Has Prince Charles got ideas above his station?

In response to an employee's request to better herself, the Prince of Wales lambasted 'child-centred' schooling. The Education Secretary is seething, but who is right? Our panel joins the debate
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SIMON HUGHES

Liberal Democrat president

My school was good at giving people the chance to shine. There were people who might have dreamt higher than the reality of what was possible but that was no bad thing.

Not everybody has the talent to get to the top, but everybody has the right to try. A modern Britain means nobody should be cut out.

I would hope the Prince of Wales, on reflection, thinks that as well. The job of a monarch-in-waiting is never that easy.

But as Britain's next head of state, the Prince should be trying to prepare Britain and prepare himself for the modern world we live in.

HENRY BONSU

Broadcaster

People will say he is the wrong guy to say it because we know he was not particularly academically gifted and he got where he is through birth. But that does not mean everything he says is wrong.

There's no doubt teachers have been encouraged not to test young people to the extent they were tested a few years ago. It used to be that if you were black or female you had restrictions placed on your ambitions. It is good that they have a sense of ambition but unfortunately have not been given the tools to achieve it. Everyone wants to be famous but not everyone wants to be good.

J G BALLARD

Author

I think it is a sad comment on our future king and future head of state that he should be so insecure as to utter a statement of that kind.

What's wonderful about modern life is that more and more people have the chance to aim for the moon and excel themselves. He wants to stop all the clocks and turn them back to a feudal society where he will feel secure on his battlements, acknowledging the poor and peasants.

What are his qualifications for becoming head of state? I think he's disqualifying himself by his comments. He's well-meaning but he's muddled and deeply insecure.

INGRID SEWARD

Editor, Majesty magazine

Charles has got rather an old-fashioned attitude, which belies his age. The modern attitude is that anyone can do anything regardless of where they are from. When he writes a memo like this he does not expect it to appear, and he will go absolutely potty that it has.

He will make a good monarch because he has dedicated his life to duty. He really cares. He cared about the environment long before ministers brought it up. He was the first one to talk about the ozone layer. We need people like him and many people agree with him. We should not squash everybody when they speak.

DAVID SOUL

Actor

Prince Charles was writing that memo as a man who for 50 years has watched a changing society that has produced a world where we now make truly productive people redundant, where people think they learn from the media rather than in the classroom, where success becomes the most important thing, not the process, where people are given two weeks training, put on a show and given a $1m contract.

Give me a break. We are not creating artists; we are creating the next generation of D-list celebrities. True artists are given short shrift. It goes right from the top down to the school system.

ROBINA QURESHI

Anti-racism campaigner

We live in a diverse, multi-racial society so it is particularly revealing and interesting that Prince Charles should say that. It shows how out of touch and unrealistic the royals' world is.

All he needed to be was born to gain his place in society and he should be ashamed of himself. People should be encouraged to go for whatever they want, to go for their dreams.

Everybody learns in a different way, it does not necessarily mean one person is more stupid; that is just the way their brains are wired. If only we were all born into such privilege.

ANDREW PINDAR

Businessman

There have always been people who thought the laws of hard work never applied to them, but more opportunity exists for more people now than ever before. So many in my generation thought opportunities weren't for them and they were confined to drudgery because that was their lot in life.

Look at something like the Paralympics. Twenty-five years ago they would have been confined to an ugly wheelchair. The work that the Prince of Wales does through his Prince's Trust has allowed a lot of people to do things they would never have otherwise been able to do. He does believe in encouraging people.

JENNIE BOND

Former BBC royal correspondent

It is a ridiculous blanket statement and one that he would never make in public. It is pretty rich coming from someone coming from his extraordinarily privileged background, but there's a tiny element of truth.

Children are not allowed to fail an exam, but failure is something important to learn to deal with. Wherever you come from, whatever your background, you should be able to succeed. If children stop aiming high we will never progress.

I've often thought he was a man ahead of his time, and I rather like the idea of having an opinionated monarch.

ROGER SCRUTON

Philosopher

There's not one view in this memo; there are several. I agree with his view on the modern education system - that it encourages people to imagine themselves as this and that. For some, not all, hard work is something they don't have to be bothered with, and most people who deal with the products of the modern education system recognise this.

True, Charles has not earned his position through his education, but that is a misfortune of his. No one would choose to have that yoke around their neck and he has done more than most apprentice monarchs to fill in the gaps.

GLENDA JACKSON

Labour MP

The Prince's comments bear no reality to what's happening on the ground. We suffer from a poverty of aspiration, not an excess of aspiration, and I don't believe that where you are born, you die.

