The school one attends still determines ones social status in British society. There is a clear division between State schools and independent (privately funded) public schools. Having a child in a public school is a powerful symbol of wealth and status among the Britons.

Class is a tricky topic, these days. More thank money and even our caste. It can bring instant friends, or break old friendships. Who wants to be seen in poor company.
Then, what is class? What class you belong to? And how class is decided. Of course, you can’t decide for yourself. This is decided by others. The boorish rich man today is welcomed by the class-conscious, because money buys class. Class without money?
It is a contradiction! So, now see what class is and how it matters. This obsession with class is a British pastime. The British society is a deeply class-based. On the one hand is the landed aristocracy who send their children to Eton and Harrow and then Oxford and Cambridge. On the other hand comes the business classes, which of course, now increasingly go to expensive schools. After Thatcher revolution, Prime Ministers came from humble backgrounds like Thatcher herself and John Major. But the secret world to wealth and privileges are still controlled by the expensive public school products.

This is not a terribly serious or scholarly book. But an interesting book. Interesting from our own Indian point of view. The British people are an obsessive lot when it comes to class distinctions. They are almost paranoid about their own various finer and often silly small details of their own presumed class status. The only pastime these days with the people there is where their country ranks in the world. And more importantly, they bother too much about where their own class distinctions can be traced to. With all their traditions Britons are not as ancient as, say we Indians.

Indians have a long past. Our traditions are again a complex web of civilisations and religions and races. The West, one should dare to say this now, including the Greeks, doesn’t have such things like our Vedas and religious speculations. Our Indus valley civilisations precede the Greek civilisations. So, the British as a relative new comers to civilisation have not much myths and legends to fall back upon. May be that is one reason that they simply get obsessed with class distinctions. It is something akin to what the Yankees do with their own obsession with money. May be again, the Westerners would damn Indians with our own obsessions with caste distinctions.

Anyway, this present book says something about class in Britain.
For instance, Margaret Thatcher was always remembered, even now, as a grocer’s daughter. Though she become a famous Prime Minister and now given the ceremonial title of a Baroness, she doesn’t seem to have shed that old lower class mentality. She is too masculine to win the admiration of her more high class peers. She is more noisy in her assertions, be it national or international policies and this doesn’t endear her too much to friends either at home or abroad. Likewise, John Major is always the coolie by who dropped out of school. Though he dismisses the British penchant to rake his low class origins by dismissing the matter, “never so much was said about so little” the barb remains and hearts him and his countrymen. Major is a joker, that is how people see him. Names matter in England. John is taken as a low class origin. The school one goes to is very important. Eton, Harrow and Winchester and Rugby matters a great deal in determining your class. Likewise, your university matters very much. Oxbridge is the seal of approval. But these days many grammer school boys and girls go to Oxbridge. So, schools matter more than anything else. Boarding school fees cost a haven!

Often polls are taken to determine classes. It seems everyone now claims they are middle class. What you take to be class mark changes every time. Now, the occupations people engaged in are taken to be the criterion for deciding one’s class. Formerly, there were landholdings, owning country houses, going to prestigious public schools and then Oxbridge. Entering Parliament and becoming a minister were other attributes of class. Serving as a civil or army personnel or going the navy or the Indian civil service were vehicles for social upliftment. All these avenues are no more in existence or these existing avenues are swamped by the mass of working class people. So, new variations of the occupations have come to the forefront.

There are 18 major and 73 minor occupations listed in the 1991 census. In 1993 there were these categories : Upper class, skilled working class, semi-skilled working class and unskilled working class, underclass. Once aristocracy was a much envied British class. Now, the authors argue (may be the authors are lower professional class of working journalists!) aristocracy is gone. Simply, because they say, the class is not of much statistical significance. Once would disagree with this notion. For the British tabloids and much of the popular press and TV thrive on writing on royalty and the high society.
A funny description in the book on some new categories of occupations makes for interesting reading:

Advertisers, credit-card companies, market researchers and glitzy journalists on glossy magazines have sought alternative ways of categorising people. Most of them are either just as one-dimensional as occupational class or so vaguely defined that they evaporate as soon as you try to examine their substance. Age or `lifestage’ are particularly fashionable as defining characteristics; others employ residential neighbourhoods – `Wealthy Achievers, Suburban Areas’, `Affluent Greys, Rural Communities’, and so on – to locate clusters of people with similar attributes; some use lifestyle groupings such as `Sociable Spenders’, `Prudent Affluent’, or `Acquisitors’. Many such groupings, however, appear to be little more than acronyms in search of a meaning:

Yuppies : Young, upwardly mobile professionals. A phenomenon of the 1980s and showing signs of a resurgence in the 1990s, their trade marks were richly coloured Porsches, mobiles phones and a `greed-is-good’ creed that put a premium on career success.
Yaks : Young, adventurous, keen and single. Aged 18 to 24, they are said to live at home or rent flats; with no heavy financial burdens, they are status-seekers distinguished by a taste for designer-label clothes, Mediterranean suntans and winter skiing in fashionable Swiss or American resorts. They love eating out, but keep themselves in trim with regular visits to the health club.

Ewes : Experts with expensive style. By the age of 25 to 34, they are high-flying trendsetters, often couples with two incomes, a first mortgage and no children. They are said to spend heavily on the home and enjoy hectic social lives with other Ewes.

Bats : Babies and the sparkle. Similar to Ewes, they are married or living together, with a mortgage and children. Most of their cash goes on their house and family. They have to balance their books and use credit cards responsibly. For holidays, they go camping in France, or stay at a friend’s cottage in the country, particularly Devon or Norfolk.

Clams : Carefully look at most spending. Aged 34 to 44, the so-called Clams have older children. They may be divorcing, remarrying, or going through a mid-life crisis; they may be doing all three. Although they have high incomes, they have huge bills to match, including big mortgages and expensive school fees. As high borrowers, they have to watch which way the cash flows. Their social life is dominated by dinner parties with friends who also cannot afford to eat out; second-hand estate cars are a favourite means of transport.

Mice : Money is coming easier. In their 40s or early 50s, their children have started to leave home which help pay for regular holidays, are frequently supplemented by family inheritances.
Owls : Older with less stress. The over-55s who have paid off their mortgages or moved to more modest homes. Their biggest spending goes on gifts and, yes, holidays – whether it is a coach trip in the Highlands of Scotland or transflobal trekking.

Some of these groupings are clearly meant as jokes and redreamed up merely to fill column inches in tabloid newspapers and the even bigger void in tabloid minds. They include : Sitcoms – Single Income, Two children, Outrageous Mortgage; Grumps-Grim, Ruthless, Upwardly Mobile Professionals; Dinks – Double Income, No Kids; Oinks – One Income, No kids; Ticks – Two Income Couples with Kids; Dwiks-Dual Income with Kids; Minks – Multiple Income, No kids; Bobos – Burnt out but opulent; Nopes – Not out-wardly prosperous educated persons; Spom – Success with peace of mind; Pippy – Persons inheriting parents’ property; Swell-Single woman earning lots of lolly; Opals – Older people with active lifestyles. So, now lifestyles are what matter.

Which school one attends still determines one’s social status in British society. What schools, university your parents went is still a question that leads to deciding the young man or youngwoman’s social status and attention to friendship. In UK there are clear divisions between state schools and independent (privately funded) public schools.

For example, in 1963 half the undergraduates entering Oxford came from independent schools, and the rest (15%) were from direct-grant grammars; at the end of the 1960s and after the expansion of higher education, the proportions of pupils from independent and state-maintained schools were roughly equal at just over four in 10 each, while the proportion from direct-grant grammars remained broadly the same (17%). However, by the last 1970s – at the very end of the state system’s golden age – the state-maintained schools, predominantly grammars, had pulled ahead, all this in a period when the number of students at Oxford also increased markedly. It is only with the abolition of direct-grant schools, the spread of comprehensives and the subsequent expansion of private education that the balance has swung back, marginally, in favour of independent schools. Never has the background of Oxbridge students, regardless of the type of school they attended, been less upper class.

