Eton College. Photo: Getty
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Why do state-school pupils earn less over a lifetime? Because they aren’t taught to dream big

Private schools instil their children with a sense of entitlement and confidence that is lacking among state-school pupils, argues Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.

"I can’t go in there on my own,” a friend said recently when I told her I would be late for brunch at Dean Street Townhouse, a central London restaurant. “It’s way too swanky.” She would not be dissuaded. And so, instead of going in, she stood outside in the cold until I arrived and we could face the maître d’ together.

I’m telling you this not because I think you’re particularly interested in my brunch habits, which are sporadic and based entirely on cash flow, but because I was reminded of this conversation when I read an Institute for Fiscal Studies report showing that UK graduates who went to private school earn thousands of pounds more a year than their state-educated peers – £4,500 more, in fact. We don’t just have a gender pay gap in the UK, we have a class one, too. This is not only because privately educated students are more likely to attend elite universities, or to study subjects that are more likely to lead to higher-paid careers. Even when the researchers compared students who went to the same university, and took the same job after graduating, the pay gap between state-school and private-school students was 6 per cent, or £1,500 a year on average.

One explanation for this is the “confidence gap”. Private schools instil their children with a sense of entitlement and confidence that is lacking among state-school pupils, it is suggested. I often give talks in schools about sex and body image, and the difference in approach between the state and private sectors is striking. I have never, for instance, heard a state-school pupil make the dreaded announcement, “This is more of a statement than a question.”

Earlier this year, in a pub in Westminster, I was confronted by a couple of Young Conservatives who had been at an event in the House of Commons and who had the slicked-back hair and rosy cheeks of a pair of Michael Portillo-inspired ventriloquists’ dummies. They were still at university, yet they heckled me about austerity in a way that revealed an intimidating level of belief in the importance of their own opinions. Coming from a state school and filled with self-doubt, I would never have dared to lecture anyone, let alone a stranger, in such a way.

This is the confidence gap. And it is where the argument “I can’t go in there on my own – it’s too swanky” also comes in. It is something I have often thought to myself over the years, first when visiting prospective universities, and later while working in a media dominated by the privately educated. I have thought it while standing outside the House of Commons and BBC Broadcasting House, at the offices of Vogue magazine, the Guardian building, the Oxford Union – and pretty much anywhere I’ve visited since becoming a journalist. I know I’m not alone. The last time I spoke at the Oxford Union, a talented and well-regarded fellow journalist, who is also state-educated, turned to me and said: “This place is not meant for me.”

I can’t imagine that such a thought has ever crossed the minds of the Prime Minister, or many of those attending cabinet – George Osborne, Nick Clegg, Jeremy Hunt, Oliver Letwin – who have passed through the well-established route of top public school to Oxbridge to Westminster. Same crowd, slightly different building. I doubt they have ever thought: “I can’t go in there on my own – it’s too swanky,” perhaps because so many of their peers are already waiting inside.

Politics is dominated by private-school leavers: 36 per cent of the cabinet and 33 per cent of MPs were privately educated – compared to 7 per cent of the general population. The media, too, are dominated by former private-school kids: they make up 43 per cent of newspaper columnists and 26 per cent of BBC executives. Astonishingly, one in every seven judges went to any one of just five private schools: Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Paul’s boys’ school.

For state-school pupils, there’s little room at the top. Once you’ve broken into politics or the media, you feel so lucky that you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. I wonder how many of the graduates polled by the IFS are still catching their breath and thinking, “Christ, I made it. Better leave it a few years before I ask for a pay rise.”

Perhaps this is also why class war has never truly broken out in this country. Once someone from an “unconventional background” – state-educated, or from an ethnic minority, or a woman, or maybe all these things – climbs the career ladder, they rarely want to risk peering down and saying, “Hey, guys, come up here. The view is terrible.” And so the establishment remains distant, its figures as remote and indifferent as the mythical beings on a ceiling fresco.

By contrast, Russell Brand, whose articles are shared by my schoolfriends almost daily, is approachable. Excessive use of a thesaurus aside, he speaks the same language. He is the working-class kid who made it, and that is powerful – especially to those who were not taught to dream big at school. And he has the courage to speak about Britain’s shameful lack of social mobility.

They say you have to fake it to make it, and that is what I have done. But affected confidence is not true confidence, and many state-school pupils are leaving without the latter. Higher education is not the leveller many on the left hoped it would be, because self-doubt starts earlier. Kids aren’t stupid; they know Britain is not a meritocracy. They have been taught to believe that “this place is not meant for me”.

