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What Oxford taught me about posh people The dreaming spires hide a vicious sense of entitlement

Guess who got an internship at Deloitte. (Photo by Tom Stoddart/Getty Images)

Guess who got an internship at Deloitte. (Photo by Tom Stoddart/Getty Images)


May 31, 2021   6 mins

There’s a scene in the movie Good Will Hunting where the working-class genius played by Matt Damon makes fools of some arrogant students in a bar, by knowing way more about their subject than they do. They’d been mocking his friends for their crudeness and stupidity, but they end up leaving with their tail between their legs.

I’m no genius, but I do know something about the social dynamics in that scene, because I kind of lived it.

All my friends got labouring jobs at the ages of fifteen or sixteen. To us, students were the middle-class kids who didn’t work, then left to go to “uni.” They never really came back, or if they did, they returned just to boss us around. Our home, for them, was something shitty to escape from. In their world, everyone babbled endlessly as if everything they had to say was fascinating. In our world, if you spoke self-importantly, people told you to shut the fuck up. They thought nothing of us; we thought nothing of them.

My experience of secondary education wasn’t good. I sat for five years in a crumbling comprehensive with thirty other bored working-class kids. There were fights in the corridors, bullying, shoplifting down the town at break times. We threw things at teachers, dragged our feet and our bags between lessons, and resisted every well-meant attempt to change us. Often disillusioned and half-broken teachers did their best to hold it all together. I hated it. I left as soon as I could with nothing to show for it.

My education might have ended there, but a decade later, I was talked into going back to school by my girlfriend. I got my A Levels by taking night classes at an adult education centre. A teacher there suggested I apply for university. I decided to give it a go. I didn’t tell my friends.

I was building a dry-stone-wall by a roadside, mulling over which through-stone fitted best, when the postman stopped to hand me a letter. He was a lad I’d been to school with. I opened it while I was chatting to him, and he seemed baffled when I told him the letter said I’d got into Oxford University. “But you’re thick like me,” he said.

After he’d driven away with a friendly wave, I thought, “How will I tell everyone?” Was I about to become one of the people I’d grown up hating? In fact, my people were proud of me and cheered me off to war against the posh people (they’d seen Good Will Hunting too).

I went for two main reasons, and neither of them were very nice. I went because our farm was struggling and had become very claustrophobic and small, way too small for me and my dad, and because I needed a new hustle: everyone I knew who had money seemed to have gone to university. But I loved books, too, and liked the idea that you could study just one subject, and skip the rest, which was handy as I was useless at most of the subjects. But it was terrifying. I didn’t want to leave the place and the people I was from, or give up being who I was. I wanted to come back afterwards, but had no plan for how that might work.

Going to an elite university exposed me to the people that made me most nervous: the well-spoken, (supposedly) clever people. My first instinct was to flee from this strange new world with its archaic traditions, funny language and weird social habits. But I was too proud to go home defeated, so I decided to fight instead. It didn’t take long for me to realise that the posh kids were all leather shoes, woollen jackets, small-talk and bullshit. I soon shrugged off the idea that there were some mystical clever people somewhere that were better than me: I’d now met them, come up against them one on one, and they were often bang average. I could hold my own on anything substantive. I’d grown up among straight-talking tough people who loved to argue in smoky pubs, so Oxford tutorials felt strangely familiar.

If I’d been confined to a plastic chair, and told to sit in silence and listen for an hour to someone who wasn’t very interesting talk about a subject I hadn’t chosen to be interested in, I suspect I’d have messed about and misbehaved, just as I did as a teenager. But Oxford wasn’t like that. The teaching was personalised, flexible and interactive. That kind of system keeps people like me in the room, fired up and engaged. Kids like me, who don’t flourish in school, can benefit from such attention, and focus, and belief. A good society would strive to give it to them.

But posh kids still dominate these institutions. I learned, when I was there, that their trick was not any kind of genuine superiority but pure conditioning. Their schools and families had taught them that university was as much a social rite of passage as an opportunity to learn. They aimed high, in terms of grades — and to be fair, often worked very hard to pull it off. I was from people with lots of excuses for not doing things out of the ordinary; posh kids strode into their extraordinary future with their heads held high. No one I knew had that kind of polish and swagger, but I soon realised you could fake it. I looked at them and thought: if you fuckers can do remarkable things, then why can’t I?

It was liberating to find that I was clever enough, if I worked hard. And I knew how to work hard — for hours, days, weeks and years. OK, my people didn’t achieve highly in education or the professional white-collar world, but we were proud farmers with a culture of striving. I simply switched that mentality and applied it to education — something I hadn’t realised was possible at school. I knew the posh kids couldn’t outwork me. And the fact that I’d failed a lot was a strength, faced with their easy but brittle confidence. I knew how to get back up off the floor. People from more disadvantaged backgrounds than mine often lack this self-belief. But what if they were surrounded by people and institutions expecting and helping them to excel, as the posh kids were?

So much of this is about self-fulfilling prophecies. For years university worked because we believed it worked. It turned out “clever” people for “clever” jobs with good salaries, and sent the rest down the mine, to the factory or the farm. No one asked whether these students were really the most intelligent people. The system just confirmed the advantages of birth and background. My odd, and entirely untypical, journey exposed me to the extremes of the British education system. It has left me with complicated feelings about what universities can and can’t do.

A lot of people treat you different when they think you are an Oxford graduate than when they think you are a farm labourer. They talk to you differently. They talk to you more. They invite you to their house and try to make friends with you. They talk about books. Some of this is perhaps based on not unreasonable assumptions. Some of it is just lazy snobbery. I knew people that would talk down to me or my friends because they thought we weren’t very bright or worth very much. With those people I’d shamelessly mention having been to Oxford to knock them back a bit. It was like sprinkling fairy dust. They’d shrink back as if I’d said the password — or worse, start fawning, when five minutes earlier they’d thought I was northern, common, and knew nowt. Snobs and the powerful fetishise ‘academic’ credentials. I didn’t even pick my degree up, but it didn’t matter. Once you are in the club the detail isn’t important. You just have to look at our leading politicians. Boris Johnson would be stacking shelves in Aldi or working down the chippie if he’d been born in Hartlepool.

My story is sometimes seen as a rags-to-riches tale. But I wasn’t exceptional; I was lucky. The point of this story is that a society that is blind to the potential of so many of its young people, is a wasteful, unfair and ineffective society.  I look at bookshop shelves and wonder where half the stories are. Where’s the book by the girl that works in the laundrette, the man who serves you in McDonalds, the Romanian woman who cleans your hotel room, by the lads that work on the railways or the building site? We don’t care about these people enough because they don’t get heard, and they don’t get heard because we build a success machine that they don’t want to be part of, or can’t access, or use, or afford. Instead of a fair system, the machine churns out entitled mediocrities, born to be heard, born to rule.

And though universities are trying hard to become more “accessible”, there is only so much they can do. Perhaps it’s too late by the time the kids are eighteen. And if working class kids don’t apply, what can an admissions system do?

Around this time eighteen ago, I was sitting down to take my final exams. I did well. I could probably have stayed and become an academic, but I was drawn home to my own landscape and work — to the place and people that made me. Oxford didn’t make me, as a person, or a writer, but I’ve returned there over the years. The people that once taught me seem sad. They say it has gotten worse: the posh kids arrive, use it, then leave to work in the City.

And perhaps all the debt this training requires means that the kids are right to be mercenary about it all. Work hard, get the grades, move to London, do the job, get promoted, earn more, pay it back. Love of subject, creativity, taking risks and experimenting: these things feel marginal. I can see why people are sceptical about universities, and angry at the elite ones. They are often now little more than training camps for the stormtroopers of capitalism. I may have been lucky to go when I did.


James Rebanks is a fell farmer and the best-selling author of The Shepherd’s Life. His new book, English Pastoral, came out in September 2020.

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Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago

No mention of grammar schools, which gave many bright working class boys and girls access to the best universities. Having destroyed the best schools, we’re now engaged in destroying the best universities too. Sod ’em all, let’s just enjoy life and leave the stormtroopers of capitalism and the armies of woke to fight over the smouldering ruins of what we once knew as liberal education.

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I get the impression the grammar schools were slowly effecting a takeover of Oxbridge by talented people from more humble backgrounds – Wilson and Heath being great examples.
The stupidity of Labour (partly abetted by the Tories) getting rid of them is unforgiveable. It was playing into the hands of the rich.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

Yes, the abolition of grammar schools by the Labour Party was one of the great tragedies of post-war Britain.

A Non
A Non
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

As someone who went to a high-achieving grammar school in the 1970s I’m somewhat torn on that for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons. I do wonder whether a robust streaming system within a comprehensive school might work better. At my school I found there was an expectation to study to a high academic standard in all subjects, which meant little or no suitable education in subjects where I dropped below that level. As a result I went on to achieve a good degree and PhD and made a career in subjects where I excelled. However I am monolingual and scientifically illiterate.

Martin Price
Martin Price
3 years ago
Reply to  A Non

As someone who just missed grammar school and joined the first cohort of comprehensive students in the 70’s I can report that even with streaming, and the excitement of it being new, it failed the majority of children.

David Brown
David Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Price

But the majority of children cannot go into the best jobs. What you want is the best kids, regardless of background, to go into the to top jobs.

Andrew Wood
Andrew Wood
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Price

Almost exactly my experience, the school I was allocated to had been a secondary mod and there was no culture of achievement at all. I wasn’t expected to try – so I went along with the crowd. I did my A Levels at what had been the Grammar School and worked out far to late what i should have been doing for the past 5 years.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
3 years ago
Reply to  A Non

Private/independent schools are much worse about that though IME these days. If you’re not good all round, they don’t want you.

Robert Pay
Robert Pay
3 years ago
Reply to  A Non

Yes, streaming is the answer…it is a amazing that it is not practiced as it disadvantages everyone involved, gifted and “differently gifted”…

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  A Non

I was in the sixth form at grammar school when the change hit. We had a mixed bag of local area children dumped on us (I traveled across Hull to get to school) on the basis of sending children to their physically nearest school. The ones I pitied were those in the years below me where their education suddenly went downhill.

