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Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain by Robert Verkaik

Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain by Robert Verkaik
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£16.99

This “timely” book is a “trenchant j’accuse” against Britain’s public school system, said Houman Barekat in The Guardian. As Robert Verkaik points out, schools such as Eton and Winchester were once truly “public”, in that their “statutes expressly excluded the children of the wealthy”. Those days, however, have long passed: today, while public schools retain their charitable status (conferring tax advantages worth some £2.5bn a year), they have become a means for the wealthy to ensure that certain advantages – among them smaller class sizes and access to old boys’ networks – are transmitted to their offspring. Some of Verkaik’s targets, such as David Cameron’s “chumocracy”, are overfamiliar, said Andrew Marr in The Sunday Times. He is more revealing when discussing less obvious examples of public school privilege, such as the “grip that the PPE Oxford mafia has on British public life”. As he points out, its sheer pervasiveness explains why there is so little will to reform the system: many of those in a position to change it are themselves “the products of such schools”.

So “what can be done”, asked Clive Davis in The Times. Verkaik advocates what he calls a “slow and peaceful euthanasia”: stripping independent schools of their charitable status and placing limits on how many pupils they can send to top universities. But would even Jeremy Corbyn – an ex-prep and grammar school pupil – “begin to contemplate those steps”? Verkaik’s dislike of public schools leads him at times to overstate the harm they do: a chapter dealing with the role of public schoolboys in Brexit “sounds like just another baffled cry of pain from a Remain supporter”. But overall, he does a “fine job” of reminding us of “how powerful a hold the elite schools have over public life”.