There has been a revolution in higher education, with the number of students doubling to 1.3 million since 1970. The proportion of people with degrees, or their equivalent, has increased sharply in the past decade, from 9% to 12% for men, and from 4% to 7% for women. Expansion of university places is the `big bang’ of middleclass ascendancy.
Even now, having your children in a private school is a powerful symbol of wealth and status among the Britons.

Consequently, the most expensive schools are sought after. According to the schools the most expensive today are with fees in bracket are :

Annual fees in pounds
Westminster, Central London 12,750
Millfield, Somerset 12,435
Harrow, outer London 12,360
Winchester, Hampshire 12,270
Bryanston, Dorset 12,255
Oundle, Northamptonshire 12,021
Roedean, East Sussex 11,985
Rugby, Warwickshire 11,856
King’s, Canterbury 11,820

Symbolically, the last five prime ministers, spanning a period of 30 years and following a trio of Etonians, have all been state-educated, most notably John Major, who left Rutlish Grammar in southwest London at 16 with, famously, no O-levels. `Never has so much been said about so little,’ he recalled after winning the Tory party leadership battle with Douglas Hurd, the first Conservative politician to find that being an Etonian, scholar and a gentleman was actually a disadvantage; in vain Hurd tried to portray himself as the horny-handed son of a humble farmer.

At the end of 1992 the Economist analysed the backgrounds of `100 top people’. They were overwhelming male; two-thirds went to public school; more than half went to Oxbridge. Eton remains the most successful Establishment kindergarten, though it, too, has lost ground: overall, in the 1993 Who’s Who, there were 1,245 Etonians, just over one in 25 of all entries and five times the number of Harrovians; in 1963 the proportion of Etonians was more than one in 20 and less than four times the number of Harrovians.

In the 1993 edition, 390 were schooled in the independent sector; the biggest number had gone to Eton and Winchester. A total of 126 had attended the 13 mot-represented public schools. A similar dilution in the influence of Oxbridge can also be detected: among the new entries, about a quarter (27%) studied at either Oxford or Cambridge, compared with more than a third (34%) of the departing Establishment. Trinity, Cambridge, and New College, Oxford remain the colleges with a direct route into the corridors of power. For the class-conscious congnoscenti, it is not enough simply to say Oxford or Cambridge. Even within the educational elite, there are pecking orders. The Norrington Table, which ranked Oxford colleges according to their degree results, used to be the academic equivalent of a snob’s guide that created an inner elite of educationally respectable institutions. It was proof positive that Merton, New College and St.John’s were `in’, while St.Peter’s, Somerville and Trinity were definitely `out’. But the distinctions between the colleges go further than mere degree performance: they all have their own social niches. Balliol thrived on its reputation for the `effortless superiority’ of intellectual left-wingers; Christ Church, all beagling, and bun-fights at Piers Gavesion Society dinners, is the preserve of the landed gentry who refer to it simply as `The House’, Oriel is perhaps best known for its beefy American towers, who enjoy their 15 minutes of fame in the annual Boat Race.

The most remarkable characteristic of today’s elite, however, is not the high proportion of members who are Etonians, Harrovians or Oxbridge types, the seeds of which were, after all sown in the Victorian era. It is the way the grip of the old school tie, the badge of an outdated aristocracy, is being broken by the success of Britain’s `minor’ public schools and the jewels in the crown of the state system. When the Financial Times, the house newspaper of the ruling elite for more than a century, surveyed 50 independent school headmasters, Oxbridge tutors and A-level examiners, it revealed a shake-up of seismic proportions in the long-established hierarchy of private education. It showed that the rising elite is likely to come from fee-paying schools with a reputation for academic achievement rather than blind scoail snobbery. There was room in the top 10 for only four of the `great’ public schools listed by the 1861 Clarendon Commission, including Eton, Winchester, Harrow, Westminster, St.Paul’s, Charterhouse, Merchant Taylor’s, Rugby and Shrewsbury. There was only passing mention of charterhouse, which was damned by the faint praise of one headmaster. It tends to be dominated,’ he opined, `by stock-brokers’ sons. It leads to a certain moral climate.’

A new list shown in the book lists 15 representatives of Thatcher’s Britain, the new elite in British business and all didn’t go to the famous public schools nor Oxbridge. In fact most went to Grammar schools like our government schools.

 

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