Tom Fox
Tom Fox
3 years ago

It is warming to see how you regard your fellow Britons….
We had a mixed bag of local area children dumped on us (I traveled across Hull to get to school) on the basis of sending children to their physically nearest school. The ones I pitied were those in the years below me where their education suddenly went downhill.”
You seem to have such contempt for them….

Frank Leigh-Sceptical
Frank Leigh-Sceptical
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Fox

I didn’t detect any contempt, rather an insight that selection based on location rather than ability will inevitably lead to a lowering of standards that the average and below performers will not notice and the most able will be hindered by.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  A Non

Comprehensives brought in child centred learnng, a lack of dscipline, lack of streaming, lack of competitive sports, contempt for traditions, lack of excellence , etc.
A Sampson in his 1965 Anatomy of Britain has some interesting stats
2% went to Direct Grant Grammar Schools – Manchester, KE VIth B Ham, yet provided 16% Of Oxbridge.
By 1965, apart from Winchester and Westminster, Oxbridge Scholarships were dominated by Grammar Schools , especially Direct Grant Grammar- Manchester, King Edward VIth B Ham.A friend who went to KE VIth B Ham in 1950s was taught by a Cambridge Wrangler. Only about 15% of all schools can have teachers from top 5 universities.
Most comprehensives teachers cannot teach to Oxbridge /Imperial /LSE standards. especially in maths. This is why Oxbridge Entrance Exams were cancelled.

Mike Hall
Mike Hall
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Add to that the Labour decision to dump Secondary Technical Schools based on half baked feedback and the “need” for spending cuts. They were supposed to be replaced by local Further Education Colleges, but those FEs, good as they were for O level re-takes and such, were disparate and without agenda so that never happened.
The Germans meanwhile kept alive their technical schools for the scion of youth not made for academia.

Last edited 3 years ago by Mike Hall
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Hall

Germany and Switzerland have three tiers of schools and standards are much higher. In Switzerland to become a lorry driver takes 3 years and includes mechanics.
In Britain an electrician may have a NVQ3, in Switzerland it would be NVQ4 or higher such as HND.
When we had YTS what took a Brit 2 years to learn it took a German 6 months.

Frank Leigh-Sceptical
Frank Leigh-Sceptical
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”
Forever grateful for my chance to be a “grammar grub”

Stephen Robertson
Stephen Robertson
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I think you might find that the most number of grammar schools were closed under the guidance of the Education Minister, Mrs. Thatcher in the Heath government.

CYRIL NAMMOCK
CYRIL NAMMOCK
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Grammar schools were too effective an instrument of social mobility; so they had to go.

wildbloodtony
wildbloodtony
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

I live 10 minutes walk away from the grammar school Wilson went to. It’s still going, thankfully. As is the girls’ grammar school nextvdoor.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

That is exactly why the toffs in the Labour party like Shirley Williams had them shut down.

Tom Fox
Tom Fox
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

People who write like this always forget that eighty percent of pupils were never let near the grammar schools and were confined to institutions which operated with low expectations and actually channelled students into occupations with very limited horizons. Whatever people say, this is true and most students, once in the Secondary Modern, were never able to transfer out of it. The maths was arithmetic and the science was basic. It was for many, more like foot binding for the mind. Limit the horizons and they won’t know what they are missing. Always remember the eighty percent of pupils who were put into that system. No meritocracy would do that, but post war, the UK did.

martin_evison
martin_evison
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Fox

Not where I come from. Lots of kids from secondary moderns and from the independent girls high school (didn’t have a sixth form then) came into our sixth form to do ‘A’ levels.

coppice12
coppice12
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Fox

In North London, where I grew up, this was not the case. I was in the last year of the grammar school cohort. Our school joined with a secondary modern one to form a new comprehensive school for children from 11 to 18. We continued as if we were still in a grammar school. However, this was not the first link between these schools. The secondary modern school had an “X” stream, where all the smart kids, who had fallen through the 11+ screening, were educated very much like the top streams of our grammar school. Those who proved themselves could transfer to the grammar school as the O-level programs started in the 4th form. They went into one of the top 2 streams of the grammar school and did very well there. In general, the 11+ tests were pretty good for assessing where pupils belonged, but for those it mislabelled, it did so quite badly.
By the time I left school, and the entire cohort younger than me had been through the comprehensive school system, the character of the place was dramatically changing for the worse. The teachers were mostly very good, and stayed, but the place was still changing. Its a disgrace that when the new system performed so poorly no corrective action was taken.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I’m inclined to agree with that last paragraph. To young people at the university application age, I’d say: think very carefully about this. If you are sure you want to be a lawyer, doctor, architect or go into some other profession where a degree is required, fair enough. Go forth and study. But if you have no idea what you want to do and just want to go to uni because you think that’s the done thing and “all my friends are doing it” – now is the time to take one giant step back. It’s unfortunate university degrees still carry so much weight – so many young people (and society probably) would be so much better served if they went off to work straight away/did an apprenticeship. The school of life and getting sh…, sorry, STUFF done is terribly underestimated.

Last edited 3 years ago by Katharine Eyre
Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Quite agree. I used to support the idea of an arts degree as something worth doing for its own sake, but now that these subjects have become morally and intellectually devalued, I’d be failing in my duty as a parent if I didn’t warn my children to steer clear of them.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Andrew, you would be failing in your duty as a parent if you didn’t see that your children married well. That is the point of an arts degree: a suitable occupation for a young lady who is at university to meet a young man on the way up.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago

As it happens, both my daughters did arts degrees (harrumph). If there’s a marriage dividend, it sadly hasn’t yet been paid.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Oh well, they’ll always have ‘the life of the mind” – poor compensation for the income of a banker, but these things happen.

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
3 years ago

Have I stepped back to the mid 20th century via some hole in the space time continuum? Women do not need to meet young men on their way up in order to succeed in life.

Dr Stephen Nightingale
Dr Stephen Nightingale
3 years ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

But they do need to meet young(-ish) men if they are going to propagate the species.

Irene Ve
Irene Ve
3 years ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

Educated women who failed “to meet young men on their way up” end up being utterly unhappy whatever their career path.
It may sound old-fashioned to many, but one big function of university (apart from education as such) is to provide life-long networks to their students. That includes a network of potential “dating and marrying material” that can last you your entire life.

coppice12
coppice12
3 years ago
Reply to  Irene Ve

In my experience, the networking aspect of university is very much oversold. Few people I know have kept much contact with people they were at university with.

Ian Manning
Ian Manning
3 years ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

I think you’ll find Russell was employing irony!

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Manning

I employed irony once, had to let them go…became too sarcastic

🙂

john murphy
john murphy
3 years ago
Reply to  Nigel Clarke

isn’t irony just p.o.s.h. sarcasm, hwah hwah, what?

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
3 years ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

‘Women do not need to meet young men on their way up in order to succeed in life.’
Very true. But they can easily and quickly be dragged down if they happen to hook up with the wrong man, uni- educated or not.

Simon Flynn
Simon Flynn
3 years ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

Chill, hoisin!!! Don’t tek evertin so ruddy serious!
.

Eloise Burke
Eloise Burke
3 years ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

No, but most people will end up married, and it’s immensely helpful if the partner is useful to society.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  Eloise Burke

Plumbers, electricians, builders, car mechanics, gas boiler repairers, farmers (without university degrees) etc. etc. and anyone who starts their own small business and employs other people are also useful to society.

Tom Fox
Tom Fox
3 years ago

Well said. It should be repeated loudly and often. As we walk about the world, we perhaps should ask ourselves, who made all of this infrastructure, machinery, transport and communications networks and who maintains them so that we don’t live in caves, eating what we can scavenge from the bushes. Our civilised life depends totally on the work of others, many of them, rather overlooked at best, by the literarti, if not out and out despised. Those who think like that, and I have met a great many of them, are utterly misguided.

Last edited 3 years ago by Tom Fox
Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I’ve upvoted you but the for me the problem is where can these arts graduates actually contribute to society rather than take from it? Often the degree is simply used as an indication of brainpower and many will go into such realms as financial services.

The ones we really need to get rid of (prejudice showing here) are the PPE, art history of graffiti, golf course management etc. I’m certain there is a need for some of these – probably one a year of each <G>

Frank Wilcockson
Frank Wilcockson
3 years ago

I think that you can add all HR disciplines to that list

lowtonfarm
lowtonfarm
3 years ago

According to a recent report, financial services are a net cost to society. They guy collecting my recycling contributes way more than the physicist working in the City, creating complex derivatives for a zero-sum game. The primary purpose of education is not an economic pigeonhole.

Tom Fox
Tom Fox
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Absolutely. Just about the worst advice you could give a child wanting to do a soft subject at university is something like, ‘Follow your heart and study what you love.’ You can do that in your spare time and you won’t be wasting three years and paying fees of nearly ÂŁ30,000, plus living costs and then finding all you can find to do is working in a call centre for ÂŁ8 an hour. A great many young people would do far better in life if they did an apprenticeship and learned a trade that would enable them to become an electrician or the like. STEM subjects, and vocational subjects where there are openings aplenty are a different matter. Worth every penny. Two of my three sons who followed the STEM route have already paid off all of their loans and are earning very good livings. They are happy and secure.

ray.wacks
ray.wacks
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Uni?

Dr Stephen Nightingale
Dr Stephen Nightingale
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Universities are wasted on 18 year olds, there should be a requirement to work for at least 3 years afte secondary school, before opting to go to University if that’s what you need. I did 5 years in a bank, then went to Poly to get a Computer Science degree. I would never have thought to do Computer Science right out of school. 20 years later I went on to Postgrad studies. I was mature enough to appreciate it then, and for sure it has had a useful effect on my life and approach to problem-solving.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

Could not agree more and, if I could have my time again, that’s what I’d do rather than go straight to university from school. Going out to work first would have made me grow up and learn how to deal with my life before attempting a difficult law degree. I would doubtless have got more out of said law degree and not felt as overcome by it all if I’d have had that life experience first. Maybe I would have studied something entirely different. Who knows. I look back at my 18 year old self and shake my head – what a silly girl! If I could only say 3 words to her, I think they’d be: “academia is overrated”.

