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Prince Charles and State Schools

John Simkin

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Interesting debate today about UK education. This is how the BBC is reporting the story.

Tony Blair has sought to play down the differences between his education secretary and Prince Charles over schooling and children's aspirations.

Charles Clarke called the Prince "very old fashioned" after he said in a memo that the "learning culture" gave kids hope beyond their capabilities.

"We can't all be born to be king," but we can aspire to do the best we possibly can, Mr Clarke told the BBC.

The premier said it was an issue he would prefer to stay out of.

The Prince of Wales meanwhile responded to Mr Clarke's remarks by saying 12 years ago he was ridiculed for views he had expressed on tourism and the need for environmentally friendly architecture.

"But now people realise that old-fashioned views are coming round again.

"Perhaps my fiendishly old-fashioned views of 12 years ago are not so old-fashioned now."

He added "I hardly dare say anything. I don't really want to teach any more grandmothers to suck eggs."

Earlier, Mr Clarke accused the Prince of not understanding what happened in schools after remarks by the heir to the throne were published during an employment tribunal involving former staff member Elaine Day.

Miss Day had complained to the Prince about prospects for her promotion.

The Prince responded with a handwritten note saying: "What is wrong with everybody nowadays?

"What is it that makes everyone seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?"

He goes on to blame the "learning culture in schools" and a "child-centred system which admits no failure" and tells people they can achieve greatness without "putting in the necessary effort or having the natural abilities".

Pressed on the issue on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Mr Clarke said: "I am not going to comment on a private memorandum from the Prince, but on the issue you say I am against that approach to things.

"I do believe it's very, very important that every child has the ambition for themselves to achieve whatever they can do for themselves - that everyone has a field marshal's baton in their knapsack."

"We can't all be born to be king but we can all have a position where we really can aspire for ourselves and for our families to do the very best that we possibly can and I want to encourage that position."

The education secretary said he did not want to get into a "tangle" with the Prince but went on to criticise him for speaking out.

"To be quite frank I think he is very old-fashioned and out of time and he doesn't understand what is going on in the British education system at the moment," he said.

"And I think he should think carefully before intervening in that debate.

"The key point which I think is so, so damaging is when whole groups of people are dismissed as having no possibility, no ambitions, nothing can be done with them. I think that is really damaging."

Shadow education secretary Tim Collins said Mr Clarke was unwise to "speak in the way he did".

He defended Prince Charles saying he was very committed to young people, particularly disadvantaged ones, and it was important that he felt able to speak freely on the issues that he cared about.

There was a difference between encouraging children to do the best they can and suggesting that all of them could get A grades in exams, Mr Collins said.

Downing Street earlier said it saw no need to apologise to the Palace for Mr Clarke's remarks.

Clarence House has refused to comment on Mr Clarke's criticisms of the Prince because they related to a private memorandum and an on-going tribunal.

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He goes on to blame the "learning culture in schools" and a "child-centred system which admits no failure" and tells people they can achieve greatness without "putting in the necessary effort or having the natural abilities".

A little rich coming from somebody who already had the advantage of being "born great" and "having greatness thrust upon him" before his privileged circumstances proceeded to create ample opportunities for the "achievement of greatness".

I teach students with special educational needs. SEN often come with low self-esteem, which generates in turn disaffection and anti-social behaviour, which in turn prevent those with SEN from learning and experiencing success. It's a vicious circle. To reverse the decline, such students have to start believing in themselves, their innate strengths and their potential contribution to society. As a SEN teacher, it's my job to build up their self-belief and to give them the basic skills of literacy and numeracy so that they can succeed in a post-industrial world. They have to learn how they can, according to their lights, achieve the "greatness" of self-fulfilment and that elusive ideal, happiness.

For me, "greatness" means overcoming the odds and making a difference to others. For example, a cancer sufferer can radiate greatness by rising above adversity and showing concern for people around them instead of succumbing to a spiral of self-pity. It's not about becoming a judge, a hospital consultant or a prime minister because most of us never wanted to be any of those in the first place. I get a boost to my self-esteem whenever a parent, a teacher or a researcher asks me for advice about SEN matters. I received the same adrenalin rush when I was asked a few months ago to contribute a chapter to a report about SEN and MFL for the European Commission. Yes, I can enjoy this attention because I had some natural ability and have always put 100% effort to everything I considered worthwhile. But there's also the "X Factor" in life, good fortune, which enabled me to make a career change resulting in the opportunity to experience success. And I know I've had better fortune than most because I had the privilege of a supportive family and a sound academic education that equipped me for what I do now. That leaves me with a modicum of humility as well as some satisfaction. Both strengths are what mark out the great people I have encountered in my life.

