Less swagger, more purpose

Education updates – Educating confident, well-rounded and resilient children.

Damian Hinds (UK Secretary of State for Education) says that confidence and self-esteem are as important for future success as GCSEs and that no child should be denied access to the activities that help them to develop these attributes. He has also said that all children need to have the opportunity to develop something that he calls “public school swagger”. Whilst I agree with much of what Mr. Hinds says about providing all children with a wider range of activities to build resilient and well-rounded individuals, I do wonder why we have to engage with this rather hackneyed mud-slinging around what public schools do.

We probably ought to start with the phrase “public school”. In the UK a public school is rarely a school that is directly controlled by the government; it is an independent school. Historically there were seven public schools in the UK, they were governed by the 1868 Public Schools Act. There were lots of other schools in 1868, some called private schools and others called grammar schools and eventually all fee paying schools were lumped into the category “public” which led to the confusion as to what they in fact were or indeed are. Nowadays the term public school can be used in a pejorative manner which suggests that the pupils who attended them are privileged, out of touch and arrogant.
So back to this swagger business. Mr. Hinds believes that independent schools convey privilege on their pupils by providing a wider range of subjects and activities for them to experience. This self-confidence is handily described as swagger. So he makes the very good proposal that all schoolchildren in the British education system should have these benefits. I think that we would all agree with him that this is indeed a very good wish. Sadly such plans require considerable amounts of funding and there lies the flaw that will kill this initiative.

In the current political turmoil there is, I suspect, a natural tendency to want to find some villains. The people destined for Mr. Tusk’s Brexit hell may well display “public school swagger” through their ability to sound like an authority when in fact they didn’t really know very much at all. But I’ve met plenty of people who could do this who went nowhere near a public school. Curiously, I have also met many ex-independent school pupils and ex-public school pupils and ex-state school pupils who display far more laudable characteristics. At this particular overseas British style independent school I see more kindness than swagger; more integrity than arrogance and more community spirit than selfishness.

So if there is one person at the BSP who is swaggering, it is perhaps me. Sorry, but there you have it.

Nicholas Hammond