Last edited 3 years ago by Katharine Eyre
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I am rather the opposite of the writer of the article with his huge chip on his shoulder. And you I guess, although you are nice.
I came from upperish Middle class where everyone always has post graduate degrees, the men technical, the women Arts.

But I was like the writer in how I handled school and left early and without an education – and so hit the road for a couple decades as a drop out drifter. I saw a lot, and got to have a vast amount of very weird experiences, but mostly it was hard and tedious, as being out alone in the world and broke mostly means just sitting around, or walking thousands of miles in a endlessly plodding nothing.
I really regret I did not do the university correctly – I would stop here and there and knock out a term, often just living rough wile being a student, but that was not a way to ever finish a degree, and I never did.
But life is what you make of it, and I handled mine badly – BUT I still appreciate VERY much all I have been given. My opportunities, the wonderful things my society has granted me, all the amazing fourtune I had merely by being born a Westerner, and in this world at this time. The amazingly good way people have treated me, and my good luck at still being alive.

And that is what I take from this guy. He bites the hand which fed him – and I believe that is a very bad thing indeed. He is not thankful, but begrudging, he puts his fellows down, especially the University ones. He is all about self pity and not about thanking that which has been given him – and you know a great many people must have put themselves out to create the opportunity he has had, and for mentoring him. I find his article unpleasant.

coppice12
coppice12
3 years ago

I think its too much of a hard and fast rule to say university is wasted on 18 year olds. However, most of the people I know who went to university late were much more focussed and got a lot more out of it, because they understood WHY they were there.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

They’ll probably soon insist you have to have a degree just to be allowed to sign on as unemployed-we don’t let just anyone in our jobcentres with their P45s.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

More likely getting unemployment will be hereditary. You will have to prove your mother got it. About like this guy says Oxford is.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I don’t think that’s quite right.
I went to university to study physics because I was interested in physics and good at it.
I didn’t particularly want to be a physicist, and didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that for any good job that I wanted, a physical science/maths degree would be required.
I think the better advice would be – find out if the degree you want to do/ can get accepted on – will really give you any career benefit at all. There are so many worthless Mickey Mouse degrees, and the universities flogging them certainly are not going to tell you the truth.

Tom Fox
Tom Fox
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I don’t think it is true that university degrees carry so much weight as before. How could they when we have increased the proportion of youngsters going to university from 5% in the 1960s to about 45% now? The prestige a degree once had has been devalued simply because they are now very common, and n the minds of many, they are less rigorous than they were.

Last edited 3 years ago by Tom Fox
Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I assume your English grammar schools are (were?) the same as our Australian selective schools – secondary schools filled with the cream of the state school system and funded by the government.
Do you have any sort of these schools now? And, if so, is there a certain, ahem, uniform background to the student cohort?

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

Yes, it sounds like your selective schools are broadly the same as our grammars. We have very few left, I was fortunate to be able to send my daughters to one of them (in Colchester). However, in order to get them in we had to spend a lot on private tuition preparing them for the 11-plus exam, which is what all parents with similar ambitions do. Inevitably this disadvantages poorer people, with the result that the few remaining grammar schools are solidly middle class. This wasn’t the case fifty years ago, when I went to a grammar school. I don’t even remember taking the 11-plus exam (there was certainly no tuition), and the school had a broad social mix.
If Boris is interested in ‘levelling up’ he should build a grammar school in every large town, maybe starting with Hartlepool.

Ian Manning
Ian Manning
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Please don’t be sucked in by the fluffy ‘Boris’ appellation. Mr. Johnson, Boris Johnson or just Johnson are sufficient. Nobody referred to May as Theresa or Cameron as David, so don’t be manipulated by Johnson’s PR team’s clever use of his ‘cuddly meerkat’ second name.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ian Manning
Pauline Ivison
Pauline Ivison
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Manning

Yes, please let us ban the endearing, intended or not, Boris. There are several names I’d prefer to use for him but Johnson will suffice.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Manning

Yes, up here in Scotland we’ve got the fluffy, cuddly, endearing ‘wee krankie’.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

They tend to be colonised by Asians, if that’s what you mean. I live near Henrietta Barnett school in north London and I walk past its pupils on their way to school as I go the other way. It appears to be about 95% Asian.
This does not reflect the local demographics; the school has pupils commuting in from Uxbridge and Kennington. It’s in Barnet, but it’s not a Barnet school. You can’t find out the actual stats any more; probably it’s too embarrassing to publish. In 2011, “Almost three quarters of its pupils are from minority ethnic groups”, “the proportion eligible for free school meals” was “very low”, and “the proportion of girls whose first language is believed not to be English is over half”.
These are no longer schools where children from a poor background can get in and get on. They are not really English schools at all to speak of any more. They are for the tutored children of middle-class Asians who are made to commute up to an hour and a half daily for a free selective education, so the parents don’t have to pay the local house prices.
I feel quite strongly about this. If the school’s in Barnet it should admit pupils who live in Barnet. If you live in Uxbridge, found your own school.
The independent school I went to has also been similarly colonised. When I was there the school magazine carried reports each term of the activities of the school’s clubs and societies, of which there were then about 30 or 40. There are now perhaps six, and they are all either ethnicity-based (the Asian Society) or they are for getting jobs (the Industrial Society). There aren’t any that are about fun or recreation.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Yes, that’s certainly true of my old school (in the London Borough of Sutton). Was passing recently as all the boys were streaming out, almost 100% Indian/Chinese. They know when they’re on to a good thing, it’s a pity the benefit isn’t spread more widely.

D Ward
D Ward
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Same with my old school in Wolverhampton

jackstonebusiness
jackstonebusiness
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Asian is not a wealth band. You’re just being racist. There are poor Asians in the world.

George Stone
George Stone
2 years ago

But they do seem to do exceptionally well in this country.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

The private schools which remain since the grammar schools got shut down are certainly a lot more uniform, although to be fair I have seen that there are more diverse ways to be rich than there are to be poor.

Kathleen Stern
Kathleen Stern
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Agree absolutely. Me and my 2 sisters from a working class home with supportive parents went to a girls’ convent grammar school after passing the 11+ (which I took at 10 & forever benefited from a year in school skipped). All of us went to university,one to Oxford, and had better lives because of it. Some fellow students made it through technical colleges too. Social mobility was severely damaged by Labour,whose often privileged members closed off that opportunity! Now it’s the privileged that the system benefits and the snobbery perpetuates.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Kathleen Stern

Oxbridge these days is completely woke; it takes 70% of its intake from state schools (grammars conveniently count as state) by lowering the standards expected of those applicants. The rationale behind this is that the applicant might have got better grades had they gone to a better school, but of course the balancing consideration, whether the kid at an independent would have done just as well at a bad school, is never considered. Likewise, the idea that a kid might have gone to a comp and been tutored is always overlooked.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Oxford might well be woke at the moment in the humanities.
But I don’t think widening access is part of that. Students are carefully monitored at the moment to see what the results of that are. The fact is that their performance on internal exams, at least in my college, has been fine so far. Exam performance must be maintained and it has been.
It feel unfair on some, but it was unfair on others before. A lot of trouble and thought has fone into he policies over many years by many people. It’s not really a woke thing actually.
Like I say, it might spearately be going woke. It is I think.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Downvote all you like, the results are the results. A-levels were never a good way to decide, because they aren’t measuring the qualities of interest. Hence the interview.

Ian Manning
Ian Manning
3 years ago
Reply to  Kathleen Stern

As a clearly educated person, why do you feel it necessary to start your second sentence with ‘Me and my 2 sisters 
 etc’ instead of ‘I, and my two sisters 
 etc’?It is so common now that I can only think that people doing so must think somehow that using incorrect English is anti-snobbish!

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Manning

My two sisters and I
I, and my 2 sisters is also very clumsy
Me and my 2 sisters is grammatically incorrect (I think) but not as clumsy. Also, being pedantic here, you should use two and not 2.
C+. See me after the lesson…

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
3 years ago
Reply to  Nigel Clarke

Love it Nige

jackstonebusiness
jackstonebusiness
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Manning

lol who cares?

Dawne Swift
Dawne Swift
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Yes. Exactly.

Susannah Baring Tait
Susannah Baring Tait
3 years ago
Reply to  Dawne Swift

The misuse leapt out at me, too. Replying to Ian, I prefer “My sisters and I etc.”

Zap Zenn
Zap Zenn
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Four out of one hundred and twenty from my year in a well respected Grammar school achieved university. To me, at the time, they seem to have been pre-selected by a ‘system’ that chose to ignore talent in favour of status. I wish I’d attended the Grammar school you describe.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Zap Zenn

Four out of 120 sounds very poor, you much have been a bunch of skivers! My experience (several decades ago) was that the school put all its efforts getting the top third into Oxbridge etc, and more or less didn’t bother with the rest. Those who got left behind were just as much victims of the grammar system as those who never got in in the first place. I’m not saying the system was perfect, and personally I think 11 is too early to separate the academic wheat from the chaff. 13 or 14 would be better (hence the value of middle schools, also now largely disappeared). Not everyone who went to grammar school benefitted from the experience; I got just 4 O-levels, and my later – relative – academic success was down to leaving at 16 and doing my A-levels at the local tech. However, even if only a third of a minority managed to climb the greasy pole out of cultural or economic poverty, that’s still a lot better than today, with privilege firmly entrenched.

