Shropshire Star

Peter Rhodes on school fees, the Honours system and how characters were formed in the old days

Peter Rhodes on school fees, the Honours system and how characters were formed in the old days

Character forming, and wet

The deep mystery of how Britain's Honours system works:

Citizen: Here's five million quid.”

Politician: “Thanks very much. Here's a peerage.”

A survey of fee-paying schools reveals that almost all of them will hike their fees if a Labour government carries out its plan to impose a 20 per cent VAT charge. According to estimates, parents paying £16,600 a year would see fees soar to almost £20,000. This will doubtless gladden the hearts of those who despise private schools. Be careful what you wish for.

Some parents will doubtless take their kids out of the independent sector and into the local state schools. And what happens to a state school when an influx of posh kids, and their parents, suddenly arrives? These families are movers and shakers, the sharp-elbowed middle classes who are used to lobbying, haggling and getting their own way. They are pushy, ambitious, entitled and probably better educated than the average state-school teacher, and will demand great things of any school. Imagine that lot descending on parents' evening. Another aspirin, headmaster?

Meanwhile, stripped of the just-rich enough who struggled to pay fees, the independent schools will be reserved for children born to the super-rich, with parents who don't really care whether the fees are £20,000 or £200,000. Far from delivering a more equal England, we could end up with an even more divided society.

Ah, the Easter break - don't you love it? At this time of year in the early 1960s my father would pack the family into the car and we'd head off on the six-hour slog to Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales for a week of fell walking and bickering. It always rained. In those days outdoor clothing was not rainproof as we understand it now. It worked by absorbing massive amounts of water, in the hope that the rain would stop before it soaked your vest and pants. By the time you had limped, squelched, winced and whimpered up Buckden Pike and back, your weight could have doubled. Grown-ups referred to this process as “character-forming.”

And then a few years later somebody invented Gore-Tex and from that moment no more characters were formed. Most history books overlook this.