THE atrabilious rant against private schools by Kevin McKenna exceeds even his typical, ideologically obsessed commentaries on those features of today’s society he viscerally despises (“Private schools exist only to maintain power of the elite,” The Herald, June 29).

To anyone with personal experience of independent education, however, his harangue is simply contemptible and plain ignorant.

Has he ever savoured, or even merely sampled, a single day within the cloisters of an excellent, ancient, Scottish independent school? I have, for years, both as a pupil and teacher, with lengthy interruptions in the state sector.

These jewels in the once-revered crown of Scottish education have an incomparable record of producing choice citizens in all professions and occupations, whose civic altruism and rounded qualities have refined the national character for centuries.

The gross misrepresentation of their raison d’etre by Mr.McKenna is contemptible and incandescence-inducing.

Time was when the opportunities afforded in such schools were available to every child of academic potential at minimal cost, but those of Mr. McKenna’s political persuasion, with hatred of any door of opportunity which might perversely be branded “elitist”, made it their priority (and still do) not merely to slam such doors shut to the gifted, motivated youngster, but to annihilate the doors themselves.

There may indeed be a regrettable tendency in a few to see their Almae Matres, like The High School of Glasgow (where I studied and taught), as nurturers and guarantors of lifelong privilege and advancement, but my own debt has not been of that kind.

It has rather been one of life-enrichment in the arts and humanities, taught by dedicated masters of teaching, in the genial company of companions who, like Professor Sir James Hough (Class of 1963), celebrated last week, have attained the highest distinction in spheres very different from mine.

“Pernicious influence,” says Mr. McKenna. Stamp it out, he fulminates.

Such distortion of the truth, and so venomously misguided a goal, would be hard to surpass.

Stuart Mitchell,


KEVIN McKenna hits the nail on the head with his critique on the role that private schools play in shaping the social structure of the UK. It was ever the same.

Why the general population swallows the absurd proposition that we live in enlightened times and that the world somehow works in a different way from the way it always has done throughout history baffles me.

It is obvious that for the overwhelming majority, one’s future prospects are essentially predetermined by the bed you are born into, as happened to your parents in turn by their progenitors. Democracy, as practised in the UK, is the prime factor behind the perpetuation of this social order.

As can clearly be demonstrated by the current fiasco to “elect” a Prime Minister, politics and government is controlled by “them” and not “us”. It is simply not in the best interests of the Establishment anywhere to introduce policies that promote the creation of an egalitarian society. That is why the French and Russians had their revolutions.

History also tells us, again from experiences in Russia, France, and, currently, China, that when the social order is changed violently it is just a matter of time until the same or a similar structure re-appears.

My mother was a part-time secretary; my father was an engineer (that sounds like a Simon and Garfunkel lyric) and I was educated through the state system.

My children, however, were privately educated at great financial hardship at the time. Educational-wise, my kids gained little from the private sector that the State couldn’t have provided, but that was never the goal. You may think me a hypocrite but my aim was to introduce them into a social circle they would not otherwise have encountered; if you can’t beat them you have to try to join them.

Then again, it may have been better to have invested the money I spent on their private education in a fund as I could probably have given them £250,000 each as a 21st birthday present.

David J Crawford,


THOSE working and learning in the world of independent education are used – despite all their best efforts - to having many of society’s ills laid lazily at their door. Kevin McKenna does so on a regular basis, his charge sheet growing as, in reality, schools move yet further away from his outdated assumptions. Adding Brexit to that pile is comfortably the daftest and most desperate yet, although the Charge of the Light Brigade and Suez come a close second.

I should know; I am both Director of the schools’ representative body in Scotland, the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, but also a veteran of 25 years’ engagement with the EU and Chief Campaign Spokesman for Scotland Stronger in Europe in 2016. The two are wholly compatible. It is notable, in these fraught and finger-pointing times, that no-one (rightly) brings up the educational background of Messrs. Davis, Fox, Stuart, Duncan Smith, Stringer, Francois, Field, Leadsom, Patel etc; nor that of those in politics in Edinburgh, Scottish councils, or Cardiff.

The idea that the families, teachers, support staff, suppliers and schools dotted around Scotland are complicit in the “gerrymandering of influence” and maintaining a “power of elite” is as drearily simplistic and offensive for them as it is smugly dismissive of the other 95 per cent of Scotland’s school education system who are airily dismissed as “useful idiots”. Any employer or organisation interested solely in the location or funding of a young person’s education, rather than the outcome of it, doesn’t deserve to be in business.

McKenna neatly avoids the fact that the “Elitist Britain” report took no notice of the last 20 years of devolution in Scotland and Wales; all the political representation researched was in Westminster, Whitehall and English local government, not further afield. The report, like McKenna, conveniently ignored the fact the Scotland’s Parliament created a unique public benefit test for independent schools - aimed at widening access and opening up facilities. That test has been a demonstrable success, to Scotland’s credit.

Our schools and their staff are like every school in Scotland – committed to positive outcomes, motivated by attainment, enthused by support for learning and attuned to the modern pressures on personal development. They could not care less for the isolated vanity and self-centred ambition of some public figures. Weaponising children’s education is a cheap shot and no way to take a country forward.

John Edward, Edinburgh