THE BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE?
Interview with Mr Ian Beer, Head Master of Harrow School
I = Interviewer
B = Mr Beer
I Let me ask you first, er, Harrow School and schools like it are known as �independent� schools, and until recently they were referred to as �public� schools. Why is it that a private school was known as a public school?
B You must remember that the vast majority of the independent schools were founded well before any government in this country made state education available to all. Therefore, before 1900, all these independent schools were available to the total public. Admittedly they had to pay fees. And that is where the name �public� came from. Once the government began to legislate to give all children in the land a state education then the public schools, which were indeed private, changed their name to being �independent�, in other words, independent of government control.
I Has Harrow School changed in the past hundred years?
B I think that if a foreigner came to Harrow Hill and looked at the boys in the High Street, and the masters, they would think it hadn�t . The boys wear straw hats, they wear the old what is called a �bluer� � a blazer kind of garment � during the week, they wear tails on a Sunday, the senior boys wear top hats. All the masters have to teach in suits and wear gowns. I have to wear my mortar board to raise my hat to the boys as they raise their hat to me. And there is a traditional formality along the High Street. Once you dive into the classroom, or into a boarding house, or into my study, you would find that the place had changed at a deeper level very very much indeed; the curriculum of course has changed fundamentally, science was not taught here in the last century; ….. that Fox Talbot, who started photography in this country, started his experiments in this very house, but was banned by the headmaster as he did not want chemistry to be taught. So today you will find Latin and Greek is taught as it was in 1570, but you will also find craft design technology, Russian, computer sciences, and a lot of very modern teaching techniques in all subjects.
I You have 770 boys here between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. Erm … what about discipline? How do you control them?
B Well, we�re rather a village on the hill. There are 770 boys, there are over 200 people employed here, who live on the hill with their families, and we try and run it as a little village. We do not, as a lot of … other people I know think, we do not beat any boys here. Erm, we try and encourage them to treat other people as they would be treated. We�re very fussy about courtesy. And the normal kinds of ill discipline, which you would find in any family of young boys growing up and spreading their wings, are usually things which are anti-social. And so we try and punish them by making them do something back for the community. If you had been here this morning, you would have found a senior boy with a group of naughty boys at quarter to seven in the morning. They would be clearing up all the litter over the main public streets of Harrow Hill in order to keep our environment clean and tidy.
I As this is a boarding school, let�s talk a bit about the extra-curricular activities. What… what do you do with the children when they�re not in class?
B We here feel strongly that we educate �the whole man�. And therefore, because they�re here twenty-four hours of the day, it gives us the opportunity of, erm, carrying out our academic teaching in the formroom, and then in the afternoons and evenings we devote our time to such activities as teaching acting, music, art, technology, all the kind of games you could possibly think of, society life � debating societies, science societies, philosophy societies, er … chapel services, communion services. In other words we try here, I come back to the word I used earlier, we are really a village, (laugh) and we have total village life.
Radio programme on independent schools
P = Presenter
W = Patricia Wilby
P Hello, and welcome to today�s Worldly Wise, the programme that investigates current issues and tells you, the consumer, all about them. Today our attention turns to independent schools, the alternative system for those that can afford it. Most people believe that independent schools offer their pupils advantages that state schools don�t. Some think this is unfair. Others will go to the edge of ruin to get the �best� education for their children. What are the independent schools like these days? Are they still as they were depicted in so many books and films? We sent Patricia Wilby to investigate.
W In 1980 Eton abolished fagging � that is younger boys acting as servants to older, more senior ones � after the Head had at last persuaded two-thirds of his housemasters that this was an outdated institution. Winchester, for the first time in its history, sent more boys to provincial universities than it sent to Oxbridge. Bradford Grammar School decided that boys of thirteen and fourteen should be compelled to study science. And the Head Master of Oundle was able to assert that, although the practice had not been formally abolished, boys had not been beaten �for many years�. Public schools are not what they were. For a start, you�re not supposed to call them �public� schools any more. They prefer the term �independent� school, suggesting initiative and enterprise instead of snobbery and prejudice. Over the past fifteen years, they have set out to bury the image of institutions that were socially divisive, obsessed with the classics, disdainful of industry because it meant money was earned, not inherited, and where success on the sports field was more important than success in the exam room. The modern public school will point out that engineering is the largest single destination for its leavers. It will show you computer terminals, science laboratories, and craft workshops. It will introduce you, if at all possible, to pupils whose backgrounds are far from aristocratic.
Yet what is remarkable about this revolution is not so much that it has happened, but that it has happened so recently. And if much has changed, what critics regard as the most important things have not. The majority of the nation�s Cabinet Ministers, top civil servants, ambassadors, High Court judges, military leaders, bishops, and bank directors went to public schools. They still account for about half the entrants to Oxford and Cambridge.
Although most Western countries have independent school sectors, the British public school system is unique in the extent to which it is set apart from the rest of the nation. This isolation is possible because, by comparison, the private sector in Britain is remarkably small. Around five per cent of the nation�s schoolchildren go private, while in the United States the figure is ten per cent, and in France thirty per cent. But the most significant change of all is the importance that is now attached to academic achievement. In the top schools, the focus is firmly on A levels. GCSEs are regarded as a distraction, and pupils might take one or two when they are fifteen. It is academic success that is going to keep top people where they think they belong � at the top.
P And that was a special report by Patricia Wilby. Next week we�ll be looking at the state of state education. Until then, good-bye.