A strange thing happened this morning. Crossing at a roundabout on my way to school, a huge truck stopped to let myself and another woman pass. The other drivers were predictably furious.
This truck serves as an excellent metaphor for what needs to happen in our education system. A colossal truck needs to barge in front of it.
This truck stands for an all-out ban on private education. Initially, this will infuriate people, those in a hurry to get where they’re inevitably going. But it will also acknowledge those without a warm vehicle to sit in.
Why does this need to happen?
To answer, I’d like you to meet a student of mine. His name is John.
John is bold; he’s the kid on detention every week, with a look in his eyes like he’d rather see you die than utter one more word of advice or instruction. John’s mum is a single parent who works shifts.
He’s often at home alone even though he’s barely 13. Nobody in his extended family goes to college. There are no books in his house.
His mother does her best but before she even starts, it’s not good enough.
John speaks differently to his teachers. He’s not interested in school or college but society seems to think he should be. People with money are labelled as ‘advantaged’. He doesn’t like being labelled ‘disadvantaged’. He doesn’t like being labelled at all.
Incidentally, John was suspended this week for smoking in the toilets. He will most likely spend the day on his own, playing video games.
Maybe you think John’s not your problem? Well, he is. John may well drop out of school. If society is lucky, he will attend Youthreach.
It is estimated that one in seven learners there have a criminal offence. There is also a significant number with mental health issues. He’s far more likely than average to turn to crime or he may turn to drugs. These things may affect you.
Calling him a ‘thug’ or a ‘scumbag’ won’t make him go away.
Now, meet me. I went to private school. Both of my parents went to university, my dad was a professional, my mum a stay-at-home mum. She was always there, unless she was ferrying us around.
The difference between myself and John is that I grew up with what is described as ‘cultural capital’.
The language in the classroom was like the language at home; I always had access to books. Going to university is generational, as is unemployment and welfare dependence.
I was going to get to where I was going, my school just kept me in the right lane.
My parents worked hard to send me to private school, to give me the ‘best start’ in our system. And in terms of academic success they did. My school still sits at the top of the league tables. Of course it does.
These students work hard, no question, but they exist in a privileged bubble.
These schools do not cater to the general public, tend to have a lower than average number of students with special needs, and are propped up by private money and parents willing to spend even more money on private grinds.
If the ‘best school’ is the one that will get you to university, mine is up there. But maybe we need to change what we value; we need to change the system because university is not for everyone. Maybe we need to give more value to non-academic careers.
We certainly need to acknowledge the fact that students like me are culturally predisposed to higher paid jobs, before they even step inside their hallowed school hall.
On that point, have you ever wondered why private education is cheaper in Ireland than the UK? It’s because the state pays the teachers’ salaries in private schools.
The state supports this unequal provision because the fees paid by parents are then used for facilities and other privileges state schools can’t afford. This simply doesn’t make sense.
Why did over €90m euro of taxpayers’ money go towards paying these teachers last year, when they are exclusive and privileged to begin with?
And approximately the same amount is going towards Youthreach provision! If a parent wants private education for their child, opting out of general society, they should have to pay for all of it, the teachers’ salaries included.
Finland, one of the most successful and respected education systems in the world, does not allow for private education.
This is not a radical idea; it’s common sense.
If you stack hurdles against people you will make them bitter and frustrated and you will strip them of a desire to give back to society.
When I started to go out at night, I was made to fear people ‘from the wrong side of the tracks’ who were out to create trouble.
Our system is flawed because it allows us to function on an individual rather than a societal level. Because guess what, we’re all connected.
To said truck driver, thank you for stopping. You didn’t have to. You may have held up other cars for a nano-second, but I’m pretty sure we all got to where we were going.
There was just a slightly reduced difference in our arrival times.