It is well past April 1st so I had to pinch myself when I read this week that a junior minister in our government – and yes, a Conservative government, I am told – has issued an edict that the civil service, public bodies and large employers should ask prospective employees whether they were educated privately. I could not believe this.
Now, there are quite a few things in life over which we have no control. It starts with being born and ends with dying. In between, you have no control over the names your parents give you. You have no choice about the colour of your hair, eyes or skin and you cannot select your parents or siblings. Equally, the school you will attend will be determined by your parents and subject to the labyrinthine rules around admission to state schools. So, why your career potential should be subject to your employer ascertaining whether you were educated privately is just beyond me. My parents were not wealthy but they thought I would thrive in a small, independent school so they went without many luxuries to pay my school fees. They were right and I did thrive at Buckingham College in Harrow. It was a small, private school with 200 pupils aged 5 to 18. I never changed building, let alone school until I left aged just under 16 with 7 O-levels and an ambition to become a Chartered Accountant which I achieved at age 21 years. My parents beggared themselves to give me my best chance and I had a good grounding in the three Rs, in good manners and a lot more besides. My parents – good lifelong Conservatives – would turn in their graves if they thought I would be punished for their choice of my school.
I find many ironies in this sad tale and I wonder where Matthew Hancock, the junior minister responsible, dreamed up this idea? From my time in local government, the dread hand of political correctness had made the job harder. You could not ask an applicant’s age so you worked it out from their A-level dates! You could not ask if they were married or had a family so I threw in a generic question “what do you do to relax?” and one generally learned something interesting about them. I always checked out the cleanliness of their shoes and clothes and you would be surprised what some job applicants thought appropriate! So, for this joker to say we should ask about their education is plumbing new depths.
Once again, this sad thirst for equality at any price and a willingness to override talent, ambition and elitism in the process is a sad reflection on how far Great Britain is in danger of losing its greatness.