My Experience of Privilege at School

Updated: May 3, 2021

I was looking at a post by my old secondary school last week. They wrote how proud they were to now have yet another head-girl receive an unconditional offer to Oxbridge. It didn't sit right with me and at first I couldn't pin point the reason and thought it was perhaps just resentment. But it was on my mind all weekend and I've come to realize that since the Black Lives Matter movement has recently increased in public support and understanding in the white British population, I have also become increasingly aware of my privileges and people's views I grew up around and particularly at my secondary school.

The thing is, that if I were a headteacher of a private all-girls school, I'm not sure whether I would boast in the fact that many of our head girls have gone on to Oxford or Cambridge. If I'm completely honest I'd be embarrassed and probably dumb it down. That's because I think having the top of the junior leadership team a white, academically gifted head girl who promotes an educational image that the school doesn't really fit, reflects the white supremacy we see in British parliament of white, wealthy and conservative men who attend Oxford or Cambridge University and thus blag their way into parliament through arrogance and privilege. Dominic Cummings, I see you.

In no way, however, can I say that I've always got it right myself. I remember being so excited to start at my 'posh', 'old fashioned' school in which I'd feel like one of the twins at St Claire's. My Dad used to reassure me that I shouldn't be embarrassed about the brightly colored blazer, but in my eye it was something I'd show off to my state school friends because I felt proud of my where I'd soon be going. After a few years at the school I grew out of this and really started to miss the relatability of my old school friends now attending the local comprehensive. By the time I started walking home from school, I would stuff my brightly colored blazer into my bag as I walked through the council house estates back to my house, hoping no one would recognize the bottle green jumper. It was my parent's house which had a postcode I was ashamed to share, even though it was in the same town as the school I was attending!

I loved my secondary school experience, there's no denying it, and I wish I'd appreciated that more at the time. But the reason I loved going to school each day had absolutely nothing to do with the senior leadership team or head girl, but everything to do with the individual relationships I built up with my teachers. There was a subconscious respect I had for my teachers as my Mum's a teacher and I could relate to their hard work in ways I couldn't relate to my friend's Mum's who drove four-by-four's but have never really had a job. I went to a private school and got an amazing education for two reasons: my parents worked bloody hard and full time to send me there, and my teachers were brilliant. It makes me wonder though, how I, as a white, Anglican, albeit homosexual, girl, who struggled to relate to those around me, had it so easy. What was it like for the transgender person in my year? Or the Sikh girl? Or the black British girl in a sea of peers who would never have to work as hard as her to achieve the same goals?

This is why I feel frustrated that yet another head girl of that school is a white academic. I think because it's a girl's school, we think it's justified as it can be viewed as an empowering 'act of feminism'. Yes she's white and going to Oxbridge, but don't forgot she's only a woman! I am intelligent but my gifts don't lie in academia. I think that if you looked at a maths or chemistry paper I did aged 15 you wouldn't see me as a particularly bright girl. But if you had a rich conversation with me about mental health or asked my to write a witty article then my gifts would start to seep through. I was never going to be head girl in that school because my grades did not reflect how the senior leadership team wanted to be seen. In the same way, the senior leadership team did not reflect the essence of my school experience. Instead, the pastoral care, patient maths teachers, funny RE lessons and one specific German teacher who persuaded a not very linguistic girl to do German A Level, just because the idea of being bilingual seemed cool, are what made my school experience so good.

I hope that one day people can start taking their head's out of the sand and recognize that wealth and specifically 'academic' intelligence shouldn't be compulsory assets of a successful leader, and that maybe, those with emotional and literary intelligence, fueled by a childhood of never really fitting in, could also be something a private school could get to know, let alone be proud of.

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