Sophie says: the shocking reality of state school education

Sophie Huskisson 8 May 2018

‘Beware!’ I was told, before applying to Cambridge. You won’t fit in. Everyone will own castles, or land in Switzerland, or be at least ⅕ royal. Having been one of the first students to be accepted into Oxbridge from my school, I was warned of the dreaded ‘Culture Shock’ I was going to have. I’m now coming into my third term at Cambridge, and the culture shock really hasn’t been too bad – I have surprisingly not received any invitations to Kensington Palace or the likes… yet. Unfortunately, there was a big shock I was to face which I hadn’t been warned about, as soon as classes and supervisions started – that my seven years of secondary school education had been vastly different to, what felt like, the majority of people around me. Now to get serious…

Obviously I was aware that there were differences between state school and public school education.  But I just thought that was down to things such as that some offered Latin and Greek, or some offered IB qualifications, or that some had an established lacrosse team… But no – it’s much more than that. It’s the discrepancies down to the mandatory subjects which I wasn’t aware about, even such as English. The texts covered, for instance, were at a vastly lower level at my school – I was astounded when everyone around me was nodding to my Dos’s references to texts and I felt like I was the only one who had no idea.

The thing that was missing from my school journey, was wider exploration. I learned what I was to be examined on and that was it. Be it that one author, or one poet. With an extreme emphasis on league tables, it wasn’t about teaching us a well rounded foundation of the subject, it was about getting you through that exam. Before studying here, I spent a year working at my old school, and seeing behind the scenes only embedded this idea. Students’ faces cut out, laminated and stuck on a wall: green section YAY they are on target, red section UH OH that league table rating is going to drop. I realise that the title of this article is somewhat problematic: it is not as simple as state vs public school, there is similarly variation amongst these categories alone, and there are issues on both sides of the table. But I speak about what I have experienced, what I believe, and from a perspective where you should consider the proverb “perception is real.”

In an interview at the Commonwealth Games this Easter, Kate Richardson-Walsh, Four-time commonwealth Games medallist (2002-2014), described hockey: “It’s more and more becoming a private school sport, I think we just need to get it out into those state schools.” The divide between public schools and state schools extends to extracurricular activities too – be this sports clubs, political societies etc. And it all comes down to that terrible F word – funding. My old school is thriving more and more everyday but is held back by the boundaries of state funded education. In the State of Education survey report for 2017, 51% of school leaders said they expected budget pressures and lack of funding to be their biggest challenge over the next academic year. The figure speaks for itself. It’s not about the teaching, not about the learning, but about the money.