We Asked Etonians What They Think About Abolishing Eton

At party conference this weekend, Labour delegates backed a motion to ban all private schools, led by the "Abolish Eton" campaign.
September 23, 2019, 10:20am
eton students flower hats
Eton students. Photo: Homer Sykes / Alamy Stock Photo

There are arguments for and against private schools. But the main argument for them – that they massively benefit the children whose parents can afford them – is exactly the same as the main argument against them.

Despite this uniquely British marker of inequality being very obviously flawed, many campaigns to abolish private school have floundered: those arguing that parents should have "a choice" of where they educate their kids (forgetting that you only have that choice if you have loads of money) have always come out on top.

This weekend, however, delegates at Labour conference voted that a motion to abolish private schools should be added to the party's manifesto. The move would remove private schools' charitable status – using the extra tax money to "improve the lives of all children", according to shadow education secretary Angela Rayner – and redistribute their properties and investments to the state sector. Unsurprisingly, lots of Spectator readers aren't very happy about this news.

One group that will be celebrating is "Labour Against Private Schools", the campaign group that put the issue on Labour's agenda. Seeing as they tweet under the name "Abolish Eton", we asked a few former Eton students for their thoughts on the UK scrapping their alma mater. Not a single one of them wanted to be named, so all pseudonyms have been taken from Tatler's posh baby names for boys list.

eton pupils

Eton students. Photo: Homer Sykes / Alamy Stock Photo

AUBYN

I think that banning Eton is denying what's good about it in its entirety. Whilst I agree broadly with the idea that you shouldn't be able to pay for a better education than those who are unable to pay for it, what Eton brings as an educational establishment is unique. I think there's a lot of good the school does that isn't shouted about, and a lot of evil that is shouted about.

[But] it's really tough. I look at it and I think, 'Would I send my kids to Eton?' And I'd say no, simply because it's far too expensive and sheltering. However, it was some of the best years of my life, and I wouldn't be the person I was without it, so it's tough to say I wouldn't go there again. It's a poisoned chalice, because you don't know what you would be like without it.

BARCLAY

I suppose there's a practicality to it. Can you actually get rid of a place like Eton? Does it just move? There's always been this rumour that they have land in Ireland in the case that they are banned, and they just move over there and start up another school.

I'm quite conflicted. I think the school has changed a lot in the last 20 years. There's still going to be an unfair amount of Etonians in senior positions, but I do think the old school attitudes have changed. In my house, I had some very wealthy people, but I also had children of teachers. I still do feel it's unfair, the advantage we were given.

ORMEROD

In an increasingly globalised country with an increasingly diverse, ethnic and religious mix, and a robust private sector, banning the private education sector would be anti-capitalist, or kind of socialist, so from my own personal stance, as someone who believes in a capitalist system being efficient, I wouldn't support banning private education as a category.

In terms of how I feel as someone who went there, if it was just [Eton being abolished], then I suppose I wouldn't mind. It doesn't hurt any role in my life. I don't use [attending Eton] to my benefit in my life: I don't say I went there and it's not on my LinkedIn. It doesn’t really affect me personally. I don’t really care.

CASSAR

It's tricky for me to answer [whether the world would be a worse place without Eton] because I think, in principle, I do agree with banning it. But it's strange, because it's your own school, and that is very much tied in with part of my identity. I think, all things considered, I'm against private education, but I have no frame of reference elsewhere, and it did make me who I am. I learnt so much about myself.

[Interestingly], this debate is absolutely not commented on by Old Etonians. They're nowhere to be seen – at least not explicitly. I think that's because there's a slight apology, but I also think that's part of the code. You don't talk about it – you refer to it as 'school', you don't refer to it as Eton. It's probably a way to keep it going.

TITUS

Banning Eton is not really a solution to people trapped in actual poverty. It addresses inequality of opportunity for the very best jobs, but not very broadly for society. I mean, it might improve the quality of our leadership, if we could get rid of Etonians. We haven't had a great record over the last five years or so. I think banning private schools would make a difference, but I mean, Eton's just a bit of a symbol.

Given that Boris Johnson is Prime Minister and Cameron before him, I can understand the sentiment for wanting to ban Eton at this stage. I'm glad I didn't know about all the controversy [when I was there]. I'm glad I was ignorant as a teenager, because that would have been very difficult to process.

@RubyJLL