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Oxbridge too far (continued) - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
Oxbridge too far (continued)
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hairyears From: hairyears Date: November 17th, 2008 02:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Abandon all thoughts that obtaining tuition from your school was 'cheating' - our headmaster got an actual budget for the 'S' levels and the Oxford exam tuition for the four of us who did it... And I am well aware that this was some kind of miracle of political and administrative manouvring.

And, one year, he was called a class traitor to his face by a senior trade union official who did his level best to get that budget blocked by his placemen in the Local Education Authority. Thankfully Big Moo had sufficient autonomy over his own budget to defend his own 'pet projects' - unusual in a secular school - and a near-total intolerance of threats. Plus, of course, considerable political influence of his own. Other schools and other heads were not so lucky; some did not permit an "elitist clique" of teachers to coach the Oxbridge pupils on a 'lunchtimes and after school' basis... Which meant, of course, that the only Oxford preparation going in those oh-so-egalitarian schools was privately-funded tuition for the rich.

And that, I definitely would call cheating. One of the reasons, in fact, that I didn't go to MumbleMumbleUnnamedExamFactory school that sent a rugby team to Oxford and to Cambridge every year - I dislike the sense that others in the same class and on the same team are paying to clamber over my head. Imagine, if you will, getting into the first rugby XV by sheer sweat and ability and then losing your place to someone who developed his skills just that crucial fraction beyond you by private tuition from your team coach and paid-for sessions in the gym in the same bloody building. It is, of course, no different to simply paying to go to a better-resourced school - but rather grating when the inequality is pushed into your face.

Still, that was then and this is now. Without an entrance exam to give objective proof of my abilities (or, perhaps, to give a telling measure of how far behind the state sector schools have now fallen in preparing able pupils for a genuinely demanding university education) I doubt that I would ever have got in. And with it, and the structure it provided for tuition, I am certain that those extra lessons made the difference. If that had been the only game in town I would've found a way; and there would've been no game at all if all that could be coached was interviewing and the hope that I would look generally promising.

And when I got there, the Golden Children from the private schools were all so polished and confident and effortless in all they did, and it was only in the second year that half of them revealed their limitations - bright, hardworking, and well-drilled, but lacking in the brilliance and the fire and the vital experience of overcoming obstacles. I fell behind with my own problems and for my own reasons, but none of us ragtown kids from comprehensives suffered from that dreadful sense that we had run out of something when the course demanded more of us than mere schooling.

Ultimately our betters - for so the less-gifted-but-overpriveleged believed themselves to be - had cheated themselves: they would've done just as well to go to a Red-Brick university or overseas, because their dull careers today reflect their limitations and in no way make good use of their expensive and damnably-demanding education. It opened doors of course: but the genuinely brilliant careers reflect the ones from state and private schools who showed the flash of brilliance from within, and made good use of it in a university run for them - us - and not for overschooled accountancy trainees and middle managers.

My own opinions, of course; but I have a few years' observation and the advantage of a systematic follow-up of all my fellow-students. There were some genuinely brilliant students from private schools, and they were superbly prepared for Oxford - far better so than us - but they were accompanied in their stroll into the quad for the Matriculation photo by pupils who were bright and brilliantly-polished but something less than brilliant.

Edited at 2008-11-17 02:15 am (UTC)
lnr From: lnr Date: November 17th, 2008 12:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, this comprehensive lass ran out of brilliance and ability long before the second year. I think you're over-generalising.
addedentry From: addedentry Date: November 17th, 2008 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
fivemack From: fivemack Date: November 17th, 2008 06:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
It took me until the first year of the PhD, but it's a bloody annoying wall to run into, and my metaphorical nose still hurts.
ceb From: ceb Date: November 18th, 2008 10:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
What she said. You can't take 600 people who were all top of their class, put them together, and expect them to still all be top of the class. Maybe you did stay up there, in which case good for you, but hard work and life experience can't buy you that kind of brilliance any more than money can.
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