David Barnett
David Barnett
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

My grammar school was merged with the secondary modern next door for my 5th year. Both schools had been good in their class (with some kids transferring from one to the other as appropriate). My school had moved to the site about 15 years earlier, and it was clear from the building design that the intention had been to merge into a comprehensive.
The physical conditions were optimal for the comprehensive experiment, yet the implementation was a disaster. It was a very common practice in London to task one of the headteachers with organising the merger. My headmaster was given the burden. Very frequently, headteachers organising mergers became ill with nervous exhaustion. My headmaster was no exception.
Things started to go downhill from the year before the merger. Discipline died, playground protection rackets emerged, and academics became challenging. By the time of my upper 6th, of 120 A-levels we could only muster ten grades A, of which three were mine. The school said they were unable to help me with the Cambridge entrance exam, so I had to transfer to a still-existing grammar school for that.
The process destroyed two good schools despite ideal physical circumstances. Imagine what was happening as schools half a mile apart were forced to merge by the labour government.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  David Barnett

That was the idea, of course. It’s unfair that some schools are better than others, so all schools must be made equally bad. Your experience wasn’t an unintended accident – it was exactly what was hoped for.
As that great thinker and cruise line waiter John Prescott put it, “If you set up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone wants to go there.” Yes, you read that right: Labour considers good schools to be a danger. To avoid this danger, all schools should be bad.

Bill W
Bill W
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Absolutely.

vince porter
vince porter
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

The tree rots from inside.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

The aim at Oxbridge now seems to be to comprehensive Oxbridge. That will make sure nobody wants to go there any more; equality will be achieved.
The interesting question is then where everyone goes instead.

Stuart Tallack
Stuart Tallack
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I do not recognise this as descriptive of schools I have worked in which included public schools, comprehensives and special education, from middle schools to sixth forms, some in the country and some in cities. But I confidently expect many people on here to agree with you. No knowledge is needed to hold a firm opinion.

Ian Manning
Ian Manning
3 years ago
Reply to  Stuart Tallack

Hear, hear!

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Stuart Tallack

I think we’re all talking about our ‘lived experience’, so be careful!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Pre 1939 and up to mid 1960s one could leave school at 16 years, take up an apprenticeship and study Council of Engineering Exams in Civil, Mechanical, Electrical , etc at evening school or U of London External degrees. Pt1 was HND and Pt 2 was degree level.
JR Mitchell designer of the Spitfire created the Worlds best high speed flight team at Supermarine. He could do any job in the Works and had the Engineering Maths Skills. Originally he tarined in diesel mechanical engineering and taught himself . aeronautical. The aeronautical Engineer Baker described Te Spitfirevas the most perfect aerodynamically plane ever designed and this was done by someone who left school at 16 years of age
others include Camm – Hurricane, De Havilland Mosquito,b wallis R1010 Airframe, Wellington F111, Chadwick – Lancaster. #
Many Engineers did no have degrees they Inst of Civil Engineers/Mechnaical/Electical RAES ,C. Eng.
Pt2 of the Mechies was tougher than any degree.
By left wing middle academics removing evening study they stopped Craftsmen entering the the Upper Middle Class Professionsl. Mitchell could afford to run a Rolls Royce Car !
Most engineers came from Grammar school. The Old Ordinary Level Leaving Exam /O Level Maths included calculus and bright pupils could take exams early. Boys of the calibre of Mitchell would have left Grammar school with the the modern day Maths, Physics and Chemistry A levels.
The modern day divide is Further Maths A Level. The top 6 to 8 departments in Maths, Engineering and Physics need A Grade Further Maths Level plus STEP, extended project essay, Cambridge Pre-U. I doubt if there are no more than 15 % of schools can teach to A Grade Further Maths A Level Standard.

Paul Hunt
Paul Hunt
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I went to the Comp that used to be my step-father’s Grammer school. I went to Cambridge and he drives trucks. My wife didn’t go to Grammer, she got an assisted place to go to a top Independent School that happened to be in the town. IMO its a much better idea to make these rewards for high achievers actually seriously exclusive for the best and brightest and not just to split a town’s children in half between haves and have-nots: those assisted places and better government bursaries are certainly missed given that Independent Schools aren’t going to be sharing their resources with the state system any time soon.

Helen Murray
Helen Murray
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

What the hell has ‘wokeism’ got to do with this subject?

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

I don’t like the inverted snobbery of “posh” any more than I like the other kind.
Let’s just remember we are talking about young people who have only just reached adulthood, the potential for them to be foolish has massively increased in recent decades through no fault of their own.

Reminder : Oxford and Cambridge universities, with AstraZenaca, managed to create one of the most effective vaccines against Covid19 in double quick time.
There is still brilliant work coming out of these places, it does’nt mean it won’t appear elsewhere as well, but lets give credit where credit is due.

Todd Kreider
Todd Kreider
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

They were also very pro lockdown.

ben.cartwright1998
ben.cartwright1998
3 years ago
Reply to  Todd Kreider

and rightly so

Robert Pay
Robert Pay
3 years ago

Except the top virologist Professor Gupta. Many academics love to work from home and want lockdown to last longer

Last edited 3 years ago by Robert Pay
Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

I upticked you.

Graeme Cant
Graeme Cant
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

But not out of their social studies departments.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Graeme Cant

I think that’s a bit harsh. I bet there are exceptions, they include Archaeology and Anthropology after all, two of my favourite subjects.

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

And economics, particularly economic history and the history of economic thought.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

The writer appears to have taken until he was 30 to reach the same level of academic maturity as A Level students of 18, so I’m not sure what his experience proves.
One relevant statistic is that about 5x as many pupils get the required grades for Oxbridge as Oxbridge has places for them. So 4 out of 5 applicants of Oxbridge standards don’t go there.
There’s certainly no shortage of Oxbridge rejects with anecdotes about how they don’t find Oxbridge people very bright, but of course Oxbridge people have those anecdotes, too.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

When you do a degree as a mature student you do notice how your subject ‘fits’ into things ie literature from a particular period , so you can enjoy study rather than ‘have’ to do it to pass exams. However you are not there to date anyone , as most mature students were like me married with children-so you don’t go for the social life. I felt a bit sorry for the 18/19 year olds-lifes very serious when you’re young.

arthur brogard
arthur brogard
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

life, comma, s

bunnyolesen
bunnyolesen
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Wow, your first sentence is really degrading. “Reach the ‘same level of academic maturity’?? He came from a working class family, in a working class town, where no one was groomed to expect to go to University, much less Oxford. Those ‘A’ level students at age 18 and attend Oxford come from middle & upper middle class families, many went to Prep school & were well-expected to try to make it into Oxford.
You really don’t know what his experience proves? That we all have life experiences, and this was his. What makes you think he’s trying to prove anything? Why does someone’s personal experience have to “prove” something?
In my opinion, he’s just explaining how it feels to be looked down on by ‘city folk’ for being a ‘farm boy’. This is about class, prejudice, and a sense of entitlement. He knows that this type of prejudice exists, that he has been discriminated against on a social level and treated with disdain simply due to geographic location and the common professions of the people who come from there. Also, that the children of urban dwelling upper middle class/upper class parents are the products of their environment, as are most of us. And that “class” affects our perspective about what we feel we deserve in life.
I agree with him on this: having the opportunities and advantages that come with class, status and money which allows them a greater access to higher education doesn’t mean they are any more competent or intelligent than people who never had the same chances.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  bunnyolesen

Yes ‘class’ in the UK is a longstanding feature, it diminished to some extent after both world wars particularly WWII, but back it came, and I think it always will because of our history and the distribution of land ownership.
But I don’t think it helps for people to be prejudiced either way or bear grudges. I’m pretty sure Mr Rebank’s experience would not have been so very different whichever university he had gone to. He was a mature student who knew what hard work was and from a farming background, farmers are probably the most down to earth of all people. All universities are full of youngsters still growing up, that is going to be trying for someone like the author.

I try to treat people as I find them and be forbearing with the young, I was as foolish as anyone at that age that’s for sure.

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Tom Watson
Tom Watson
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Academic maturity indeed! Speaking as a Cantab, I reckon the level of academic maturity your average Oxbridge undergrad can muster on a good day is somewhere at the level of pondweed. Not that I claim to be any kind of exception, in my experience the colleges know perfectly well that they maximise alumni donations by serving as finishing schools for the moderately bright – with the notable exception of the mathmos, they really were a different breed. Wouldn’t have trusted most of them to tie their own shoelaces of course, but still.
So I can certainly add another anecdote to the pile of Oxbridge types who found the whole experience jading (if such a word exists), but frankly the idea that something called ‘academic maturity’ is what separates the author of that piece from the mainstream Oxbridge population of 18-year-olds intelligent enough to scrape decent A-level grades, clever enough to impress at interview and calculating enough to see the whole process as another hoop to jump through on their way to a career in private equity, management consulting or PR, is perhaps the exact opposite of damning with faint praise!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

In Applied Science and Engineering problems are solved irrespective of the the gender, class, race, sexuality, religion , etc of the people; only ability and determination are important.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

If only those identifiers – “gender, class, race, sexuality and religion” were left at the gates and entrances of all our universities, it would be better for everyone, whatever their subject.

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
3 years ago

Australian here. We don’t really have an equivalent to Oxbridge / Harvard, only the ‘group of eight.’ I didn’t get in to those universities, so I went to a reputable, local university instead. And I had a blast. My love of history only increased, I had fantastic conversations about literature. To my embarrassment, I spent hours looking at Harvard and Oxford’s websites, dreaming of doing postgraduate work there. I thought getting into world-elite universities would fix a hole in me and make up for a childhood feeling inadequate and ‘not good enough.’ It’s satisfying to prove your nay-sayers wrong.
But things changed. Harvard became insufferably ‘woke’ and out of touch. Oxford wanted to ‘decolonise’ their departments. Slowly, I realised those hours spent dreaming of Oxford could’ve been spent reading Shakespeare, learning Latin or discussing Tolstoy. Also, Oxbridge’s fees are quite high. There are better dreams to have than elite universities: people reading my novels, starting a business, having a family etc.
Now I’m currently thinking about postgraduate study, and I still want to go to the UK. I’m a medievalist at heart, and Britain is soaked with so much history. I know I’ll get alot out of it, especially in a city like York. Maybe I’ll apply to Oxford, but hopefully its from a more rational place.
Now back to learning Latin. Ad Astra Per Aspera

Ray Hall
Ray Hall
3 years ago

Good luck.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago

Hi Madeleine, doubtless you’ve heard about the Centre for Medieval Studies at York. No doubt there are other courses, but for a fraction of the cost you could buy a set of ‘Pevsners’ and an old banger and just drive around the country looking at the wonderful wealth of medieval buildings that we have. Good luck!