David Wilson


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I hate to say it, but isn't it true that some hard work and ability is quite useful in the achievement of success?

I know Charles is a very easy target, and that he often talks rubbish about matters about which he knows little or nothing, but I do sometimes feel that we've gone a little too far down the road towards bolstering children's "self-image" at all costs.

A few years ago, the results of the international project measuring children's mathematics ability showed American children scoring almost at the bottom of the "league table" in all mathematical skills except one: self-image. In other words, they had very poor skills, but felt good about their ability...

Of course, this does have the advantage that kids feel good in their mathematics classes, but do we really do them a service by convincing them that they have achieved skills they haven't?

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I tend to agree with Mike about going

a little too far down the road towards bolstering children's "self-image" at all costs.

I recall the problems I had with one of my daughters during her teens. Her "self-image" - which was cultivated by her school environment and her peers - was so inflated that she simply did not perceive how much hard work she had to put in order to achieve success. I would sometimes look at her school exercise books and I was often surprised to read congratulatory comments that the teachers had written on what I considered to be very poor work. If I made any adverse comments about the teachers' comments to her I was accused of being "old-fashioned" and setting standards that were far too high.

At the age of 16 my daughter failed 6 out of 7 GCSEs - and it finally dawned on her that she was aiming at far too low a target. In the next two years in the sixth form she passed 6 GCSEs and 2 A-levels and gained a place at art college. She now runs a successful graphic design business. As Mike says,

hard work and ability is quite useful in the achievement of success.
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He goes on to blame the "learning culture in schools" and a "child-centred system which admits no failure" and tells people they can achieve greatness without "putting in the necessary effort or having the natural abilities".

A little rich coming from somebody who already had the advantage of being "born great" and "having greatness thrust upon him" before his privileged circumstances proceeded to create ample opportunities for the "achievement of greatness".

David Wilson


This is the bit I found so objectionable. He of course knows nothing about what goes on in state schools. He made sure that his children never entered such places. Even with the advantages of the top schools and private tutors he could only obtain two A-levels: History 'A' and French 'C'. Even without the right qualifications he was still given a place in Trinity College, Cambridge. No dount he did not work very hard as he knew the system could always be fixed by his powerful friends.

His own son’s are no different. A former teacher recently published a tape with Harry admitting that his A-level coursework had been done by a private tutor. The exam board refused to take any action because there was “no evidence that he cheated” (taped confessions don’t count if you are a prince). How is it they get such terrible grades when they are given all the advantages available to them? Maybe it has got something to do with motivation.

One has to remember the context of these remarks. It was a reference to an application made by a state educated female graduate who was asking permission to apply for a managerial post in Prince Charles’ office. Charles thought the suggestion was ridiculous and was an example of a state educated women thinking she could obtain a senior post. Charles seemed appalled that she had not grasped that these jobs were kept for privately educated people.

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I don't think it's really worth getting into a long argument about this, and I feel very uncomfortable defending Charles. but I do think John may be putting words into his mouth. Is it not possible that his comments had nothing to do with the social or educational background of the lady in question but rather on her capacity for hard work and her natural ability, which is what he, apparently, actually wrote... Since, it appears, she also stole the memo from someone else's desk, and accused an openly homosexual member of staff of sexual harrassment, then perhaps he had grounds for suspecting she may not have a bright future in the Royal Household...

I'm not a royalist, and am quite happy for members of the Royal Family to be attacked harshly and frequently, but I honestly don't think this case warrents it...

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Like Mike, I'm no great fan of the Royals and of Prince Charles, and I don't see the point in making a big issue out of this. Many people would probably agree with Prince Charles on the question of "a system that admits no failure" - but then one can argue that such a system is by no means as widespread as he thinks.

The incident that I related regarding my daughter is, however, true and gave me considerable concern at the time. Why had her teachers failed to spot that she was lazy and nevertheless continued to praise her poor work? While it is unfair not to give encouragement to children who are trying as hard as they can and who simply lack the ability to become high flyers, one also need to be honest about their achievements relative to their peers. Once schoolchildren reach the outside world, potential employers won't hesitate in turning done those that do not come up to scratch.

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Of course everybody will agree about the need to “put in the necessary work or effort” in order to achieve our ambitions. It is also true that the media with its “reality shows” give the impression you can achieve success without too much effort.

However, that was not the point Charles was making. When a junior member of his staff suggested that senior posts in his office should be open to women graduates he wrote on her memo: “What is wrong with everyone nowadays? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their actual capabilities? This is all to do with the learning culture in schools – the child-centred learning emphasis which admits of no failure…” The message is clear, he did not think that this state educated woman with a degree should be considered for such a post.

