Skip to content

And where did you go to school? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 15th June 2016

June 15, 2016
Ballard School William Frederick Yeames Father Civil War

And where did you go to school?

Last week saw the publication of a proposal by the Prime Minister as part of his ‘life chances’ agenda. Whilst not legally binding, one proposal would give companies the opportunity to ask job applicants if they went to a private school. Matt Hancock, the Cabinet Officer Minister who published the proposals, was representing those seeking to improve the chances of state-educated pupils and enhance social mobility. I have to say that this suggestion brought to my mind an English Civil War painting!

William Yeames (1835-1918) was a British painter who is perhaps best known for his oil painting entitled, ‘And when did you last see your Father?’ This imaginary scene depicts the son of a Royalist being questioned by Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. The latter have taken over a Royalist house and have the young boy dressed in blue and standing on a stool facing his questioner. The crisis depicted in the picture is one that could arise from the natural innocence of a young child. Here, if the boy tells the truth, he will endanger his Father, but if he lies he will go against the honesty his parents have instilled in him. Yeames has tried to convey a sense of neutrality through the way the questioner looks at his ease and also through other characters in the scene appearing to be friendly and open. Underneath this calm veneer, however, lies a more disturbing message which the painting’s title betrays.

Ballard School William Frederick Yeames Father Civil War

The same seemingly innocent (even laudable) impression, it seems, hides the more uncomfortable (and misdirected) intent behind this particular proposal in the ‘life chances’ agenda. I am all in favour of parity and openness for all in society but matters are rarely simple and often become somewhat contrived where social engineering is involved. Will interviewers now be allowed to ask what kind of car an applicant’s parent drives or the family’s destination for holidays (so as to work out how wealthy the candidate is and thus whether it is fairer to give a poorer person the post)? What about asking how many children there are in the family or even which shop their designer clothes come from? Perhaps they shop at ‘Waitrose’ or is it ‘Aldi’? And here lies one fallacy in such an approach.

People of all kinds of economic background shop at ‘Aldi’ despite its ‘bargain basement’ appearance. Everyone wants a bargain and many are prepared to shop around to get one even if one’s regular supermarket happens to be ‘Tesco’ or ‘Morrison’s’ or ‘Sainsbury’s’. People who attend private school are now more than ever those from the more economically challenged family. They have secured a place via a scholarship on merit or a bursary having had a means test (or both). Some go to an independent school because their family has decided to forego the expensive holiday, the new car and the home extension in order to fund an all-round, holistic education at considerable expense and stress. Why then punish children for their parental schooling decision and also to run the risk of choosing public servants and employees not on the basis of merit but because of misdirected (even misguided) social engineering?

‘So, young man, where did you go to school?’ asks the interviewer in an innocuous office sitting behind a comfortable desk with family pictures adorning it and the cup of tea sitting invitingly in front of the job applicant…

Alastair Reid (Headmaster and, yes, privately educated by parents from a working-class upbringing…)


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: