Dispelling the myths of the Surrey private school
We’re not all millionaires you know
I attended a private school in Surrey between the age of 3 and 18, so I like to think that I have truly experienced what it is to be “posh”. I put this in quotes because most people’s perceptions of private school are a world away from the truth.
Contrary to popular opinion, the fact that I went to a private school in Surrey does not automatically mean that a) my Dad is a banker, b) I am a royal in a country that you’ve never heard of, or c) I own a Range Rover.
I didn’t spend my lunch times discussing Croquet/Waitrose/other stereotypically posh subjects of conversation. None of my friends own a horse or a holiday home or a membership to a Country Club. The curriculum didn’t include Latin, nor did we have a Chapel or a swimming pool.
My parents prioritised my education over holidays and new cars – the furthest I’ve travelled is to Lanzarote and my Dad has been driving a battered Vauxhall Vectra since 2002. I know, it’s truly shocking stuff.
We didn’t look down with disdain upon the local state school, but rather were called “posh twats” by them – the bright red blazers probably didn’t help. We are not all like Ronald Coyne, the Cambridge student who burnt a £20 note in front of a homeless man, and we are not all entitled or ungrateful. We’ve all taken out student loans to get us through uni and we’re not expecting to be bailed out by the Bank of Mum and Dad when we inevitably run out of overdraft.
I didn’t actually realise that I went to a fee-paying school until the age of about 10. I stumbled upon a letter from the school and asked my parents what it was, and they replied that it was the invoice for my school fees. I was baffled: My parents were paying for me to go to school? Had they always done this? Why? I felt guilty that they were spending their money on me, but it was their money and they could use it how they wanted – I hadn’t asked them to make that decision. It wasn’t an investment because they weren’t expecting a return.
At school, rumours would arise about which parents were unable to afford the fees that term and who was re-mortgaging their house. Throughout my time at school, I had multiple friends who were forced to leave mid-term due to financial reasons.
The fact is, the vast majority of people cannot finance private school without some degree of difficulty. This comes as no surprise – most private schools cost more than university tuition. When boarding costs, extortionate uniforms and a school trip come into play, most parents spend the summer holidays licking their wounds and preparing for the barrage that is September.
To delve deeper into perceptions of private school students, I decided to do some field research. I headed to my former state school-attending friends in search of some opinions about private school students and I was not disappointed.
One friend said that he felt that he was smarter than private school students because he got the same grades as them in order to get into uni, despite going to a below average state school. He also thought that private school attendees were lazier because we are “given it on a plate”. He appreciated that parents do work incredibly hard to put their children through private school, but said that it is an avoidable luxury.
One of them changed her university choice because she had heard that it had a high intake from private schools. She thought that private school students were up themselves and had a superiority complex over those that went to state school.
However, upon meeting people from a range of private schools at university, she discovered that they were just like people from her state school, which came as a surprise to her, but not to me. This was exactly the response I was expecting – a preconceived idea of private school pupils that is disparate from the truth.
I’ll admit that there are a select few whose parents work in “The Wharf” or, at age 19, call their Father ‘Daddy’ *shudder*, but 99% of us are indiscernible from a state school student.
My point is that the average private school student is just that – average. And yes, our registers may contain more double-barrelled surnames and our car parks more Range Rovers, but that doesn’t make us bad people. Private school is not a separate universe filled with arrogance and pretension.
I don’t deny that I have privilege and I’m not pleading poverty; at times I probably do take the opportunities I’ve been given for granted. But I, and the vast majority of my friends, appreciate the sacrifices that our parents made for us.