Breaking Through the Class Ceiling: Robert Verkaik

[Pam] So Robert we are delighted you are here and over to you. [Robert] Thank you. Thank you very much, it’s a great honour to be here tonight and you talked about, well I’m going to talk about private education because that’s I think thats the only thing I really know about, you you guys have got to be a state education sector well covered. I went to school but I’m afraid that is as far as I go. So private education, why did I write my my book? Well you have to blame a boy Jonathan Henry who was 12 years old when I was at school and he was my best friend and then one summer’s day I went to school and Jonathan wasn’t there anymore. I went back to ask my mom what happened to Jonathan she said Jonathan’s gone to another school, different school, and it’s called Harrow and he’s gonna have a lovely time yeah hopefully you will see Jonathan again. I never saw Jonathan again [Laughter] I did bump into lots of other Jonathan’s in my life, they used to crop up in my life usually in sort of influential and important positions and they used to they used to be charming usually bright fantastic people but it was niggling me, it was niggling me since I left school what is it about this other education system that creates different people who turn up with all his confidence and got a bit of seemingly innate ability to pick all the best jobs. But it became, more than anything it became a burning desire to get to the bottom of this because to me it’s and it was if you’re talking about equality, fairness democracy, meritocracy it’s the elephant in the room we need deal with it, our 2-tier educational system. So obviously last year even you couldn’t talk about you couldn’t talk about abolishing reforming even interfering with private schools because it just wasn’t it wasn’t on the agenda in a private schools the public schools were an integral part of British society they were an integral part of the fabric of Britain we Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Our Empire was created by these public schools. Our history is all about our public schools. When I went to write my book I approached two oldest public schools Eton and Winchester. I asked them whether the headmasters would like talk or even just one of the teachers that talk to me about it. They wouldn’t even pick up the phone, I don’t know why that was but it might have been because they caught on to the fact that I discovered that actually in 1815, battle of Waterloo, Eton didn’t have any playing field actually, such a myth and the schools when they were first created six hundred years ago they weren’t actually set up for privileged wealthy kids they were, they were founded by medieval Christian philanthropists with the own with the sole purpose to help the poor and indigene children of the community and that has over the years that that function that their ambition has been robbed. So what a difference a year makes because now we have newspaper columnist falling over themselves calling for the abolition of private schools you can’t move for someone saying what a great idea abolishing private schools is and the reason to that is the Labour Party to be perfectly frank because when I wrote my book nothing really happened. I got a lot of push back, I lot of criticism but from the private school but not much happen till Labour against private schools took the baton and turned it into the motion that it became and the policy that it might might actually actually be if Labour get into power. And because because now it is it is blindingly obvious I think that that’s blindingly obvious to one or two other people if you believe in democracy equality the big society if we’re all in it together then of course you’ve got to change a system which allows a narrow section of society to buy an advantage over everybody else. And if you if you want to make that change if you want to reform that system then you need an equality of argument, you need a fair debate we need to get on even terms with the public schools because we can’t continue to allow them to start to continue to make their propaganda unchallenged. So they tell us that the abolition of the private schools it’s such a dangerous thing that it would cost the state 7 billion pounds, Boris Johnson said this couple of weeks ago cost 7 billion pounds. But I’m part of a think tank called private school policy reform and we looked at the maths you know that is utter rubbish. The thing we came up with is 2.3 billion pounds which is identical to the amount that the schools escape in charity exemptions tax exemptions the charitable status so let’s nip that in the bud. Then they tell you that you’ll be depriving the community of this of these wonderful institutions that contribute so much but the truth is of all the schools of alterable than 600,000 pupils in this country only 6,000 attend public schools without having to pay a single penny. Everybody else has to pay you know there is no charity it was that that’s that’s one percent of kids go to private school get a free education and remember when they were set up 600 years ago every kid got free education because that was the whole point of them. Then they tell you that it’s my human right to send my kids to any school want, I can send my kids to any school I want because that’s like human right you can’t stop me doing that. Well hold on when we talk about human rights this country balance rights against other right we talk about the right of not just a parents to educate their child but we talk about the rights of children that were deprived of a fair chance in life that’s just as much as important and it’s up to the courts to balance that right. And best to remind ourselves that the human rights that wasn’t established or found it from 50 years ago to help privileged parents to educate their children in fee-paying school. That wasn’t the point of human rights act, that wasn’t in that was not in the architects prospectus. So let’s look at the bigger picture let’s look at what we want to do let’s talk about creating a better society for everybody because there are four million children this country living in relative poverty and they will go to their graves never knowing that there are charities called Eton, Winchester, St. Paul or Westminster whose new purpose is to advance the life chances have already very wealthy privileged children. There is an African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”, but it takes all the children from all the families to raise a community. Thank you. [Clapping]
[Pam] Robert thank you ever so much.

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