful tutor will form strong working partnerships with parents to ensure that a student’s development extends beyond the hour or two a week that the tutor is there.

Schools are getting better at identifying which students have been intensively prepared and which are truly keen and able students. A greater emphasis on interviews in the admissions process has been part of an increased effort by schools to ‘tutor-proof’ the admissions process. Indeed, some schools, such as Mill Hill and Merchant Taylor’s, interview students prior to the written examination; further evidence of the increasingly important role that the interview is playing in the admissions process.

Even the interviews themselves are changing. Schools are asking a wider range of more challenging, and less concrete, questions, as a way of determining the potential and character of the interviewee. The questions are designed specifically to reveal those students who are naturally articulate, well-informed, and confident, rather than those who have been intensively prepared or coached.

In light of these developments, a much better use of the funds and time dedicated to tuition will be to make sure that tuition complements preparation for exams with more comprehensive skills development.

The best tutors, like the best classroom teachers, will already know how to inspire children to love learning. Ultimately, that is the quality that will serve the children best in the future.

To view Dr. Ray’s original comments to The Telegraph newspaper, please visit the link below.

www.telegraph.co.uk/educationnews/10121380/Leading-headmaster-calls-for-abolition-of-11-plus.html