As the Sunday Times pointed out yesterday, any other reasonable person would have replied with “good idea” or “we’ll consider anyone with suitable talent”, or failing that, a simple, “sorry no”. Instead he delivered a rant about what goes on in state schools. What evidence has he got that schools are developing a learning culture “which admits of no failure”? It is definitely not like any school that I have been in. What this memo shows that our future king is intellectually defective, as well as being a snob of the worst kind.

He recently told a friend that if parliament bans hunting he is going into exile where he will spend his time skiing with Camilla. Let us hope it does just that.

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If you visit my local pub you’ll find at least a dozen Prince Charles’s – but the opinions they express are often pretty stupid too.

Have you noticed, however, how the “everyone’s a winner” mentality is creeping into every aspect of our lives? Years ago, if you owned a “gold” credit card, it said something about your level of income. Now everyone has a “gold” card, because “gold” is the starting point, moving on to “platinum”, “platinum-plus” etc. Have you tried buying a “small” cup of coffee at one of those railway station coffee stalls? “Small” as a measurement of quantity no longer exists, and so on…

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Thought you might be interested in Tony Benn's take on this story.


The most interesting aspect of Prince Charles's decision to enter into the fierce political debate about education is that it focuses attention on how Britain is governed.

Sixty-eight years ago I heard King Edward VIII's abdication broadcast, and learned the most important lesson about the British system of government. That being that the establishment regards the crown as so central to the defence of its power and privileges that it was not prepared to put the monarchy at risk by allowing the king to marry a divorced woman, Mrs Simpson, or to become so controversial as to threaten the myth that the monarch is above politics.

We claim that this country is a democracy. But the Queen always refers to Britain as a constitutional monarchy because, technically, she summons and dissolves parliament, and approves the composition of her majesty's government, each of whom has the oath of a privy councillor administered to them, requiring them to defend the Queen "against all foreign princes, persons, prelates, states or potentates". Every MP has to swear an oath of allegiance and the royal assent is required before any bill becomes an act of parliament.

All peerages are created by the crown, as are archbishops and bishops, and each new bishop has to declare in his homage "that your majesty is the only supreme governor of this your realm spiritual, ecclesiastical things as well as temporal".

In practice the Queen has no power: bishops do not believe their homage; MPs owe their allegiance to their constituencies; their party and their conscience and privy councillors, who are subsequently made commissioners in Brussels, then swear another contradictory oath pledging themselves not "to seek or to take instructions from any government".

The prime minister is the real beneficiary of all this nonsense since he is the one who exercises these crown powers of patronage, war-making and treaty-making that allow him to behave like a dictator.

Every prime minister is confident that his party, in parliament, would never challenge him, because of his power of patronage and because MPs know that any such challenge might cost them seats in an election; so the Queen and the prime minister have a common interest in maintaining the status quo.

But apart from this political power system, the existence of a monarchy which doles out peerages, bish oprics and a full range of honours effectively preserves a feudal class system which keeps everyone in their place.

That is what the Prince of Wales meant when he warned that education was threatening this hierarchy by raising expectations among his future subjects which could lead to them becoming too confident, even questioning why he should be king and why they should be required to bow and scrape to everyone above them in the social system.

The monarchy is, in fact, the most blatant example of social engineering. It imposes its own form of political correctness under which everyone, except the privileged and "specially gifted", knows their position in society and is required to speak respectfully to those above them and do what they are told.

But I suspect that the establishment may be beginning to wonder whether the crown would be safe if Charles became king, particularly if the "Mrs Simpson" problem were to arise again - which it might - or if a politically controversial King Charles III were to stick his neck out, as his namesake did in 1649, and open the way for a new republican Commonwealth.

This is why Prince William is now being carefully promoted, in case it is thought necessary to skip a generation and allow him to succeed the Queen and thus keep this absurd and undemocratic constitution safe for the next generation.

Britain is gravely handicapped by this medieval system of government which gives us a president without any checks and balances, and keeps the serfs firmly in their place. Any serious democratic reform of our constitution would give an elected parliament control of all executive powers, firmly cap the fount of honour, and arrange for the election of a small senate to act as a revising chamber, whose speaker could occasionally act as head of state for ceremonial purposes.

This would have the advantage of liberating the royal family, leaving them free, as citizens, to live their own lives, say what they like, and take part in elections like the rest of us. They could then safely vote for King Tony and his neoconservative courtiers, at No 10, knowIng that New Labour could be trusted to preserve privilege in Britain.

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