I get angry when listening to the debate on education. It is too simple to blame the schools for the failure of the pupils. Education is a co=operation between the schools, the teachers and the parents. In the present debate the role of the parents appears to be ignored. I know a few men who boat that they have never read a book in their life. There are others who always claim that school is boring. If there are no books in a house and children never see their parents reading how can the children be helped to see the benefits from a good education.
In my novel An Ordinary Life this question is discussed.
Jane got very angry. Not angry with Tom but angry with the education system. At the beginning of the school term Jane had been asked to become a volunteer parent. Whenever she was available, she agreed to help the teachers supervise pupils when they left the school for out of school activities.
That afternoon she had helped Paul’s teacher take his class to the local church where the pupils were trying to trace the local history. This was now the subject of her wrath.
“ Mary is not going to that school!” It was the first time for ages that Tom had heard her so emphatic about something. “ There is nothing we can do about Mark but Mary is definitely not going to that school!”
Taken aback by her anger, Tom asked mildly, “ What happened this afternoon to bring this on?”
“ Tom you would not believe it,” Jane almost spluttered. “ All the boys joined in with various degrees of enthusiasm. I know there are always keen ones who want to learn and others who follow along for a quiet life. But many of the girls sat at the back discussing boys, make up and going out. They had no intention of learning anything. When I asked them what they hoped to achieve by sitting there they gave me such a mouthful. They want nothing more than to get through school and then get a job. Tom it was dreadful.”
“ It cannot have been that bad surely. What about all the teachers?”
“ Tom, the teachers were only interested in two things. Those pupils who showed some interest and look as though they want to learn get all the attention. The teachers will go out of their way to help them. All the other pupils they just want to keep quiet. If those pupils sink beneath the academic waves, too bad.”
“ But Jane surely Mary will be one of the ones who will want to learn? Paul is doing OK and according to his teachers will do well when it comes to his A Levels. Mark is even more intelligent and will be OK. Why are you so worried about Mary?”
“ Paul and Mark are not only academic but are reasonably good at sports. They will both fit in no matter what the peer pressure. Mary will find it very difficult to resist the peer pressure if she goes to that school. Believe me. I was there today.”
“ What are you suggesting?”
“ There is only one answer as far as I am concerned. That is to send Mary to the Girls Grammar.”
“ But that is a private school and we both believe in State education. You must know how I feel about the question of paying for education.”
Jane put her arm round his shoulders. “ Tom, I know how you feel about private education. You must know that I have never been quite so closed to the idea of paying for education as you have. Lets face it. We have the money. A great many of our friends have made great sacrifices to send their children to private schools since the abolition of the Grammar Schools. It would not be a such a sacrifice for us.”
Tom frowned. Angrily he retorted. “ What you are asking is for me to compromise all the principles and living philosophy I have believed for most of my life. I never thought I would hear you advocating that we send one of our children to a private school.”
“ Tom, please don’t get angry with me. I have thought of nothing else but what we can do about Mary since coming home. It is not as though I do not know how you feel. I know what your principles are. You were not there.”
“ If you know how I feel, why do you ask me to think about this?”
“ If it was only a matter of principle, I would not ask. It is all very well you standing on your high horse and arguing for state education when it is theoretical. This is not theory, Tom. This is not some academic discussion like those you have in the staff common room at lunch time. This is your daughter’s education and subsequently her chances in life. Do you want her to slip below the standards we expect because of the girls she has to mix with?”
“ That is a very arrogant remark. All girls going to Paul’s school are not working class without ambition. They do send some girls to university surely?”
“ I must admit there are some but not as many as the boys.”
Tom looked lost and beaten. “ What do we have to do?”
Jane smiled. “ I phoned Sarah when I got home and she filled me in with the drill. Mary would have to take the entrance examination in two years time. Sarah reckons we should find a private tutor who helps children get through the entrance exams. It is so competitive that most children who do not have a tutor fail.”
“ This is something I have never thought about. How do we find a good tutor?”
“ I will ask at work though most of the people I work with have children at university or babies.’
“ I’ll do the same.”
Tom lay in bed that night unable to sleep. He could feel Jane by his side breathing evenly, her body warm. It brought no comfort. Tom lay there far from sleep confronting the chance that he would have to overturn his principles. It had always been a pillar of his beliefs that education should be provided by the state and all children should be treated equally. Many a time at university he had argued long into the night with some privileged public school educated friend that their parents buying of privilege was wrong both morally and socially. Morally because in some cases it deprived the country of very intelligent and resourceful citizens because their education was lacking. Not only did private schools give education to the rich but they employed many of the best teachers. This was a handicap to those aspiring pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Oh, he had to admit that there was still a great deal of prejudice among the working class about education. He remembered Pat from all those years ago down in the recreation ground telling him that she had passed her eleven plus only for her dad to tell her that she was not going to grammar school. She was to leave school as soon as possible and get a job to bring money into the house. But surely, he told himself, things have changed for the better. It is the nineteen eighties and women are far more prominent in society. Even though he could not stand her or for the privilege she stood for, he had to admit that Mrs. Thatcher was a good example for women everywhere.
On the other hand, he knew from the experience of talking to people that this attitude still applied in many working peoples’ households. He had been occupied all his life to make the chance of a good education open to all. In this he was a big supporter of the comprehensive system. If we can only get every child in this country to reach their potential through education and training, he had often told people, this would be such a vibrant country. It had been hard work and there was still a great deal of nepotism from the so called upper classes.
Now all his beliefs were being questioned on the altar of convenience. He smiled to himself. Since that time in the Jack of Diamonds when you met Mr. Hunt, your life has been a compromise, he had to admit. If you can ignore the implications of what you are doing as a non executive director for Hunt Enterprises, surely you can compromise your principles for the sake of your wife and daughter? And then there is the other part of your life which you do not question. Edward is very good at his job, you say, never questioning the methods by which he produced such good returns on your investments. No, all of that is legitimate and does not involve my principles. On the other hand, sending my daughter to a private school goes against everything I have ever argued for.
The second edition of An Ordinary Life by Edmund Gubbins has been published by Createspace as a paperback.
It is available for purchase from www.createspace.com, www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.com as a paperback.
As an ebook for downloading from www.amazon.co.uk, www.smashwords.com, www.amazon.com.