How Bad Is the U.K. Private School Bubble?

7% of the England’s school children attend private schools. The 2,500 schools dotted around the United Kingdom and particularly concentrated in the Greater London area have yearly fees which are not far off (and are sometimes even greater) from the U.K.’s average salary. Those that make up that seven percent attend the most prestigious institutions in the country.

It comes, then, at no surprise, that we live in bubble, one that entrenches us in a space filled with privilege and ample opportunity.

The bubble can mean many a thing. It can result in, and most often does, a very monolithic environment, made up of a majority white and upper-middle to upper class school body and faculty. It can manifest itself in entitlement and the sense that student success was always deserved, not earned. It means that students do not truly realize how much their parents invest in them, thus an apathetic view of education is not uncommon.

This absolute and all-consuming isolationism within private school circles has not gone unnoticed, least of all by those that run them. Students are more reminded of how lucky they are to be at the institutions they are in and yet sometimes even the teachers can get this wrong.

Recently, controversy surrounded the elite St. Paul’s Girls’ School, a West London independent day school which boasts a near full sweep of A* grades at GCSE and A-level among its students, for its implementation of an ‘Austerity Day.’ The lunch served on said day was simpler and a step down from the decadence the students would expect from catering that offers herb-crusted salmon and duck, however, the meal of baked potatoes and beans showed how little awareness existed that this was a fairly widespread meal among those not in the same income bracket.

This example, though singular, is indicative of the wider problem of private schools, that even teachers enforce: its students, unless they actively seek exposure, which not many do, are so utterly detached from the real world and ordinary people’s lives. How can we expect students to demonstrate a global and educated stance if teachers, their supposed role models, display narrow-mindedness?

But is the bubble so bad, and is every private school student the epitome of a snob? Absolutely not! Some secondary private school students have gone to state primary schools and most do not partake in this culture of pretension that their institutions may hold. There is an increased awareness and practice of racial diversity, with 30% of private school students across the board being from a minority ethnic group. Alongside this, LGBT+ societies are in motion at many private schools, encouraged and pushed forward by teachers. In this sense then, the ‘bubble’ is in the process of being popped, but it will take some time before the pin tangibly meets the surface.

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