In Your Face

In Your Face
Thought provoking opinions on topical issues.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

The Dulwich Experiment Revisited

I see that the Masters of Dulwich, Eton, St Paul’s and Kings College are diverting scholarship money from merit to means tested bursaries. Dulwich, my old school, will reduce the non means tested scholarship from a maximum of 50% to 33% of funds awarded.

In my view, this is an excellent decision; and is well in keeping with the “radical” inclusive approach to education that Dulwich has championed in earlier generations.

In the 1940’s Dulwich was the first public school to admit pupils on local authority grants. These grants were an innovation of the then Labour government; designed to give gifted children from poor backgrounds access to a wider choice of educational institutions. In an interesting irony the then Master of Dulwich, when introducing what was known as “the Dulwich experiment”, was booed at an old boys’ gathering and called a socialist.

Almost thirty years later I entered Dulwich in 1973, and won a local authority place in 1974. This was a year of change, for Britain again had a Labour government; who this time were pushing the mantra that “all things were created equal”, and those that were not were to be made equal.

In the belief that pupils should not be given the opportunity to maximise their potential; the Labour government abolished local authority places to new applicants. I was the last of a generation to benefit, my parents would not have been able to afford the fees otherwise. I well remember seeing certain “leading” Labour politicians of the day being interviewed, explaining their doctrine as to why “elitism” was to be frowned upon. I found that to be somewhat ironic, as many of them had been to public schools themselves; indeed one was an ex pupil of Dulwich.

This doctrinally inspired abolition, needless to say, prohibited those from poorer backgrounds from entering Dulwich and similar schools. This brought about a change in the social background of the pupils, during my seven years at Dulwich, which could be unscientifically observed by looking at the parents’ cars that arrived each year for Founder’s Day. In 1973 the average car was either a Ford or Leyland, by 1980 the majority were Jaguars and Audis.

Now the wheel has turned full circle. I offer my full support to this initiative, and urge other schools and the government to “buy into it”.