It’s education – stupid!

old etonian

School Swap – The Class Divide. ITV 9pm

I like Nicola Sturgeon, and I did vote for the Nats, knowing well that we’d get Cameron and Osborne, the Oxbridge educated elite whose scare tactics worked a treat in getting enough people on their side to elect them. One of the refreshing aspects of watching the 56 SNP members of Parliament filling their seats in the House of Commons is that some of them actually are common and none of them (as far as I’m aware) have had the merits of an Oxbridge education. Equality of opportunity in education. As Gradgrind says in Charles Dicken’s Hard Times “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

But don’t let facts get in the way of a good story. Mr Tulliver in The Mill in The Floss wanted to have his bread and eat it by having his son educated in an academy so that he wouldn’t have any bright notions of pushing him out of the mill, when he was older. The fact that his daughter Maggie (I’d guess based on George Elliot herself) was the one that took to book learning like a duck to water, whilst poor Tom struggled to stay upright, was of no concern. Education was wasted on girls. Fifty percent of the population excluded at a stroke. Fact. People keep having the wrong kind of children. Many of them are poor. In fact most of them are poor. And like their mothers and fathers they are likely to remain poor and uneducated.

The Joseph Rowntree Report in Scotland for example in 2014 stated: ‘There is clear evidence of a persistent gap in attainment between pupils in the richest and poorest households in Scotland. The gap starts in pre-school years and continues throughout primary and secondary school. In most cases it widens as pupils progress through the school years. Most importantly, the poverty attainment gap has a direct impact on school leavers’ destinations…’ Poverty equals poverty and it runs through those from the poorest areas like the lettering through Rothesay rock. It’s education stupid!

But we’ve already had this debate. In nineteen thirties Britain, for example, George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London thought he’d be picked on when he went to the spikes to get his ration of bread and sweet tea to survive another night. He was largely ignored, fitting in with the other of society’s drop-outs, but when he was singled out, usually because of his accent, he was seen as a gentleman down on his luck and treated better. The others, in contrast, were seen as part of a diseased body that had to be inoculated against. Fools that had fallen into bad ways. In Britain then only 1 in 1000 had a university education, far less than the ratio in France of even Nazis Germany.

Post-war we had a chance to make lasting changes in education. Private education, paradoxically, of public school boys was on its knees. It needed massive injections of government cash.  Masters of Wellington, like T.C. Worsley made the case quite plainly: ‘we are what we are, and shall be what we shall be, owing largely, if not wholly, to the privileged education, which the ruling class has received in the last forty years.’ In other words, pay up and shut up and we’ll give you the prime minister, government, judges and judiciary,  the privileged land-owning class and captains of industry. Butler blinked and we have it, no foolish taxes, such as VAT, on private education and they retain charitable status. Even Charles Dickens couldn’t have made that one up.  The public and private badge of privilege worn by Cameron and his cronies opens doors to the very select few and excludes the wrong kind of child.

It’s all about standards the privileged like Worsley say, buttressed by that old chimera from the Black Report (and, for no reason, Auden’s ‘seven stars go squawking/ Like geese across the sky’)—falling grades. Scare stories from the nineteen seventies like Panorama’s that focussed on educational fads like child-centred education, indiscipline and chaos of comprehensives such as Farday High, a kind Grange Hill for older folk, but without the merits of Tucker Jenkins.

I shouldn’t really watch programmes like Class Divide ITV 1.  It doesn’t teach me anything and is bad for my health. These are testing time and the Rowntree Report shows that in Scotland only 28% of children from the poorest families, such as those that attend Drumchapel High up the road, perform well in numeracy, compared to the cohort from more privileged schools in our fair cities West end.  In my childhood years I fell into that convenient stereotype, white, working class and male; sure to fail. I wasn’t particularly good at school. The old Scottish adage; they pretended to teach us and we pretended to learn just about sums it up. If I’d really stuck in at school I could have got a degree and became a history teacher and worked my way up to become head teacher of Warminster public school, featured in Class Divide, where annual boarding fees are around £27 000 (fling in a few extras, hey, who’s counting?) or I could have become an astronaut or became Sean Connery.

In the first programme we have headmaster Mark Mortimer accompanying Xander, Katy and Jon to Bemrose. The kids are pleasantly surprised. Xander sums it up. ‘It’s not as bad as he thought it would be’. All three test with ten other new starts. The private school pupil’s reading age is assessed as that of an eighteen-year old. The average pupil at Bemrose reading age is that of a seven-year old, but remember English is often a second language. But it’s more than that. Look at Xander, he’s physically bigger and more mature than his peers. It’s a throwback to reports of malnutrition in the troop intakes and an inability to perform simple tasks that continued up until the Second World War. Xander seems like a nice young Tory peer and I’m sure he’ll look back at his time with poor people with some fondness as he subjects them to yet more government cuts so people like him don’t suffer.  Bemrose as a school shows well. But a dory can’t compete with an educational frigate, nor should it be compared to such. The lessons learned don’t add up.

