I was interested to receive a communication advertising the forthcoming Archant Good Schools Show to be held at Olympia next month. The interest arose, not from a wish to attend, but from an examination of the discourse used in an attempt to encourage me to secure a place.
Firstly, the subject line of the communication:
Private Schools open their doors to the Public
This is an interesting use of an antonym as a synonym. It suggests that, private schools, despite their nomenclature, are, in fact public, and thus open to all. While, historically, there is some accuracy to this description, private schools are in no sense public. For example, those who own and run private schools are not accountable to most members of the public, but to shareholders or customers. State schools, on the other hand, do remain accountable to the public. Granted, that accountability may not always be apparent, exercised as it is through local and national democracy, but ultimately, state schools are accountable in a way that private schools are not.
This subject line also serves to suggest that this event is an opportunity. Normally private, and thus exclusive, private schools are opening their doors and welcoming in the public. They are not, of course, opening their doors to the public, those doors are firmly closed to those members of the public who cannot afford such schooling.
The communication goes on to describe how the event will feature:
50 of the countries finest Independent Schools
Notice here the change from private to independent suggesting, unsurprisingly, independence. However, this is a misnomer. In one sense, independent is accurate, in that private schools are apart from the state system, and thus not bound by state rules and regulations. In other words they are free from the constraints that state schools experience. This sense of independence appears attractive, and, no doubt these private schools will use this meaning to appeal to customers. The flip side of this is, of course, that independent schools are not accountable. The other, related sense of independence is that of freedom and a lack of conformity. However, while private schools may emphasise their supposed freedom, libertarian schools are unlikely to be advertising their wares at Olympia.
Once at the show, visitors may choose to listen to guest speakers, which include:
Eton’s straight talking headmaster (Tony Little) explaining why he believes no parent should think independent school education is out of their reach
The straight talking from the head teacher of one of the country’s leading public (sic) schools is designed to add weight to the notion that private education is accessible to all. So long as they can afford to pay for it, that is.
The show will also feature a:
Good Schools Award Ceremony hosted by Tom Parker-Bowles who will bestow his very own Royal Seal of approval to the lucky winners.
This suggests a competition, that good schools will be identified and justly rewarded at this event. Information on the criteria for entry and for the winning of an award would clarify the value of these awards, however given the nature of the event, it is likely to be a competition amongst the schools featuring themselves in the show. To add to the prestige of the occasion there is Eton educated Tom Parker-Bowles, who, incidentally, is not Royalty.
Towards the end of the communication I am urged to pre-register as:
Availability is limited
This is the crux, the very point of elite, private schools.