My friend, by the way, has breakfast at Dean Street Townhouse all the time now. She got over her fear. But I have no doubt that outside, on the pavement, there is someone else thinking: “I can’t go in there on my own.” 

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is the author of “The Vagenda: a Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media”. 

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a writer for the New Statesman and the Guardian. She co-founded The Vagenda blog and is co-author of The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Deep trouble

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Unite stewards urge members to back Owen Smith

In a letter to Unite members, the officials have called for a vote for the longshot candidate.

29 Unite officials have broken ranks and thrown their weight behind Owen Smith’s longshot bid for the Labour leadership in an open letter to their members.

The officials serve as stewards, conveners and negotiators in Britain’s aerospace and shipbuilding industries, and are believed in part to be driven by Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding opposition to the nuclear deterrent and defence spending more generally.

In the letter to Unite members, who are believed to have been signed up in large numbers to vote in the Labour leadership race, the stewards highlight Smith’s support for extra funding in the NHS and his vision for an industrial strategy.

Corbyn was endorsed by Unite, Labour's largest affliated union and the largest trades union in the country, following votes by Unite's ruling executive committee and policy conference. 

Although few expect the intervention to have a decisive role in the Labour leadership, regarded as a formality for Corbyn, the opposition of Unite workers in these industries may prove significant in Len McCluskey’s bid to be re-elected as general secretary of Unite.

 

The full letter is below:

Britain needs a Labour Government to defend jobs, industry and skills and to promote strong trade unions. As convenors and shop stewards in the manufacturing, defence, aerospace and energy sectors we believe that Owen Smith is the best candidate to lead the Labour Party in opposition and in government.

Owen has made clear his support for the industries we work in. He has spelt out his vision for an industrial strategy which supports great British businesses: investing in infrastructure, research and development, skills and training. He has set out ways to back British industry with new procurement rules to protect jobs and contracts from being outsourced to the lowest bidder. He has demanded a seat at the table during the Brexit negotiations to defend trade union and workers’ rights. Defending manufacturing jobs threatened by Brexit must be at the forefront of the negotiations. He has called for the final deal to be put to the British people via a second referendum or at a general election.

But Owen has also talked about the issues which affect our families and our communities. Investing £60 billion extra over 5 years in the NHS funded through new taxes on the wealthiest. Building 300,000 new homes a year over 5 years, half of which should be social housing. Investing in Sure Start schemes by scrapping the charitable status of private schools. That’s why we are backing Owen.

The Labour Party is at a crossroads. We cannot ignore reality – we need to be radical but we also need to be credible – capable of winning the support of the British people. We need an effective Opposition and we need a Labour Government to put policies into practice that will defend our members’ and their families’ interests. That’s why we are backing Owen.

Steve Hibbert, Convenor Rolls Royce, Derby
Howard Turner, Senior Steward, Walter Frank & Sons Limited
Danny Coleman, Branch Secretary, GE Aviation, Wales
Karl Daly, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Nigel Stott, Convenor, BASSA, British Airways
John Brough, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
John Bennett, Site Convenor, Babcock Marine, Devonport, Plymouth
Kevin Langford, Mechanical Convenor, Babcock, Devonport, Plymouth
John McAllister, Convenor, Vector Aerospace Helicopter Services
Garry Andrews, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Sunderland
Steve Froggatt, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Jim McGivern, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Alan Bird, Chairman & Senior Rep, Rolls Royce, Derby
Raymond Duguid, Convenor, Babcock, Rosyth
Steve Duke, Senior Staff Rep, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
Paul Welsh, Works Convenor, Brush Electrical Machines, Loughborough
Bob Holmes, Manual Convenor, BAE Systems, Warton, Lancs
Simon Hemmings, Staff Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Mick Forbes, Works Convenor, GKN, Birmingham
Ian Bestwick, Chief Negotiator, Rolls Royce Submarines, Derby
Mark Barron, Senior Staff Rep, Pallion, Sunderland
Ian Hodgkison, Chief Negotiator, PCO, Rolls Royce
Joe O’Gorman, Convenor, BAE Systems, Maritime Services, Portsmouth
Azza Samms, Manual Workers Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Dave Thompson, Staff Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Tim Griffiths, Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Paul Blake, Convenor, Princess Yachts, Plymouth
Steve Jones, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Bristol
Colin Gosling, Senior Rep, Siemens Traffic Solutions, Poole

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.