How the market prevails where the state has failed

This Wednesday I gave my first assembly at Bedales. I found myself strangely nervous at the prospect of addressing the young Bedalians, but not because I felt intimidated speaking to so many people all at once, or because I was nervous of slipping up and embarrassing myself. No, rather, I was unsettled because I was going to talk about something very close to my heart, something that would bring to the surface thoughts from my past, possibly sending me on a roller-coaster of emotions that would take me back to another time – you could say another world.

I wanted to tell young Bedalians about this other world: a hidden Britain that very few of them know of, despite it being a life that a substantial proportion of their national peers lead.  I grew up on a council estate in a deprived and impoverished ex-mining community – welcome to life in the benefits-class: an industrial splinter of the working classes, a thorn in the nation’s side, an apparent plague sweeping the nation and robbing our taxes. The media demonises it, acting as a fascist vehicle in a bid to earn ratings from the latest reality TV concept. I wanted to tell the youthdem ‘don’t believe the hype’, I wanted to tell them the truth that Britain so often ignores – our class system is one of the worst in Europe. In fact, I feel it would be more appropriately defined as a satanic-caste system (i.e. no caste mobility) where Krishna has been replaced by Lucifer and we dwell in a socio-economic hell. This is a hell I have experienced first-hand and I feel I have come to understand it as it is, rather than what the hype would lead you to believe. Sadly, it is perpetuated by both our outdated education and political systems. I wanted to make Bedalians aware of this, and furthermore, I wanted them to know that they all have the power to affect change in the world.

It may seem strange that a Doctor of Chemistry and qualified teacher who works at one of the country’s top public schools associates himself so strongly with the precariat, but as my dad said, class is defined by where you are from. My mum on the other hand, believes class is about education. Whilst I agree that both statements have their own value, I lean towards my dad’s definition. As we say in the valleys, ‘you can take the boy out of the valleys but you will never take the valleys out of the boy’. As a result of my childhood experiences, I strongly associate myself as working class; for me it’s cultural – and a large part of my identity, an identity that has led me down this career path. I am not a teacher out of a desire to teach Chemistry, rather, I went into teaching to help inspire, motivate and enable the working-class youth and show them by example that they can succeed – despite both their government and education system being against them. However, I soon realised I was fighting a losing battle trying to force 21st century students into a 19th century model of education. I left dispirited, wounded and literally swearing I would never teach again: it felt like a waste of my own education.

So how on earth did I end up here, teaching kids at one of the most prestigious schools in the country? Well I met my colleague, Liz Stacy, who along with some friends, convinced me to give teaching (albeit at Bedales) one more go.  Now it almost seems like fate; I have never enjoyed teaching so much and I feel both lucky and proud to be an active member of this community. More pertinently, I feel on-track to help the disadvantaged youth more than ever.

Ironically (and rather sadly), the private sector has provided me with opportunities that the state was just not geared-up to deal with. Bedales has not only reignited my passion for teaching and learning, it has also provided me with more efficient fuel and power to affect change. For example, you wouldn’t be reading this now if I were still working for the government in the state sector; neither would I be in the process of formulating outreach work with Hampshire’s inclusion unit, I wouldn’t have met Mike Fairclough, Bill Lucas and Sir Michael Wilshaw, I wouldn’t have been inspired by our Bedales Assessed Courses to see that there is more we can do as a society to side-step the totalitarian bureaucrats of Westminster and Whitehall.  I wouldn’t be talking about the situation to parents who have children at Eton. In fact I probably wouldn’t be a teacher at all!

So when people ask me how I can claim to be a teacher to help the disadvantaged youth, considering I work at such a privileged school, I tell them simply that I am here because this market provides more opportunity for educational reform than our out-dated democracy does. That said, I want to make it clear that I think making all schools into academies would have been a disastrous move, more to follow on that…

By Scott Charlesworth, Teacher of Chemistry
Read Scott’s Huffington Post articles