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Language row is all talk

Teacher ROBERT POOLE cannot, for the life of him, see how introducing Latin to the masses will solve systemic educational inequality

IT’S the summer holidays — six glorious weeks off school to recharge the batteries and this year more than ever the break is needed.

Normally I’d be scouring the last-minute deals for a trip to somewhere with a bit of sun, but due to the changeable nature of Covid decision-making I’m currently sitting in a teepee sheltering from the weather on a rainy day in the Mendips. 

I’m using up the last of my phone battery to browse education Twitter to see what the latest outcry is.

Has a teacher with tattoos been cancelled by the Daily M*il?

Have we been banned from teaching anything other than Winston Churchill in history classes?

The Department for Random Policy Announcements, that is the DfE, never fails to entertain — and this week is no exception.

It seems good old “Gav,” Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, that is, has a plan to deal with the inequality in our education system.

No, it’s not abolishing private schools or even getting them to pay their taxes. 

It’s getting state schools to teach Latin. Because that’s what has been holding state school pupils back. 

The Department for Education is spending £4 million on a pilot scheme to introduce Latin at 40 state schools to counter the subject’s reputation as an “elitist” subject.

This is of course another policy based on the false assumption that if we can only get state schools to imitate private schools then all our problems will be solved.

Inequality is an inherent part of our education system in Britain. We all know that but it’s not the inequality in the provision of the teaching of ancient languages that is the issue.

Dr Sol Gamsu, a geographer of education at Durham University, has released a report with the think tank Common Wealth about the funding gap between private and state schools. 

Private schools have on average 3.7 times the income of state secondary and all through schools in England.

The mean income per pupil for private schools in the study was £21,664; for the state-funded schools the same figure was £6,024.

What this means is the ability to provide pupils with state-of-the-art technology, professional standard facilities and small class sizes.

The figure quoted above is the mean amount. In fact 23 schools had per pupil incomes at least seven times higher than their local state schools and Marlborough College had an income of £64,427 per pupil.

This is nearly 12 times that of local schools in Wiltshire. Eton College, the Tory prime minister factory, earned £55,712 per pupil, a staggering 10 times the figure for local schools in Windsor and Maidenhead. 

Despite private school pupils only making up 7 per cent of all pupils in education, a report by the Sutton Trust showed that 65 per cent of senior judges, 52 per cent of junior ministers, 44 per cent of news columnists (note for editor: what’s the percentage for the Morning Star?) and 16 per cent of university vice-chancellors were educated at private schools.

While state schools are closing their swimming pools and selling their playing fields the top schools boast about providing the “finest facilities.”

A browse of Eton College’s website shows that they have: a national standard athletics stadium, a rowing lake at Dorney (which was successfully used for the 2012 Olympic Games), five floodlit artificial pitches, new indoor facilities including a new swimming pool and two sports halls, 40 football/rugby pitches, 19 cricket pitches and 50 tennis courts.

The result of this is the domination of sports by the privately educated. At the London 2012 Olympic Games, 36 per cent of Team GB’s medal-winners came from private schools and in Rio 2016 this was around a third of all athletes.

Although I’m not aware of the background of the current team, I’d expect it to be similar. 

One sport that isn’t dominated by the bourgeoisie is football, evidenced by the sight during large football tournaments of Tories in football shirts and ties looking uncomfortable as they try to ride the wave of patriotism and prove that they are on the same level as the working man. 

When these working-class voices start to speak out against the system though, as they increasingly seem to be doing, they are quickly put in their place by right-wing voices, “less politics more penalities, rah, rah, rah.”

Anyway, the rain has stopped so I’m going to make a dash for the car and take the kids for a trip to Wookey Hole which, ironically, is where Gavin Williamson can stick his Latin classes. 

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