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Hot House

Time is not a healer

Choosing a school in London is now a political decision

This article is taken from the March 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

So we went to a dinner party the other day (I know! Come back Omicron, all is forgiven!) and talk turned to the way public schools are expanding across the world. So you have Harrow Beijing, or whatever. This man kept saying it was “like Starbucks” and complaining that each school’s “actual values” aren’t accurately exported, and instead the values of whichever grim ex-pat community the school is in get copied and pasted over everything. 

Like, you go to Sherborne Qatar, and lo and behold, it’s rather more uptight than Sherborne, Dorset. Didn’t get the Starbucks analogy really, as I thought the whole point of Starbucks is that it’s the same everywhere.

Sorry, I know, I’m sounding bitter. It turns out time is emphatically not a healer. I’m still properly mourning Lyra’s rejection by St Paul’s. Will, missing the point as ever, keeps suggesting Lyra could still go there for sixth form. Does he not realise what St Paul’s girls are like? Joining at 16, when the entire pecking order has been in place for five years, is basically signing your daughter up for public execution.

Anyway, we’ve accepted a place at this new school in Marylebone for gifted and talented children instead, which I’m putting a brave face on. We nearly got cold feet and went for City of London Girls, but it just felt so much like settling for second best. Literally, if you’re going by the league tables. 

Couldn’t do it. The clincher was when I googled “CLSG Alumnae” and the only one I’d even heard of was Dido. Wondered why I hadn’t applied this principle before, and cheered myself up slightly discovering that the only actual A-lister St Paul’s had to offer was Rachel Weisz.

The tricky part has been acting like this U-turn was our decision, and implying to everyone that we went off-piste by rejecting St Paul’s, rather than vice versa. 

Nobody there would dream of humblebragging about the glorious diversity of state schools

My friend Jemima sussed this out immediately. She’s making a huge thing of sticking with state for secondary, having randomly sent her kids to the local primary in Camden. She’s been boasting about this since pre-school, and the “community” at this terrible-sounding school, conveniently forgetting that it might as well be a prep because you can only go there if you live on one particular road of massive houses. 

Is that how the “catchment area” thing works? Frankly it sounds like all the smugness and none of the results of private, but what do I know? My child was rejected by St Paul’s.

Anyway, Jemima keeps saying how important it is that her girls have a “rounded” worldview, and that they don’t feel “othered” (i.e., poor) by her peers holidaying on yachts. Apparently she expects her kids to acquire this diverse worldview at the highly selective Henrietta Barnett, in Hampstead Garden Suburb. FFS. 

Which, along with Camden School For Girls, is essentially a private school for London parents who are too tight to pay up like the rest of us. Or who want to feel woke, without any damage to their daughters’ connections.

Speaking of which, I’ve been feeling weirdly sentimental about Lyra leaving her insane Hampstead prep, where half the parents are oligarchs. Nobody there would dream of humblebragging about the glorious diversity of state schools. 

But then yesterday an invitation to a pool party — held at the child’s actual house in The Bishop’s Avenue —appeared. And Lyra started asking why we don’t have a pool, and I nearly had a panic attack in the utility room.

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