Says British journalist, Stephen Castle, writing for The Guardian, “Few institutions better symbolise social stratification and privilege in Britain than its top independent schools, whose
origins date back centuries in some cases.”
Critics say these schools turn out students destined for top jobs and secure incomes, entrenching social, economic and racial inequalities. Prime minister David Cameron, for example,
attended the nation’s most exclusive academy, Eton College.
Patrick Derham, headmaster at Westminster School, previous principal of prestigious Rugby School and an alumnus of an equally top-notch institution, has for some time been on a mission to diversify the student bodies at top private schools in England.
Derham is behind the Arnold Foundation, which provides free boarding places at exclusive schools for teens from disadvantaged backgrounds. The foundation links with a London club for Afro-Caribbean youth called the Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy that works to improve prospects for young boys at risk.
Last year, reports Castle, a student from Eastside, Michael Olorunlogbon, aged 16, became the 100th pupil to attend Rugby thanks to an Arnold Foundation scholarship. Like other candidates, he took an academic test to ensure that he would cope with the rigours of Rugby, but was ultimately chosen because he would benefit from boarding at the school because of his disruptive family situation.
While Olorunlogbon has taken full advantage of the new turn his life has taken, not all scholarship recipients have found the transition easy. David Ejim-McCubbin, who now coordinates Eastside’s scholarship programme and was himself a recipient, recalls that when he went from a deprived district of London to Rugby School, he struggled to reconcile two “astronomically different” worlds. Ejim-McCubbin says he was treated like a curiosity and asked whether he had ever witnessed a gang stabbing. He found his accent also disadvantaged him, to the point where he decided to take on a “posh” Rugby tone.
Says Castle, “Britain’s private schools… [are] seen by supporters as beacons of excellence that drive up standards, [but] they are blamed by critics for allowing well-heeled parents to opt out of state education, removing the incentive for it to improve.”
Category: Winter 2016