Education is one part of life’s equation. Educational and economic opportunity is the larger part. As studies such as Robert D. Putnam’s show Our Kids are taking a hell of a beating. Life chances are they’ll end up like their ma and pa. The rich such as those attending Warminster School will go on to one of the top five universities. They will get an internship (bidding starts at £16 000 for the type that mummy and daddy don’t mind paying for) and will go on to have a well-paid career.  That’s what private education gets for you. It offer social connections and wealth offers a buffer against economic and individual shocks. For example, allegations of a leak of where and when Ofsted school inspections would occur were linked to Ms De Sousa and a chain of academy schools, giving them time to prepare their best face, gain a favourable report and boost their league status. You couldn’t imagine Jo Ward, head teacher of 700-pupil secondary comprehensive–and counting they have a statutory duty to take children, many of them immigrants with English as their second language – Bemrose High in Derby, being in the loop and forewarned of an Ofsted inspection. Nor the head teacher of Drumchapel High. And the question needs to be asked, would it really matter?

We live in a more-it-tocracy in which the rich get richer, demand more through their monopoly of the key institutions and get it and the poor get poorer. Both are in the same sea of education, but Bemrose is a dory plucking kids from the waves and Warminster is a frigate intent on getting its charges from A to B and completing its mission.

It’s disappointing to hear Sturgeon talking of failing schools and their pupils needing more tests, starting with those in primary schools.  What we need to do is stop subsidising the rich and privileged. We need to take away their charitable status. We need to stop paying for Catholic and Protestant schools. We should merge them and offer no government support for those that want to set up their own schools. We should offer a clear path and grants for those from the less privileged schools in return for a fixed number of years in the educational districts in which they were educated. What we don’t need Ms Sturgeon is more tests. I thought you were smart enough to know that. D grade.

1864 BBC 4 iPlayer.

battle of dybbol

1864 BBC 4 iPlayer.

The Germans always win. I’ve spent eight hours on a Saturday night watching the clock wind down – and you got it, the Germans won. They won so decisively against the Danes that their king, in defeat, tried to join the German Confederation. The Machiavellian Bismark joked with his Emperor that they didn’t speak German, and anyway the Danes were a sour lot and soon they’d been turning their defeat into a kind of victory. But this is to jump the gun.

In the first episode the Laust and Peter’s father returns to South Funen to work the land. It’s 1851 and although he’s been injured in the three-year war against Prussia who had attempted to annex Schleswig into their nation, but had been unsuccessful. The Danes had been the victors sowing the seeds of nationalism and jingoism that were to grow arms and legs later. Into the closed world of peasants and aristocracy comes Inge, daughter of the estate manager, who runs the land holdings for the baron up at the big house. Inge is a tomboy, Adam and Eve, and the catalyst for change. Didrich, the baron’s son, has also returned from the war against Prussia, an officer, but not a gentleman, his rank has outfaced his cowardice and disgrace. His frog-like face arrogant manner and his attempts to seduce Inge whilst she is still a girl identifies him as the baddie.

War, of course, is the real villain. 1864 is narrated through Inge’s dairy. She tells of her great love for Laust and Peter, and equally them for her. She exchanges heated kisses with both, but with the former she had a bastard child.

The modern back-story is told by Claudia, an outsider like Inge, who refuses to play the game and conform, whose brother a soldier has been killed in another pointless war in Afghanistan. Severin, the old man she tries to take nurse and take care of in the big dilapidated house that was once the Funen estate, loved Inge and wants to re-hear the story of that time. Claudia finds through the narrative that they are related. She has inherited the gypsy blood of Sofia, who was raped by Didrich and had a son Peter, the same name as her great, great, great, grandfather and one of the two great loves of Inge’s life.

The road to war is marked by Macbeth, or more precisely Lady Macbeth played by the acclaimed theatre actress of the time, Johan Louise Heidrich, swapping blood-red hands with the future Prime Minster Monrad. The declaration of war against Prussia, when it comes, is celebrated across Denmark. Laust and Peter are swept away and forced to enlist. Didrich tries to winkle his way out of it, but he too is caught in the jingoistic net. All from Funen are sure to meet up again.  It’s all about honour or such naff notions of nations that has modern resonance.

As Auden put it “When Statesman Gravelly Say, ‘we must be relistic’./ The chances are that they’re weak, and therefore, pacifistic,/ But when they speak of Principles, look out, perhaps/ Their generals are already pouring over the maps.”

The principle here is that the citizens of Schleswig should speak Danish, should be Danish, even though they speak German. The great bulwark against German expansionism at Dannevirk cannot be breached, will not be breached. It is abandoned by the Danish generals as indefensible.

Monrad and the king demand a greater sacrifice of the young. Dybbol with its connotations of damnation cannot be breached, will not be breached. It’s 1864 and we know the denouement will be bloody as Jaws after a shipwreck.

One of the great characters in this is Johan. He has seen the first war against the Prussians and is involved in the second war against the German Confederation.  He can see so much more, what will happen in the future. A messianic wanderer that has attached himself to Laust and Peter and their colleague’s wellbeing. Johan can kill or cure, but even with his foresight, he cannot save the unsaveable Laust from the wandering soldier that will ultimately kill him.

Didrich, of course, survives. His lies live on and he marries his great love Inge, telling her the Laust and Peter are dead. Peter returns from the grave and claims little Laust from the orphanage where he has been held in an act of spite.

I love Danish drama such as this. This is the bones. Put the flesh on it and watch it yourself. What’s eight-hours in your life?