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Or do both.

Robert Pay
Robert Pay
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Also, University at Kent and Canterbury, Medieval and Early Modern studies…

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

You could do that, and I have done that, but you won’t learn much about them without reading, and guided reading is more productive than self-prescribed reading. Attending a lecture or two won’t hurt either.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

York, my wonderful hometown…*sighs longingly*

Elise Davies
Elise Davies
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

And mine 🙂

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

*sighs longingly* when you think of the cost of parking your car these days.

Robert Pay
Robert Pay
3 years ago

Yes, at my last Oxford college reunion, the attendees were gently reprimanded for “not looking more like the college” – code for too old and white. The old white donor, seated next to the principal, who had given millions to the college just died, so he and I will be two less future attendees.

Last edited 3 years ago by Robert Pay
CYRIL NAMMOCK
CYRIL NAMMOCK
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Pay

Two fewer.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
3 years ago
Reply to  CYRIL NAMMOCK

Thank you. It is not pedantic or politically incorrect to insist upon proper English.

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
3 years ago

Thank you – your story inspires me. Keep learning the Latin.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
3 years ago

I’m the reverse. I went to one of the top schools and then shocked everyone (and appalled many) by doing a trade. What surprised me, after 18 years raised with “the quality” was that there were so many people I worked with on the tools who were way smarter than those I’d gone to school with, and to be frank, way smarter than me. Those smart tradie kids may well have blitzed at university and gone on to impressive careers, while the dumb kids from the top school idled their way through life. Interestingly, a lot of the trades people I worked with started their trades at 15 or 16 and had no thought they would have ever gone to university, but many of their children did indeed go to university.
Personally, I went from school to trade to engineering to teaching, plus, I’m the only tradesman I know who can read Latin.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

While there is an IQ correlation with social class, it’s a lot weaker than most people seem to think, and tons of overlap.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Newman

Look at the membership of MENSA – it agrees with you.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
3 years ago

MENSA is essentially a social club for smart people who are not connected to other smart people through university or professional ties, so that’s unsurprising.

Mike Hall
Mike Hall
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Newman

And IQ is not hereditary, fortunately for the aristos as the Normans were considered numb-skulls. A modern example would be Randolph Churchill, WSC’s only son who proved that genius was not heredity.

Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Newman

Is there a “good-hearted” correlation with social class?

Mickey John
Mickey John
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

You’ve just met another one. Nineteen years as a crane driver then industrial sales rep , now a care worker. Catholic grammar school til 16 , then work. Felix sumus , amicus meus.

simon taylor
simon taylor
3 years ago
Reply to  Mickey John

And a third, public school scholarship, expulsion, now a skilled roofer and lead worker.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  simon taylor

Carpenter, electrician, all round builder, (independent), only person in my extended families who does not have a university degree – which I regret, but nothing I can do now to have stopped them from attending university.

Mike Hall
Mike Hall
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I (council flat background) did not go to Uni despite having the A Level grades to get into one of the top 10. People often asked me if I missed it. Yes I missed the wine, the bonking and the rugby songs (as I understood it) but when I look at my life I do not think the outcome would have been the slightest bit different if I had a degree or not. I took all opportunities and had a variable and interesting life. No regrets. Variety is the spice of life – is my conclusion.

Last edited 3 years ago by Mike Hall
Duncan Salter
Duncan Salter
3 years ago
Reply to  Mickey John

Felices sumus, amice mi 😉

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

If you look at popular comedy a lot of people who left school at 14 ‘got’ quite complicated humour ie Magna Carta Did She Die in Vain? , so I think the level of general knowledge is not the same as how many exams you passed.

Mike Hall
Mike Hall
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

This is no surprise to me to read this. A lot of “posh people” and even working class background-but-now-office-something people grossly under estimate how canny and quick witted trades people are, especially in the building trade. Intelligence deployed for practical purposes (get money or how to nick someones clients, etc) rather than used for waxing lyrical on a chaise lounge about existential doubts.

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
3 years ago

What a moaner! “Boris Johnson would be stacking shelves in Aldi or working down the chippie if he’d been born in Hartlepool.” Apart from the viciousness of that comment, a viciousness he professes to dislike about Oxford but seems happy to dish out to others, it’s quite likely someone like Boris – love him or hate him – would NOT be stacking shelves, just as this underprivileged author isn’t. My advice to this author: focus on achievment and results, and less on comparing yourself to others.

Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
3 years ago
Reply to  Mangle Tangle

That’s a fair point. Take away the entitlement and education and Boris would probably actually be more likable, and he’d probably still be quite politically savvy. A working class Boris could be exactly the leader that a labour party which still cared about the working class would kill for.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Boosh

Boris’ biggest talent is his likeability!

He calls himself a One Nation Conservative – never will he join the Labour anti-semitic idiots.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ann Ceely
Mike Hall
Mike Hall
3 years ago
Reply to  Mangle Tangle

Well said, that line rankled with me too.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  Mangle Tangle

Anyway, he was a scholar at Eton, that is, got in through being smarter.

s d
s d
3 years ago

I had a similar experience going to Princeton University. These places are just not that impressive. Nor are the faculty in the social sciences & humanities (the hard sciences I think come closer to deserving their reputation). But they–especially the faculty–have this enormous self-regard. It is astonishing. It is all, to use the author’s apt words, “bang average.”

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 years ago
Reply to  s d

I went to a far from elite UK university but was one of the better students in a science faculty there. (Goodish, nothing outstanding. Definitely not PhD material. )
There were a lot of Oxbridge people in my first job, say a few dozen joining around the same time, so enough to form an opinion of them.
I am quite prepared to believe that the Oxbridge elite did not join our company. But anyway, overall, I ended up thinking that about 1 in 3 seemed intellectually better than me, about 1 in 3 about the same and 1 in 3 noticeably dimmer. Quite a few were also lazy.
I could not help thinking – like you – that they were not impressive. Lots of my contemporaries at my obscure university would have been their equals.
These were people who graduated in the 1980s. It may well have become somewhat more competitive later. But do not assume an Oxbridge graduate born in the 1960s is necessarily a star.

Last edited 3 years ago by George Bruce
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

I could not help thinking – like you – that they were not impressive. 

I think the same about people from redbricks.

Nicolas Jouan
Nicolas Jouan
3 years ago

My story is not unsimilar. From a French working class family, my early education experience was word for word the one described by the author. More of my classmates ended up in prison than with a distinction after high school.
I had myself only average grades and was epically bored throughout. Without real plan, I decided to go to my local uni to study history, the only discipline I truly loved. This changed everything. I ended up having a fair run at the Sorbonne and St Andrews, and am now UK based with a very fullfilling “intellectual” job that seems completely unreal to my childhood friends.
The point is, I acknowledge everything the author said but I decided long ago to see the glass half full. At least those places are not philistine messes where one is regarded like an alien if he reads novels.

Last edited 3 years ago by Nicolas Jouan
Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
3 years ago
Reply to  Nicolas Jouan

“My story is not unsimilar.”
should read
My story is not dissimilar.
—your friendly grammar Nazi
PS My experience was much like yours. I particularly empathise with your last sentence. I got verbal abuse and an apple thrown at me for being clever
 then seven years of nigh-total social ostracism. Hitting Australia’s best university at the end of that, I couldn’t believe what I encountered: it was paradise, pure heaven, everything in my wildest dreams, and more. Fortunately, I got there before our entire higher education system was progressively dismantled. Seeing the lot of today’s uni students, I weep for them. My generation of baby boomers has committed a generational crime against their humanity. Unforgivable.

Last edited 3 years ago by Penelope Lane
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Yes, the whole thing is a giant racket that starts with the low expectations of the teachers in the state schools. I went to a not-bad comp (at the time) in the middle of nowhere and my teachers did at least suggest that I try for Oxbridge. I refused on the grounds that I wanted nothing to do with it.
I have subsequently met quite a few Oxbridge graduates, most of them not noticeably bright or well informed. As James says, the labourers etc you chat to in puts while watching the football are often much smarter and better informed. I was watching football with a woman some years ago who said something like ‘Wayne Rooney is a a moron’. I replied that he was no less intelligent than the people running the country (Cameron, Clegg and Oborne at the time) but that they had simply had a better education.
James’ suggestion that the cost of a state education could be used against the cost of a private education is very interesting. And it’s not so much that universities today are ‘training grounds for the storm troopers of capitalism’ but the storm troopers of capitalism themselves. Like the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages the higher education sector has grown enormously wealthy on a form of indulgences dressed up as degrees.

David Fitzsimons
David Fitzsimons
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Like the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages the higher education sector has grown enormously wealthy on a form of indulgences dressed up as degrees.

Very good!

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

If ever “the cost of a state education could be used against the cost of a private education”, the price of the latter would immediately rise by the value of the former.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

‘Boris Johnson would be stacking shelves in Aldi … if he’d been born in Hartlepool.’
Christ, just imagine that. All the products would be upside down and in the wrong place, his mate Matty on the tills would be allowing his friends and family to walk out with free stuff all day, and Dom the delivery guy would be deliberately driving his truck through the staff canteen.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Boris would also have been married to and divorced from half the female staff and only going for promotion because he can’t afford the alimony.

Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Not sure about that… Boris the shelf stacker might find he has much less success with the ladies than Boris the high ranking politician.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Have you ever heard Boris give an impromptu speech? He is brilliant, if a little disorganized and disheveled. I understand why people might disagree with his policies but that is no reason to denigrate his obvious high intelligence.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago

At the start of his premiership I remember hearing in the media that he was hugely smart. Then as the blunders kept happening, doubts seemed to set in among the analysts – or at least they stopped repeating that particular idea.
I’m wondering if the issue is not a lack of intelligence so much as Boris not being a details man, and not always putting in the effort to get up to speed on whatever issue he’s dealing with?
But he has charisma, and a gift for self-promotion — he may well have risen through the ranks at the Hartlepool Aldi, and climbed greasy pole. Who knows, he could have ended up running the company, and we could be looking at Sir Boris (knighthood for services to retail), or Lord Johnston, Baron of Hangus by Hartlepool – or indeed prisoner 07700900123.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
3 years ago

A professor in a Russian history class about the Revolution made one of the most profound statements on this I ever heard: “however egalitarian Soviet officials thought themselves, they still strove to see that their children did well in the Communist system.”
In our sub-lunary sphere, most parents do the same, whether they are minority, “woke,” or “posh.”
We may thus be dealing with human behaviour that stretches back into the Neolithic. It’s “systemic” in that it is probably inherent in human nature.

Mike Hall
Mike Hall
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Quite, not only did middle class Russians in the USSR get their kids into schools the local plebs had never heard of, they were often situated in lovely C18th buildings with beautiful pictures on the walls and ceilings and rooms set aside for things like (depending on gender): fencing and ballet. No Stakhanovites there.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
3 years ago

There are four main problems with schools
Every mainstream school is a comprehensive. Parents have an illusion of choice. A bog standard comprehensive run by the state or a bog standard comprehensive run by a company. Heads and tails they lose. Try setting up a grammar school if you don’t believe me.
The expectations are far too low. Just glance at the stats for Vietnam, China or similar for maths at age 11 and 16
Most parents cannot afford independent schools. They have effectively just one option. The state actually provides around £5000 pa per pupil. This cannot be used to reduce the fee for an independent school, cannot be used for home education. It is a Hobson’s choice. State, home education or pay (twice) for private schools. (the last choice Abbot wants to abolish whilst paying for her son to attend BTW).
Ofsted. This is the state Stasi. Ensuring standards of Wokeness are maintained. A friend of mine is Head of English. She complains that the leading department in her school is science.Why? They tick everyone of Ofsted’s boxes. Except she claims exams results…. A popular “ Free” School was closed by Ofsted, because it failed the diversity test. During an inspection two 11 year old girls were not able to describe in sufficient detail to male inspectors, what Lesbians do in bed.

Last edited 3 years ago by James Rowlands
A Woodward
A Woodward
3 years ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

Sorry I just don’t believe that last sentence.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  A Woodward

Be fair. I believe that two 11 year old girls could not describe  in sufficient detail what Lesbians do in bed. Mind you I also believe they wouldn’t be able to describe what a man and a woman do in bed in sufficient detail.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
3 years ago
Reply to  A Woodward

I will look for the link

A Woodward
A Woodward
3 years ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

OK, but I thought it was supposed to be a friend of yours, not something you read in the paper? Also they were asked for a definition of lesbian according to your link, not for a detailed explanation of what they do in bed.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
3 years ago
Reply to  A Woodward

You need to read my comment. I never said that I heard this sory from anyone, only what has been reported in the media.
From the article
“The questioning was completely inappropriate, they asked her what lesbians were, and whether she felt trapped in someone else’s body.‘She said she didn’t want to talk about it, because she was embarrassed. She didn’t know why they were asking and she wasn’t prepared for it.”
In another artlcle there is another girl who gives more details. I think the “what lesbians do in bed” phrase came from the TES. I cannot find after 5 years, but the inappropriate and bullying behaviour from Ofsted is true. Has happened and continues to happen

Last edited 3 years ago by James Rowlands
Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

That final sentence is appalling and totally untrue.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

I’m afraid the story is totally true, and appalling

A Non
A Non
3 years ago

I tutored for a couple of years at a university which attracted a lot of well-heeled, privately educated students. The main contrast I found between them and the very bright state-school educated students, was confidence. Both types were great to teach, but initially it was difficult to get the latter to contribute, I suspect due to a fear of failure. The private school students on the other hand were largely uninhibited by any lack of confidence. If you could bottle that sense of confidence and distribute it among all our children I suspect we would have a much greater chance of achieving a genuine meritocracy.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  A Non

I was reading yesterday, can’t remember where (but it was a scientific paper that seemed serious to me), that confidence is more important for academic or professional success than IQ. But also: confidence is highly heritable. So you are to a good degree born with it. So it should be possible to build confidence in those who have an innate capacity for it. And a lot of working class kids I knew did seem to leave Oxford more confident than they were when they went in.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago

You’d probably have to design your study carefully to distinguish between a hereditary effect on confidence and a cultural or environmental one – you could be born with confidence, or have it (or a simulacrum therof) instilled, or a bit of both.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul N

Well first you’d have to measure confidence. I can’t remember the thing, but it was in the context of Stephen Suomi. One way to try to measure confidence, and to distinguish the effect of heredity and environment is by doing controlled experiments on monkeys. Their behaviours are simpler and you can precisely control their envirnoment. It’s not very popular in some quarters but it really does help to get answers.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago

Primates do have a degree of culture, so I guess you could learn something about something rather like confidence (depending, as you suggest, on how you measure it). And it’s probably easier to get that through an ethics committee than experiments on pupils at Eton or Cumbria.
The greater complexity of human behaviour, and in particular the ability to project an air of confidence in the absence of feelings, may mean you’re not studying quite the same thing though – however helpful it may be as a signpost.
Suomi himself seems to have subjected his test subjects to unnecessary suffering on a scale and duration that may not have been entirely justified by the benefits promised.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul N

Rhesus monkeys don’t really have culture, that’s more about chimps. But they do have a development. I don’t know Suomo but I also do work with monkeys, on brain anatomy and MRI scanning methods. Scientists do not promise “benefits” in a simple sense, just information that is of use to other scientists. Benefit occurs as a product of many studies over a long time that may appear unrelated to the ultimate “benefit”. Without work on monkeys we would not understand how brain scans work because you have to measure the brain activity using another mehod at least a few times to understand the scan.
Work on monkey developmental processes is enormously useful because it cannot be done in humans. As you say, one must be careful in making direct detailed comparisons, however it’s still highly useful. That’s why I was looking at it.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul N

Confidence for a monkey could be defined as how fast i recovers from losing fights, or how inquisititive it is, or lots of things. There are people who watch them carefully all day in a controlled environment, and you can manipulate their genes, and you can manipulate their development. It’s essential to look into that, and impossible with people. Those monkeys do suffer, but not all monkey experiments involve suffering. In neuroscience it involves doing things that we also do to humans, but not when they are healthy. We also kill the monkeys to study them which we do not do to humans.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
3 years ago

Ultimately, in a fair and just society, we need to ensure more disadvantaged children, who have the aptitude, get into top universities and thence into top professions.
If only there was a system that recognised potential in children as young as eleven and put them in an environment that would stretch them and help them reach their potential and ready them for University and a career.
Oh … wait, … there was EXACTLY such a system. The Grammar school system. Was it perfect? No. No system could be. But did it achieve precisely what those who call for greater social mobility claim to want? Absolutely.
It was the greatest – bar none – aid to social mobility this country has ever known. Of course this is anathema to the ideologues, so I’d ask them, Just how would you ‘engineer’ an outcome that you would ‘feel’ to be fairer?
Any ‘positive’ discrimination favouring one side means actual discrimination against the other. Applying artificial quotas in any field – to try and correct perceived imbalances – almost always leads to resentment from those who feel that not everybody is there on merit, and rather than healing divisions it actually exacerbates them.
Those most opposed to Grammar schools, usually of the middle-class fauxialist left, often claim to want a meritocratic system, one that pushes back against entrenched privilege – yet what could be more meritocratic that the Grammar school system?
Owen Jones has often written on this subject. Naturally his leftist ideology recoils from a meritocratic system like Grammar Schools – “the debate about the role schools can play in improving “social mobility” is a distraction. It would be foolish to suggest they are not relevant, but they are not the main remedy for inequalities that aren’t innate at all but rather manufactured by a society defined by injustice.”
But even wee Owen must see that the main differentiator outside the school gates is a cultural one, not a financial one, or one “defined by injustice”. At the risk of perpetuating cultural stereotypes, take the example of Asian immigrant families. They suffer all the same injustices Owen rails against and yet – thanks to the cultural importance most Asian families place on education – within a single generation their off-spring are statistically more likely to attend a top flight university and achieve a high-paying career than their “white British” neighbours.
How would those opposed to Grammar schools suggest a Govt – of any stripe – tackle the cultural indifference to education that is the reason some children fail to meet their potential? Would they admit that the only way a Govt can affect change nationally is to foster an education system that rewards excellence, rather than money?
Of course not, because, as ever, nothing brings out the canting hypocrisy of the Left more than the subject of education.
It seems bizarre to me that at the same time we revel in the exploits of our elite Olympic athletes, or top flight professional sportsmen, we are enjoined to sneer at the so-called elitism of the grammar school system. These athletes, as children, were recognised for their ability then trained to fulfil their potential. Of course it isn’t ‘fair’ that not everyone at the tender age of 11 could demonstrate their capability – either in sport, or indeed literacy or maths – but I’d argue it is less fair to insist that brighter kids, those who were able to demonstrate that aptitude, should be denied the chance to reach their potential.
The ‘one size fits all’ model of education has been tried and demonstrably failed. Insisting on a lowest-common-denominator system, just to avoid charges of elitism or unfairness, has been destructive of life chances for the generations of kids educated since the Grammar school system was abolished.
Why do Labour hypocrites complain about Grammar schools? Because heaven forbid we should let a bright child’s potential stand in the way of an ideology. How dare such people rail against selection based on something so divisive as merit, whilst they opt for selection based on wealth for their own children. So much fairer, so much more socially liberal. So absolutely typical.
And then, as a cherry on top of the cake they enjoyed eating but wish to deny others, they rail against the elitism of universities that don’t have enough kids from poorer backgrounds, having removed the very ladder that would have got them there.

