Speech given at Westminster Abbey, March 7 2016, to Westminster School.
Standing here in Westminster Abbey this morning, speaking to you, the pupils of Westminster School, it is only too easy to grasp the true meaning of educational privilege.
The beauty of these buildings, the dizzying proximity to power and real influence – just across the road!
An education at Westminster school will surely offer each of you myriad opportunities, access to influential networks and significant career advantage – as the Sutton Trust report Leading People 2016 confirmed only last week.
I am also sure that you are all frequently reminded of how lucky you are – to be at a school where the amount spent on your individual education per year is near or well above what the average UK citizen earns in total.
But let’s reverse the accepted wisdom for a moment and imagine that what Westminster, and other schools like it, represent is a not an ideal or a model, to be replicated, but, in fact, a seemingly intractable problem.
And possibly even for yourselves.
My father was educated here. It was a very long time ago now.
But the path he followed, from Public School to Oxbridge to Parliament – the classic establishment route – has changed depressingly little over the past century.
As he got older, he came firmly to believe that not only did private education constitute a major barrier to a good schooling for all, but that it had in some ways limited his own social and intellectual understanding.
Indeed, he was intrigued by, and somewhat envious of, the experience of those of his children and grandchildren who were educated, at local state schools, alongside those of very different backgrounds.
There are many potential failings of a divided system – even for its supposed beneficiaries:
To not recognise how much of one’s own achievements are down to good fortune rather than natural ability;
To learn how to mask, rather than grasp, our shared human vulnerability;
To develop unrealistic ambition or too narrow a definition of success;
To fail to understand the root motivations and meanings of the ‘lives of others’.
The writer and academic Lynsey Hanley, born on a council estate in Birmingham, tell us how the educational divide looks from the other side,
how those from poorer backgrounds can be equally trapped by low expectations, few opportunities and a lack of networks.…