If you believe some Left-wing commentators, I should be locked up for child abuse. The former Labour schools minister, Lord Adonis, thinks I’m guilty of “seriously disabling” my kids by segregating them from society. George Monbiot reckons I’m condemning them to join a “repressed, traumatised elite, unable to connect emotionally with others”. David Aaronovitch maintains that I’m trying to steal an “immoral advantage” over the nation’s poorer children.
My crime? Sending my children to private school, of course. I could have done the decent thing and used my earnings to help drive up property prices in a good state-school catchment area; or I could be splurging the same amount of dosh on an annual skiing holiday, a safari and a lease on that nice, chunky Range Rover I’ve always coveted.
But instead, miserable, selfish bastard that I am, I’ve chosen to squander my money on my children’s education. What kind of monster must I be? Well, in my modest opinion, a loving, caring sort of monster, actually. In fact, the way I see it, parents like me shouldn’t be treated like pariahs – or “social lepers” as Tim Hands, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) lamentingly described us this week. We should all be given medals in recognition of our stoicism, our courage and our self-sacrifice for the greater good of the nation.
Every penny we spend on schooling our children privately is money that doesn’t have to be taken from the taxpayer for our creaking state education system. Moreover, we actively subsidise the state sector: every private school I know now lends out its games pitches, sports hall, swimming pool, and sometimes its specialist staff to less privileged schools. And it isn’t just because they’re bullied into it by the Charities Commission; the private sector, in my experience, is agonisingly conscious of its responsibilities to the wider society.
Partly, this is an understandable response to the kind of chippy, class-war comments we have seen. Mainly, though, it’s because this social responsibility is at the heart of our public schools’ ethos. Many of our older institutions – such as Eton – were established as charitable foundations to educate poor scholars; many of the more recent ones – such as my alma mater, Malvern College – were created in the Victorian era to train young men to administer responsibly and die bravely in fly-blown corners of our empire.