NO sooner had Rishi Sunak appointed his first Cabinet than the Sutton Trust, a ‘social mobility charity’, was pumping out data showing that a majority of his appointees (‘about 65 per cent’) had attended a private school. This information was eagerly republished in various newspapers on Thursday, including the Times. Of all the ‘elitist criticism that could be directed at Mr Sunak, from his global elite interests and connections and investments to his lack of any mandate, this had to be the least justified and the most petty.
Sir Peter Lampl, who set up the Sutton Trust in 1997 after netting £100million as a leveraged buyout specialist, commented: ‘Tuesday’s appointments highlight how unevenly spread opportunities to enter the most prestigious positions continue to be. Making the most of Britain’s talent regardless of background must be a priority.’
All well and good, but who is Lampl to say that Sunak did not (as he perceives it) make the most of the talent available to him when selecting his top team?
Would Lampl rather that Sunak had sacked Ben Wallace as Defence Secretary because he attended Millfield School between 1983 and 1988 simply so that someone who had attended a state school could replace him, regardless of his or her qualifications for the job?
Come to that, would Lampl rather that Sunak had declined to be Prime Minister on the basis that he attended Winchester College between 1993 and 1998? Would he in fact disqualify all privately educated children?
That is certainly a conclusion one might reach, based upon Lampl’s comments.
Another question is why does the Sutton Trust feel the need to emphasise where the parents of prominent figures chose to send their offspring to school 20, 30 or 40 years ago? Perhaps it does not occur to him that aspirant immigrants may have looked on the British State education system they encountered with dismay.
Regardless, what does the Trust hope this will achieve?
Is it Sir Peter’s aim to persuade more people to send their children to state schools, regardless of their personal wealth?
Intentionally or otherwise, Lampl’s remarks somehow reinforce the notion that every child who attends a private school is from a ‘rich’ family and that this is to be frowned upon. Most parents who go down the private school route forgo all sorts of personal treats and comforts in the process, and certainly do not have £100million in personal wealth, like Lampl. Some hold down two jobs to pay the school fees. Others are members of the Armed Forces, or work in the Foreign Office or institutions such as the UN, and (rightly or wrongly) their employers pay the fees. Are they all ‘rich’? Are they ‘bad’ people?
It’s said that 7 per cent of children attend a private school. If these schools did not exist, where would their pupils go instead? There aren’t enough state schools in Britain with its burgeoning migrant-driven population growth to house them, that’s for sure. The bottom line is that these parents are in fact doing everybody a favour by reducing the burden on the state, while dutifully paying income taxes which fund state schools. And by not ‘sharp elbowing’ their child into the best state school nearby, they make it possible for somebody who could notafford to send their child to a private school to take up that place at the decent state school.
This topic may well take on a greater significance if (or perhaps that should be when) a Labour government under Sir Keir Starmer is in office, maybe as soon as 2024. The Sutton Trust’s data will only help Labour’s cause.
Starmer is no fan of private schools, despite (or perhaps because of) his having attended Reigate Grammar School between 1974 and 1981, a period during which its status changed from a state grammar to a private school. (Starmer’s fees were covered by Surrey County Council for his final five years there). He is on record as saying he would prefer that every child attended a state school where they would be streamed. And many in his party are agitating for the abolition of the charitable status enjoyed by many private schools, a move which they know would increase fees significantly.
I’m not sure that these class warriors have thought things through to their logical conclusion. Margaret Thatcher memorably told the House of Commons in November 1990 that the Left ‘would rather the poor were poorer provided the rich were less rich’. She might also have said that the Left would rather everyone sent their child to a state school, even if that meant overcrowded classes in an insufficient number of schools
By coincidence, Sir Peter Lampl also attended Reigate Grammar School, in the days when it was a grammar school. The chairwoman of his charity’s Educational Advisory Group – which must be involved in some way in producing its data – happens to be Justine Greening, who from July 2016 until January 2018 was Education Secretary under Theresa May. I have no idea if Ms Greening’s post is paid but I do know that she has no children. Is she best placed to oversee an area of life in which she has never had to make any of these hard choices?
As for Sir Peter Lampl, I note from his Who’s Who entry that this knight of the realm belongs to eight private members’ clubs: 5 Hertford Street, Athenæum, Queen’s, Annabel’s, Hurlingham, Queenwood Golf, Emerald Dunes (Palm Beach) and Colette (Palm Beach).
I wouldn’t dream of telling him not to spend his money on his membership fees of these exclusive establishments. But he must stop the Sutton Trust’s attacks on parents who choose private education for their children.