On Tuesday January 5th, Jackie Brock, who is Chief Executive of Children in Scotland, wrote The Herald Agenda article “Food Poverty and its effect on our children can no longer be tolerated”. I learned that 3.7 million children are living in poverty in the UK. Locally, free school meals are taken up at Ibrox Primary in Glasgow by 71% of the pupils. At Irvine Royal Academy in North Ayrshire almost half of pupils receive clothing grants. I knew all this, and more besides, as my cousin is head teacher of a primary school in North Ayrshire. She has told me that it’s virtually impossible to teach children who are constantly hungry. This is a problem the world over. Dunblane Cathedral currently has an outreach project in Likhubula Malawi which tries to ensure each school pupil there has one square meal every day.
By bitterly ironic coincidence, The Herald also published on January 5th a glossy magazine insert, “Independent Schools”, being an advertisement for in this instance nine Scottish private schools.
These two worlds, the world of the Agenda article, and the world of the glossy ad, could hardly be further apart.
If I say I found the glossy, frankly, repellent, I hope I will not be misunderstood. The gulf between the privileged and the disadvantaged is as old as time itself. Perhaps the best way to ensure that the world become a better place is to give our children the best possible start in life so that they in turn are in a better position to help those who are less fortunate. All well and good.
No, it’s the mode of expression in the glossy that repels. Contrast these. First from Jackie Brock in Agenda…
“Initially focusing on Ibrox and Irvine, our Food, Families, Futures programme will ensure the provision of meals in schools at weekends and during holidays.”
…cf Ken Mann’s feature article in the magazine:
“Maximum attainment is far more easily assured through accurate fit with individual pupil need and robust methods of imparting knowledge.”
And again, from Jackie Brock:
“We want to take action now to ensure our young people have an education that isn’t undermined by food poverty.”
…cf Ken Mann:
“Responsible jobs requiring knowledgeable people can bring the type of salary capable of setting desirable lifestyle levels for a lifetime.”
What a private education gives you is “polish”.
But is “polish” a desirable attribute? Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, went to state schools in Irvine, North Ayrshire (Dreghorn Primary and Greenwood Academy). Putting party politics to one side, one of the reasons why she is so popular on a personal level both north and south of the border is that she is “normal”. She doesn’t have a veneer. She is entirely lacking in smarm. She was able to visit the flooded-out folk in Aberdeenshire last week and talk to them in a sympathetic and entirely unaffected way.
I went to a state school in the west end of Glasgow. It amuses me that there are more MSPs at Holyrood from my old school than there are old Etonians (3 to 2 when I last counted). Maybe in the modern world “polish” is beginning to lose its lustre.