It has been said that Britain has one of the most hierarchical and entrenched societies in the world, masquerading as its most open and democratic. While its elite is far from being the worst in the world, this is something that has been learned through hard lessons over the past four centuries, so that now the average British person is so familiar with his lot that it is hard for him to think of changing the status quo at the top.
I wrote an article previously about the different ways how Britain's elite maintains its position in British society. One of the most important ways that the British establishment is able to maintain its status and power is through its hold on education; namely the public school system and Oxbridge.
The important thing to ask about the public school system is: "why does it exist?".
The public school system was established before the Industrial Revolution as a way to ensure an educated, governing class. Once the British Empire existed in earnest, it was clear that a larger number of civil servants would be needed. This same system, by and large, exists almost unchanged today; the only difference is that the pre-pubescent children attending public school these days are there through the social ambition created by the parents (both foreign and domestic), and fed by the establishment to provide a constant supply of blood.
The British Empire no longer exists; therefore, it was necessary for the "establishment" to adapt to the times, and make a "public school education" as the best way to ensure a secure future for the children of ambitious parents with money to spare.
Parents who can afford to take their children in private education, do so for the sake of ensuring their children get the best education possible. These parents also say that they have the freedom to choose the best education for their children, and that it is wrong to begrudge them the opportunity if they have it. Any other person would do the same thing given the chance, they fairly imply. Lastly, they say they only use the private system because the state system cannot guarantee the same kind of quality that gives their children a lift up to the highest levels of society.
The public school system is therefore a leftover of the British Empire, updated to modern times by appealing to the vanity of people with means. Foreigners (as much as middle class parents) put their children into this system because it effectively buys their children an advantage impossible in their own country. This much is clear and undeniable.
In other words, private education is a form of bribe. By paying the fees to the private school, the parents are (as much as realistically possible) ensuring an advantage for their children unavailable to those of lesser means. Pay money to the school, and the children will go to "Oxbridge": this is the clear thought of the parents, and the implied suggestion of the school in question.
It is a form of corruption, and therefore immoral in a civilised society. This system is what maintains the British establishment, and ensures that the top ten per cent of society will always lead a life separate and unattainable to the vast majority of the rest of society.
Saying that this form of education is a "freedom of choice" matter misses the point: because only those people with the means to afford it have the choice. It is hardly as though poor people would choose state education if they knew that private education is better. To state the blindingly obvious, private education is better simply because of the fees that keep the school funded. It is the same for "Oxbridge". It is only money that maintains the quality of this system. There in nothing innate that makes private education better. Private schools may as well all have a sign above their entrance that says: "We are good because you pay us".
It is also this reason also why private school fees have a habit of increasing over time. In a reverse of free market logic, as private schools become more competitive, they have to improve their facilities to maintain their advantage, which means higher fees, making it more and more exclusive over time. This makes the private school system even more dysfunctional compared to the state sector.
But if it is "only money" that makes the private school system better, then in theory all these schools could become incorporated into a national government-ran system, if the government had the money through taxation. Alternatively, the rich philanthropic elite could be easily convinced to annually contribute to such high-quality educational establishments to ensure their continued "free-status" (and thus avoid anyone having to pay fees). That way, these "top quality" schools would be available to people on merit alone rather than the size of the parents' wallet, if the government had the money (i.e. will) to make such patronage unnecessary. And the same for "Oxbridge". There are many other methods of financing higher education than the status quo..
Of course, such humane logic assumes that those in the top ten percent actually care about genuine meritocracy. For many, the thought terrifies them.
So parents' argument in favour of "freedom of choice" and "wanting the best for their children" are distractions, and are symptom of the failings that the private system entrench in society. The logic becomes self-fulfilling, perpetuating the class system for eternity. Meanwhile, parents with the means shrug their shoulders at the status quo, pay up and "pay in" to the system.
But does "the system" they pay into really work for Britain?
There is another, more pertinent, question that the British establishment and the public school system should answer, apart from the moral questions. It is the question that few people seem to think about, or ask.
If the "public school" system is designed to create a well-educated governing class, then why are the people it produces so useless as it?
The current cabinet of the government is largely a product of this public school and "Oxbridge" system. And yet, the current crop of ministers are perhaps the most incompetent collection of individuals to have run Britain in living memory. The same point can be made for those people responsible for the financial industry, that has been the driving force behind the British economy for thirty years, and responsible for creating the greatest financial disaster for a hundred years.
So the most revealing thing about the British establishment is not so much the question of morality as incompetence. The education system is not only immoral; far more devastating, it is not fit for purpose. It is an extremely inefficient way of financing success in Britain as a whole, and completely unsuitable to the modern needs of Britain.
The problem is that it is fundamentally based on a system that is at least fifty years out-of-date. The British Empire no longer exists, therefore Britain no longer needs a "governing class", an "establishment". This form of education system is designed to sustain an elite that has lost touch with reality.
For an education system to work efficiently, it has to adapt to changes, as well as predict them, and create a syllabus accordingly. But the public school system, by definition, is designed to perpetuate the status quo; it is far less flexible in being able to reflect changes in society. The public school system is designed for educating those who have money to get more money and greater status; it is not designed to improve Britain. But because those who are at the top of society are educated in the most expensive schools in the country, they naturally assume this means they're the best qualified and best-educated. This explains why the likes of Cameron and Osborne are so sure of their views, but have so little idea about how to run the country and the economy. The same is true for the financial industry.
It is a truism that corruption breeds incompetence. The evidence suggests the same is true for Britain's "public school" system. Getting a career in the top echelons of society is mostly about having the right "markers" (such as an Eton and "Oxbridge" education) and connections, not brains. It's natural that in a system designed for those with money, those with most money are thought to be the smartest. Once you are in the higher echelons, surrounded by like-minded complacency, no-one is likely to challenge you intellectually. Cameron and Osborne, the two leaders of the country, are living proof of that. Private education is designed at getting those "markers" and high salary career, but there is little evidence that it offers value of money in terms of "real" education and developing analytical intelligence.
There is far more anecdotal evidence to suggest that state education offers a far better "value for money" in terms of preparing children for life and how to make a career on their own initiative, as well as giving you some first-hand experience in the social diversity of British society.
However, if you want your child to be a rich, well-connected, amoral, misanthropic psychopath, then put them into a public school. The choice is yours; if you have the money.