29 August 2014

Nepotism is the new black



This post might be a little controversial, so I apologise if I step on anyone's toes or seem to make generalisations (which if I do, is/are completely unintentional).

I read an article today on The Independent (online, not sure if this was in the newspaper too) called "When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools"


At first I was quite taken aback by the headline as it seemed quite sensationalist for a supposedly "neutral" title... But it grabbed my attention, as most educational articles do, so I gave it a read.
Now, I don't agree with Chris Blackhurst regarding his idea to abolish private schools - the man dug himself a hole by admitting he sent his son to private school, which made his argument weak from the start, but hey... At the end of the day, if parents/guardians want to send their children to a private school because they believe that's best for their children, then they should be able to. And even if we did abolish private schools, there would still be elitism in the educational system because there would be schools that cater to privileged, affluent catchment areas. So in that sense, sorry Chris, you lost me there.
What did make me feel uncomfortable were the statistics that related private schools to professions. 
"In the higher echelons of public life – whether it’s the judiciary, armed forces, Whitehall, BBC, even the England cricket and rugby teams – they and their friends rule. Just 7 per cent of the public as a whole attend independent schools, yet 71 per cent of our top judges did so, 62 per cent of our senior military officers, 55 per cent of civil service permanent secretaries, 26 per cent of BBC executives, 35 per cent of England rugby players, and 33 per cent of the national cricketers."
Again, abolishing private schools won't change this. 
On the contrary, I think state schools have something to learn from private schools in their ability to help their students excel.


Fair enough, private schools have the advantage of smaller class sizes. As a result, this means teacher's time is less divided, so they can give students more attention, thus students' weaknesses can be addressed, and their strengths honed.  Consequently, students have the potential to become more confident to express their ideas and be crafted into eloquent adults, etc etc. Sweet.


Yes, students at private schools can have a far greater advantage than their state school equivalents - but, it's not merely intelligence alone that makes a judge, a senior military officer, or a media executive.
Let me pause and say: you have bothered to read this far... Wow.
To continue...
Private schools don't guarantee intelligence; not everyone who attends a fee-paying school gets into Oxbridge or the Russell Group. However, even those that don't gain entry into the top 20 UK universities possess a skill which has been encouraged from their first term at Eton, Rugby, Westminster, Cheltenham et al - a skill that I believe is crucial in tackling the most competitive job sectors - and that skill is Networking.
Now, I didn't know that networking was a *thing* until I came to university. In hindsight, that was an issue. I always thought networking was something you saw on TV at those la-dee-dah events where some bigwig got a promotion and everyone sipped champagne and laughed from the back of their throat. I didn't realise the importance of networking and networks and how important they are in, well... Life. What's more, I didn't realise it was something that as an 18 year old, I should actively be doing. Also, how detrimental it could and would be if I didn't partake in it. Bless my ignorant, state-school heart.


However, networking is a given at private schools - it's how the schools get a lot of their funding, and close alumni communities help out current students and those who have recently graduated from university, offering internships, work experience... Maybe even jobs. "The Old Boy" network might be scoffed at, but it's still alive and well. As frustrating as it is if you're not a part of it (and let's face it, very few of us are), I don't understand why it can't be a case of "If you can't beat them, join them."


My point is, whatever your opinion on private schools, the edge they give on the standard Joe is undeniable, especially in competitive fields where you need all the help you can get to catch your break. Facts speak volumes, and the fact is - it's not what you know, it's who you know. Yes, some private school students might be lucky enough to possess both intelligence and contacts, but some only have the latter and they tend to manage alright (warning: generalisation!). State school students, on the other hand, even if they are intelligent, can be left out in the cold post-graduation when they realise that thousands of other people have the same enthusiasm and degree credentials as they do. Contacts give you a place to start; a safety net, if you will. 


Stuck in the pit of unemployment? Why not contact your school's alumni network and see if someone knows someone who can help you out? Oh gee, that's great! (Note, I know internships and/or employment aren't a given, but this network is something when others have nothing).
So, rather than trying to crush elitism (which, sorry Chris, ain't gonna happen) perhaps the answer is to try and implement something that those affluent lot do so well and encourage stronger relationships between students and alumni and, let's go crazy, other schools in the area. Because maybe it isn't the money that's the issue here, it's the opportunities we're presented - or not presented - with, that make all the difference.


Nepotism ain't going nowhere. I used to tut when I heard people getting incredible paid internships at top media agencies because their dad knew someone, but now when I hear anything of the sort, I say "good on them". To be honest, post-graduation you learn how cut-throat the job industry is, so if you can get up on the ladder from your connections, it's stupid to be proud and try and get a similar opportunity by yourself. But still, you need those connections. And that's where networking comes in.
Heck, if it wasn't for a university friend telling me about one of their university friends advertising an internship, I wouldn't be starting that internship on Monday. Did it help that we were both from the same university and did the same course? Probably, but I won't let that undermine the fact I got the internship based on my writing, not hers. 


Champagne and laughing at the back of one's throat aside (how do they do that?), state schools really need to up their game in regards to networking. The uncomfortable statistics shouldn't condemn private schools, but give state schools a kick up the bottom and make them check themselves before they wreck themselves. There's no point trying to compete with private schools on impossible aspects like class size, but what they can do, they should do. Okay, it won't guarantee a sudden increase in top media execs, sports people and legislators, but we've gotta start somewhere, right?
Hate it or embrace it, either way... Nepotism is here to stay.

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    1. Just tried to sign up but my school isn't registered with them... D'oh!

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