ChrisK Shaw
ChrisK Shaw
3 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Yes, culture is key, no manner of money thrown at the school can make a bright young thing do his homework, it is very much the responsibility of the parent. Going back to the 11 plus and grammar schools sounds meritocratic and is presumably “fair”. There’s the richer parents use of tutors issue to overcome. Perhaps, similar to Uni, school sponsored tutors made available after class for the weaker students. I also like the lottery recommendation from an earlier comment. Take the top 50 % and give them an assured place, while taking the remaining 2/3rds via lottery. Also agree to the tweak noted above to that we change the age to 12-13 yrs.

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
3 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Thank you – 100 upticks. And I write as a product of a middling public school but with many associates from grammar schools.

Mickey John
Mickey John
3 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Bullseye !

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

Great idea for a series, and great article. I did go to an elite uni (and gleefully joined in with the culture of snobbery for some years) but I feel far more sceptical about the university experience as I’ve got older. There are some good insights to be had here and I will look forward to reading more of this series.
What I think the British system does wrong is to focus on a quite narrow definition of “being clever” at the expense of valuing people who are “smart”. These two can be the same thing, but don’t have to be. We think people are “clever” if they are dripping with academic baubles. “Smart” means being able to actually get stuff done in the real world and has little – if anything – to do with any degree certificate.

Last edited 3 years ago by Katharine Eyre
Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Yes, there’s nothing smart about getting massively into debt in order to obtain a second class degree from a third rate university in a non-vocational subject, only to enter the workforce and find you’re still overqualified for the available jobs.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago

Well, I did come from a middle class family of doctors, but that family was not terribly kind to me. I didn’t do well at A-levels but they liked me at the interview so I went to Oxford anyway. To be honest, I feel like I was raised more by my tutors there than anyone else. They were good people. I learned how to think. It is true that Oxford has a lot of Borris Johnson-ry going on. There’s a lot of people who wear formal dinner clothes more than is necessary. It could do without all that.
But my experience was mostly about escape from a bad situation into a world of ideas. Oxford is that too.
There is a mix of extraordinary talent and also just wealth. It’s inevitable because academic work requires funding from somewhere, and all it really has to sell is prestige. But that prestige is not based on absolutely nothing. Oxford is attractive to people who want prestige but also to people who like academic work. So both are there. You might not be able to blatantly buy your way in, or the prestige will be devalued. But the prestige is to an extent for sale, of course it is.
Many years later I returned to Oxford to work as an adult scientist. I noticed that although it’s a highly organised machine for obtaining research funds. It’s not necessarily doing the most imaginative work. If imaginative work is what raises money, then that’s what it does. But if something else raises money, like publishing many papers per year, then it does that. It eventually wins whatever game is being played, because it can hire who it wants. But doing imaginative work is still one of the games being played to get research funds. Oxford is ok. It’s complicated.

Last edited 3 years ago by Colin Colquhoun
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago

Ha, I had 4 As predicted for A level. But I didn’t match their image of an Oxford student (probably due to my more working class background), so no place for me.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago

They gave me an offer of 2 E grades, and I did better than that. I did have dreadlocks and I was a general mess at the interview, so I’m not certain I was a sterotypical Oxford type. But I was quite into the subject which was what they were looking for. I still know my tutors, although one has died. He was not a posh guy actually, although many are.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago

I was very much into the subject (history) too, but unfortunately it was 2005 and pretty much everywhere was massively oversubscribed as everyone rushed to avoid the fee rises in 2006 and put off gap years.
At least they gave me an interview. The other 4 of the 6 didn’t even grant me that. These days students find it strange how i could have had 4 As predicted at A level and still get rejected so much when unis now are handing out unconditionals like chocolate bars, but it was quite a different era.
After a long time I ended up getting an offer from the Uni of Bham and hated it there with hardly any contact areas and 25k students it was about as impersonal and industrialised an education as you can get.
So I don’t really have much good to say about how British unis select their students.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago

I went in 1994. There were no fees until just after I left, and there was a special entrance exam which asked unsusual questions. That was abolished because it was felt to be unfair to people from state schools. I’m not sure it necessarily was. People in Oxford actually spend more time than you might imagine trying to come up with ways to find students with “potential”. It’s quite hard. Inevitably it’s not fair and there’s luck involved. On the other hand if you are the kind of person who might get in, probably something else will work out. I got to Oxford twice, once in the humanities and once in the sciences via a completely different career. That seems like it might not be entirely luck. Some of it was, some of it wasn’t.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago

Actually when I did it for History they had reintroduced those special entrance exams as a filter, that weeded out about half of those applying in our school.
Seems it is still ongoing:
https://www.history.ox.ac.uk/history-aptitude-test-hat
From memory, despite a fairly talented set of people, not one of us was offered a place at Oxford that year in history after interviews.
The others however were more lucky in finding places in Nottingham and their ilk.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago

I like the University of Sussex where I did my scientific education, although it has much more variable quality. It’s really all about finding the right people to work with.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

My daughter is predicted 3 A* at A Level having got 11 9s at GCSE. She didn’t get an Oxbridge offer either.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jon Redman
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I thought you had written she had 119 GCSE’s-have you thought of putting her into NASA or somewhere.? Apparently Oxbridge is not what it was-some red-bricks are more highly regarded.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Unfortunately, grade inflation has largely invalidated A-Levels as a means of discriminating between university applicants.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago

A famous theatre director accompanied his daughter to her Oxbridge interview at his old college-while there he talked to his old tutors. He later said they were on tenterhooks to see if she got accepted-I bet they were . Of course she was accepted-the old boys & girls network. The fact their children usually turn out to be totally undistinguished doesn’t stop the college repeating the same favour for the grandchildren & so on.

A Woodward
A Woodward
3 years ago

So you look at the others at Oxford and reckon they are bang average. Because they are about as able as you. And you can’t bear to see yourself as exceptional because the people at home don’t. But you ARE the exception, and you need to accept it and live with it, even if it makes you feel guilty and traitorous. You are not like the people you grew up with, as evidenced by going and getting a degree from Oxford when they didn’t, despite them having pretty much the same opportunity as you.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
3 years ago

It was a pleasure to read the article, very well written. I wondered about one thing … usually the ‘elite’ grow up with a lot more ‘cultural capital’ – they have libraries at home, music/ballet lessons, visits to concerts, theatres, the conversation of educated parents, travel … it all means they have a richer experience to draw on, more ways to make connections between the the material they are studying. Did not James Rebanks think this was a considerable advantage, and ‘a good thing’?

Sarah H
Sarah H
3 years ago

I have a lot of respect for Mr Rebanks. As a climber in the Lakes, one sees the posh incomer attitude to the farmers just getting by. He tells it how he sees it The number of stung rebukes of his views is always surprising, but the general assumption by the posh that the rest of us take them at their own estimation insinuates itself everywhere and is not easily cast off.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Sarah H

It’s probably because what he is calling “posh” is in fact “middle class”.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It’s probably upper middle class.
I’ve heard it said that if you grew up without any huge awareness of class, it meant you were probably lower middle.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

I did an Oxbridge literature degree and the only books in our house were the ones that I owned. We never went to museums (my parents never went out, basically, then or later), so all my childhood museum, cinema, and other visits were undertaken by myself.

Mickey John
Mickey John
3 years ago

From the comments , it’s gratifying to see that most people here have long understood what society is very, very slowly beginning to acknowledge , which is the tragic irony that the Labour Party’s grammar school policy has utterly destroyed the life chances of generations of working class kids. For shame.

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
3 years ago

As someone who went to a Comp (1st year post 11-plus, it had been a Secondary Modern for those failing until my year) on the outskirts of Liverpool I don’t recognise this bitter stuff. My year sent four kids to Oxford, and if I’d have had half the work ethic of my best mate who went there it’d have been five.
Its all a bit whiney, and devoid of solutions.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  Phil Mac

I didn’t read his description of his school days as particularly whiney – but your school certainly seems to have pushed its pupils rather harder (or more successfully) than his did.
A valid critique of a school’s ethos is not the same as whining. Maybe a solution needs to start with the attitude to learning, and the possibilities (not just financial) it can open up.

Last edited 3 years ago by Paul N
Peter de Wit
Peter de Wit
3 years ago

Yet another person with a chip on their shoulder.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter de Wit

I’m afraid so.

And all the sadder, because the writer has been successful in life, and in two worlds.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter de Wit

I don’t know about that. I wasn’t the poshest kid in Oxford by any stretch of the imagination, but I was solidly middle class and felt fairly comfortable.
I agree with the author that there’s an excess of extreme poshness in Oxford that is not about academic performance. It’s just about money and class. Now, if it was supposed to be about money and class, then that would be one thing. But it’s not supposed to be about that, it’s supposed to be about academic work.
It’s inveitable that wealthy people will want to buy the best things if they can, however they can. So it’s important that people like the author point this out to keep the game even remotely honest.

A Woodward
A Woodward
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter de Wit

It reads as a massive humblebrag to me. I’m of really ordinary intelligence, just like the people I met at Oxford!

Michelle Johnston
Michelle Johnston
3 years ago

For me this was about how to play the game. My grand father worked on the Looms in Yorkshire, my father was conscripted and I went to Grammar school/High School and that point of entry in my view is enough and for two reasons.
In business in life you need to be able to accept there are layers and communicate in all directions. In my first career I counselled Presidents of Oil Companies in my second career I had to work with a team of builders including the labourer. It all worked but there are people in both groups who are too anchored in there tradition to make it work.
People see much more of you than you think and your instinct has to be whoever is in front of you is your equal. Now I travel and whether its the GM or Guest Relations I get huge amounts from everybody because I start from that point and those people tell me there are heaps of client who treat them as if their own entitlement enables them to treat them like something the cat dragged in. In some cultures its caste, in others the politburo, in others its simple money, but they are all wrong and they miss out by their self aggrandisement driven by entitlement.
Everyone is wise and powerful in their own way and if we recognise that we will achieve much more.

