I’m writing this in reply to a recent article published on The Independent’s blog dubbed ‘Eton prepares you for life? Yeah, right.’ This article in which, like so many others complains about the fact that the majority of leaders of the UK have come from a wealthy background and studied at Eton at some period in their lives. The article, written by 18 year old student George Bolton, sparks his argument due from a quote taken from an article written by a 16 year old Etonian writing for The Spectator. The quote reads;
‘”But if I had to guess why Etonians do so well, it’s because the whole school is a sort of dress rehearsal for real life — or the sort of life Etonians can expect to lead”.
Bolton is quick to the mark of highlighting all that is ‘skewed’ with this view of a young 16 year old boy attending private school and harmoniously chirps into a paragraph about growing up in Lambeth and attending an academy which he refers to as ‘growing up in the real world’. And I want to say, thanks George Bolton, you’re kind of right, but you’re also wrong.
I was born into a normal working to middle class family, I attended my local comprehensive which in Northern 90s/00s England was predominantly white and by the time I was at college I was placed onto an Oxbridge programme for the grand total of 3 months before I was told I wasn’t what they were looking for. No biggie, I preferred parties, boys and nightclubs way more than university applications and exams anyway.
My half brother is from a similar background to me, he was brought up in North Manchester, and when he was 12 took a couple of exams (around 20) through a programme recommended by a teacher at his comprehensive school and ended up (it took over 6 months of back and forth trips from Manchester to Windsor) with a fully paid scholarship to Eton. He’s now 17 and has just applied for Oxford. Until he was 13, he spent his childhood growing up in a bubble of Royton and High Crompton and I remember whilst I was at university people would ask me, ‘do you think your brother is going to turn into a knob?’ ‘Do you think he’s gonna be like one of them posh wankers?’
It was only recently whilst talking to my boyfriend’s mother, who herself is a British expat who grew up in 60s colonised Kenya that upon being asked about how my brother has turned out spending his teenage years in a boarding house with 1200 other boys that I realised; he’s turned out just fine. In fact, partially through my brother’s upbringing and schooling he’s turned out to be a young gentleman that I’m extremely proud of.
He schools alongside great grandsons of famous shoe designers and boy’s who’s families actually own Downtown Abbey; and even I had my preconceptions and sceptical comments on the world of Eton before I visited there. Some of the boys there will go onto to Oxford, some will go to Durham, Edinburgh or Bristol. Some will not go to university at all but their parents are paying £30,000 per annum for this to happen through the excellent standard of education the boys receive there.
I had no money thrown at my education, and I went to a top ten university and now work for the BBC. My best friend who is from the same small insular town as my brother has worked at two of the world’s biggest publishing houses and I have friends who work in politics that failed their A Levels first time round.
So ‘being prepared for real life’ and mocking some young boys’ idea that that’s what Eton does for him is pointless. If Eton isn’t real life, then how was attending an academy in Lambeth for you any more real? Or my crappy comprehensive where my best friend got a fag put out on her forehead, is that not real life too? ‘Real life’ is not defined by going through hardships and not being paid to go into private education and writing opinions for the Independent’s blog. Real life cannot be defined by one person’s experiences over another. Real life is not defined by where you go to school. It’s not about where you were born. Real life is the experience of being a consciously living and breathing person.