“COMMONER? I bet she’s not half as common as the bird my son’s marrying.”
That overheard comment is the funniest I’ve met yet on a certain up-coming event. And it could almost go down as the definitive comment on this curious year.
2010, the year of class. The year the toffs took over the country again.
The state-funded grammar school, and more than that the comprehensive school, were supposed to end class in this country.
It doesn’t seem so long since the question, “Is the British class system dead?” seemed one worth considering. Maybe not one to ponder long or hard, but at least a question worth giving a little thought.
Forty years ago, when one grammar-school boy (Ted Heath) displaced another (Harold Wilson) as prime minister, we might have assumed that by 2010 the class system would be history.
Yet here we are, with the poshest (and richest) PM since Alec Douglas-Home in 1963-64 and an only slightly less posh (and possibly richer) deputy.
And about to "celebrate" what has preposterously been dubbed the “people’s wedding”.
Which people are marrying? Not your people or my people, that’s for sure.
This week’s announcement of the date and venue did sadly end the hope that the commoner bride would get a proper commoner’s wedding. A 15-minute ceremony at Slough Register Office followed by a bit of a do at the rugby club.
It would probably have been a good do, too, since the bride’s parents run a party planning business.
More fun, I dare say, than a televised national event squandering millions of the cash “the people” don’t have.
And it would surely have been more within Carole and Michael Middleton’s budget.
Not that they will be expected to foot the bill for the abbey extravaganza. That, indirectly, will be up to you and me.
And not that they are exactly hard up. The national paper that told this week [this column appeared in the Evening Star on Friday, November 26] of their “modest, middle-class background” has a generous definition of “modest”.
I do know some fairly modest families who stretch themselves financially to put their children into private education. I have never understood why they bother, especially as we are lucky enough to have some excellent comprehensives round here.
But I don’t think anyone I know spends £29,310 a year on school fees.
That’s the current base price – before things like uniform, books, music lessons and pocket-money are considered – of sending a child to Marlborough College.
Party Pieces must do a brisk trade.
But if class is your thing, Marlborough is obviously the place to send your daughters (Carole and Michael sent two).
Apart from Kate and Pippa Middleton, other former pupils include:
• Samantha Cameron, prime minister’s wife
• Frances Osborne, chancellor’s wife
• Sally Bercow, wife of the House of Commons speaker
• Antonia Robinson, royal wedding-dress designer
• Emily Sheffield, sister of Samantha Cameron and deputy editor of posh mag Vogue
• oh, and someone called Princess Eugenie.
Not bad for a school that didn’t even let girls in until 1968. It obviously instils a self-confidence in its pupils that can stand up to the attentions of a prince or an ambitious Etonian.
The Middletons may not have old aristocracy in their family tree. But they do have money.
Which may not buy love or happiness – but it can buy you a posh schooling and posh friends.
It can buy power. And that, ultimately, is what “class” is all about.
THERE was much to applaud in the White Paper for education unveiled by Michael Gove this week.
Compulsory foreign-language teaching up to age 16. About time. Our inability to speak other languages has always been shameful, and has been getting steadily worse.
Anonymity for teachers being investigated for “inappropriate behaviour” – about time too. One malicious false accusation should not be allowed to wreck a person’s reputation and career.
How good it will be to have “experts” brought in to review the curriculum depends on who the experts are. Teachers, I suppose, don’t count as experts themselves…
School league tables will be “shaken up”. OK, but scrapping them altogether would have been better.
Targets introduced for primary schools. Oh dear. As if the whole of education wasn’t already overrun with tick-boxes.
Former troops offered sponsorship to train as teachers. You what? I’m all in favour of teachers having some experience of life outside the classroom, but why military experience in particular?
The effect on class discipline might, I suppose, be interesting.
Anything good in the coalition’s policy, though, was overshadowed by the revelation, on the same day, of Ofsted’s overall conclusion about our schools.
And that is that the so-called academies – those quasi-independent schools the government is putting all its weight behind – aren’t better on average than other state schools.