Last edited 3 years ago by Michelle Johnston
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago

The cutting edge of Applied Science and Engineering are dominated by about 5 departments in any country . one talks about the half life of knowledge of perhaps 5 years. Top companies only recruit from the top 5 or even 2 departments. !
The Jenner Institute was moved to Oxford U because it has a very good Molecular Biology skills, it was not moved to an ex Poly !
Look at average grades for Mechanical Engineeiring in the UK, they go from 3A* in Maths, Further Maths and Physics to Grade C in Maths, Physics and Chemistry. The person with A* Further Maths is 1 ro 2 years in advance of someone with Grade C Maths A Level.
The level of Maths needed to design satellites, silicon chips, new materials is immense and is approaching a need for quantum mechanics.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago

The elite universities, Oxbridge especially, deliberately cultivate exclusivity and a kind of snobbery. For people like the writer, going to Oxford is a big step up the social ladder – and well done him ! For many people like myself, Eton-educated, it’s not a step up the social ladder, but it is a stamp of additional exclusivity, and a passport to certain kinds of job, and rapid promotion once you’re there. Those are the realities.
Should we be trying to create an elite? Provided that the entry process is open, we should.
Are A-levels – rote-learning, basically – the right kind of test? They are supplemented at Oxbridge by interviews, and that is very necessary because it’s quite easy to get all A-star grades by working hard, writing everything down and learning it for regurgitation.
I prefer the IB to A-levels, because it keeps education broad. I know a lot of Oxbridge people who either can’t spell (mathematicians) or can’t multiply 7×14 in their head (humanities). The narrowness of the English BA is a major problem and limitation. Sustained contact with free-ranging minds of high intelligence? Here’s the value.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

The narrowness of the English BA is a major problem and limitation.

Really? What’s narrow about it? I did that and the syllabus was everything written in English (or any antecedent language), American included, and foreign literature as well. Moreover, if you thought someone was writing literature rather than books, you could day so and write about them. That’s how people started writing dissertations about Bob Dylan.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Sorry, I meant the English undergraduate degree, as opposed to the Scottish or American 4-year UG degree. I didn’t mean Eng Lit. I’m sure you’re right.

Bob Bepob
Bob Bepob
3 years ago

Key point is near the end. University has become so expensive that it only makes sense financially if one chooses a high-paying profession. That’s not how it was supposed to be. All these schools especially in the US need to stop building stadiums and other trophy buildings, so they can lower tuition.

A S
A S
3 years ago

This article tells it as it is but there is a deeper story. As an originally faltering student who worked in a trade and ended up with a master’s from an elite school and then worked in the corporate world, a non-profit, the government, and then eventually running a small business, I learned a few things about the ways of the world in each type of profession. This is in the US, by the way, but I suspect much of this is the same the world over (I am a transplant as well). In literally every walk of life, family experience and knowledge or other secret advantages, that have absolutely nothing to do with intrinsic intelligence, come into play. Even something as seemingly simple as opening and running a store would be very challenging for me but a far easier road for people who have insider knowledge of the thousands of small details no course or book will or even can teach you. This is especially so in the modern world where true apprenticeship has died and replaced with online courses mostly useless other than to aging hobbyists. Same with running a farm, opening a restaurant, repairing clocks, becoming a building contractor .. you name it. Someone without these homegrown advantages certainly can do it, but it would be a much harder road with far greater chances of torturous mistakes and failure. My point is that University and elite professions are no different. And habitually, people don’t like to highlight the advantages that boosted them to any success, other than their own work or intelligence – that is the human way.

Last edited 3 years ago by A S
parkalot01
parkalot01
3 years ago

Perhaps you found out that everyone is trying to survive, at whatever level, just like you. Life, though perceived by some as a group effort, actually comes down to solitary acts of redemption and survival, carried out in their own time, by individuals.

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
3 years ago

The people that once taught me seem sad. They say it has gotten worse: the posh kids arrive, use it, then leave to work in the City.”

As opposed to what? Getting a job with an NGO so they can blather on about “inequality”?

cherry.robson
cherry.robson
3 years ago

A great article and much of it resonates. However, I do take issue with some of what you say. I didn’t go to Oxbridge but went to Newcastle, a Russell group university, 43 years ago from a comprehensive school in the suburbs of Hull. At Newcastle most of my contemporaries were also from state schools in the North. At least half a dozen from my school also went to Oxbridge. My best friend was a steelworkers daughter from Sheffield. This was at a time when only 5 percent of the population went to Uni. There were perfectly competent classmates at school with me who chose not to go. There was no sense of entitlement amongst those I came across at University. Maybe we have gone backwards with the ridiculous idea of encouraging everyone to go to University?

martin_evison
martin_evison
3 years ago
Reply to  cherry.robson

I went to Newcastle too, 40 years ago, from a grammar school, and I had just the same – fabulous – experience. However, I think it’s not like that anymore. Closing the grammar schools and expanding HE has opened the doors to a lot of not-so-bright privately educated or just better off kids. I do fear a good few bright working class kids would not go to a Russell group these days, but to a former Poly. Whatever they were in our day, I’m afraid the Polys are not Universities, and offer the kind of ‘binding for the mind’ one of the other commentators refers to above. For example, in addition to being about ‘what to do’ and not ‘how to think’, they peddle inverted snobbery in a way I never experienced snobbery in the real University system. This is inflicting the self-limiting resentment of the staff on the students – it is a disgrace and an anachronism.

rharneis
rharneis
3 years ago

What is posh? Anybody who isn’t a Fell farmer? Despite his expensive education the writer doesn’t know that Boris Johnson went to primary school before winning his way to Eton via a scholarship and it is unlikely that he would have been able to take it up if his father had not been an international civil servant and got a lot of help with the school fees.

Jonathan Munday
Jonathan Munday
3 years ago

It seems the author had two problems and Oxford wasn’t either of them. Firstly, by his own admission, he lacked the self discipline to study hard at school and bummed off at 16, reinforcing his low self worth. Secondly, his beloved community failed to support him to realise his self potential with a malignant pandemic of Tall Poppy Syndrome. (Thirdly, but ubiquitously and irremediably, his state school was crap; lazily accepting the prevailing low standard and making no attempt to determine if anything better were possible.)
Oxford sat there, busting an unconsidered gut full of outreach programmes. When he finally applied it swept him up into its embrace. When he finally knocked the chip of his shoulder, he discovered that his fellow students were not ubermensch but had simply put in the time at school that he hadn’t bothered. Not everyone at Oxford goes into the City, as he would find if he ventured back for a Gaudy. But how does he think he is going to break the cycle of failed state education for his own children without a decent income? Hasn’t he heard at Oxford of “regression to the mean”.
The real tragedy is that this sort of article can still be “news” in 2021. If the Government is serious about levelling up, it requires privatisation of state schools (Education Vouchers) a good deal more than railways.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago

“it requires privatisation of state schools… a good deal more than railways”
That’s a low bar!
Are Academy chains doing noticably better than state-run schools, and does any improvement still stand when you factor in the people many Academies exclude for failing to meet academic standards? And if so, are the improvements particularly related to the way the school is funded, or it is the talents of those who teach, or the attitude of the pupils and their families, that makes the difference?

Jonathan Munday
Jonathan Munday
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul N

The advantage of Education vouchers is that it gives the purchasing power to the parent and not to the State. Heads run their schools the way they want and parents buy a place or they don’t. Failing schools close and a new Academy can rise in its place. This will be a quite rapid catalyst for change. And change is so needed.

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 years ago

I think it is a good idea to have elite universities, and a good idea that people should strive to get into them. But it is not good that the cards are stacked in favour of people who are already well off.
Let me suggest what I imagine what will be an unpopular idea with many readers. But I think is an idea that could be tweaked to be better than the existing system.
Let us say there are for example 10,000 places per annum at elite universities. (Put in a different figure if you prefer.)
A lot more that 10,000 people could both handle the courses and benefit from them. So suppose you identified not the top 10,000 but the top 15,000 via exams – maybe various types of exams, some designed to identify genuinely clever people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
No interviews – admission should not be who the professors and lecturers like.
Suppose you then said that the top 5,000 get in on merit.
And then it is a lottery for the remaining 5,000 places among the remaining 10,000. So half do not get in.
That would have various good points, such as spreading the talent pool among more universities, and breaking the smooth flow of Oxbridge parent => elite => good job => private school aiming at Oxbridge => Oxbridge child.

Last edited 3 years ago by George Bruce
Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

The trouble with awarding students places on the basis of exams alone without interviews is that children can be trained from a young age to be clever and ‘pass exams’, real talent, imagination and extraordinary ability can be missed.

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I am sure you are right, but I bet it has been and is hideously abused to get the right people in.
Also speaking as someone who was once a boy long ago, we males especially do not all do well on interviews at that age. That is one that can be trained from a young age too – how to speak well and confidently to strangers.
I also think most people are taken in by confident bull*shitters ; exams are not so easily fooled.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

I think the opposite is supposed to be true, people can do well in exams by remembering large quantities of information for a short period. I believe the point of interviews is to identify those who can think critically and independently. However whether this actually works in practice I can’t say. I still like your idea of a lottery though.

Nigel H
Nigel H
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

Indeed they are trained

I was stunned to hear from an ex-work colleague that when he did his M.Sc. at Cambridge, he heard that some students doing their first degree admitted they were coached to “pass” the entrance interview by the private school they were currently at. The schools didn’t actually do it themselves, they put someone in touch with someone else- substantial sums of cash exchanged hands. It all sounded rather shady.
He went to a private school and had never heard about this until studying at Cambridge.