The Government should be encouraging much more aspiration in people. It is not purely a matter of education; society has to accept that everybody is a unique individual and should assist in developing that. It isn't that the Prince shouldn't comment on things. He should. But he should comment when he knows the facts. On this he is really off-beam.

TREVOR BAYLIS

Inventor

I think it is outrageous. When I was a child, there was a distinct social order. People can now leap through the old-fashioned social ladder. Achievement is more important than qualifications.

Many people can defy their social standing through their own creativity. No matter what the profession, the most important thing for youngsters is to follow their heart and we should be with them and be there for them. Prince Charles has got to be aware that the rank and file exists - it does exist in the Army, but he is in civvy street. For a future king, he does ruffle a few feathers.

JOAN BAKEWELL

Broadcaster and writer

It is very old-fashioned. Prince Charles is where he is by accident of birth. That's his good fortune. Other people have to gain their own authority and opportunities.

He speaks as he does because of his education, his privileged position and his inherited wealth and role.

It is not surprising he is out of touch with how ordinary people strive to make their way in the world and how difficult it can often be for a woman, not to mention someone who is black, who is trying to find the right route to seek out the appropriate way of improving her lot. It does not surprise me, but it is regrettable.

PETER KILFOYLE

Former Labour minister

Prince Charles has the right to his opinion, but the pity is that it is not an informed opinion as he lives in such a remote way. He is not qualified to comment on what motivates ordinary people.

It would be the final insult if we took away from very often desperate people the only thing that they have left, which is hope. For them to aspire is laudable, not to be criticised. Education in its original Latin sense is to "lead out" - it is not all about churning out technocratic qualifications, valuable though they may be. It is about finding out what people can achieve.

ALAIN DE BOTTON

Author

Prince Charles is speaking common sense; no society can be without some kind of hierarchy but, unfortunately for him, he is the wrong man to make a good point.

That he is a prince means he is identified in the public mind with the old aristocratic system, which determined a hierarchy on the patently absurd system that it was the "nobility" of your blood at birth that should decide the life you ended up leading.

So painful was this system for so many, so traumatic was it, that to hear the Prince arguing for hierarchy like this is liable to set off alarm bells in many.

BARRY SHEERMAN

Chairman, Commons Education Select Committee

One of the foremost things the Prince does is the Prince's Trust, which gives young people a step on the ladder into business and I have heard him say that they can be the Richard Bransons of tomorrow. Everybody should recognise it makes a substantial difference.

On the other hand, he expresses a view that most people would not recognise; a lot of us went into politics to get every child to recognise they have immensely more potential than they recognise. I think on sober reflection he will recognise that.

SUSIE ORBACH

Psychotherapist and author

People should get above their stations. I absolutely welcome as much social mobility and aspiration as possible. We have to create more room for people to express their genuine talents. The world is not just a plaything for a few people.

We live in a class-endemic society - these kind of thoughts are going to come from people such as Prince Charles. There's nothing surprising about what he said, but it does fly in the face of his wonderful efforts at the Prince's Trust.

So he perfectly embodies the contradiction between a society going towards modernity and fighting entrenched class values.

TONY BENN

Former Labour minister

Everybody has genius in them and the aim of education is to find their potential. We need to have a society that encourages them to do that, not to force things into their heads. It can take a long time. I've often thought there is a case for raising the school-leaving age.

I profoundly disagree with the Prince; he tries hammering everyone presumably because he is so inadequate himself. He is proof that some people can rise above their ability; he is a man born in the right bed, with the right parents at the right time. He is very right-wing and bombards people with memoranda.

PROFESSOR ALAN SMITHERS

Education expert

The Prince is half-right. It is good to raise aspirations but cruel to do so unrealistically. There has been a tendency in the recent past to be reluctant to fail pupils at anything. This has been for the best motives but it has denied them information valuable to their futures.

The education system is about enabling people to discover what they can do, what they like doing and where they want to go; and about achieving goals they set themselves. Charles Clarke is right to want to encourage every child to do the very best they can. Prince Charles is right to point out that schools can help most by challenging them.

ANNE ATKINS

Writer

If Prince Charles is implying that we are all born to a particular station in life then his comment seems to reveal a profound ignorance of English social history. English society has always been at its most stimulating and interesting when it has been socially mobile, for instance, in the 16th and 19th centuries.

However, if he means that we have forgotten how to aim and work to achieve it, then I think he has a point - although I wouldn't blame the classroom so much as the Lottery (and to a lesser extent instant-fame programmes such as Big Brother ).

DAVID HART

General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers

For somebody in Prince Charles's position in the year 2004 to be saying that people should not aspire to the best positions in life seems to me to be wrong.

To go on and then blame child-centred education for people's high aspirations leaves me nonplussed. We get into a situation in schools where we can't win.

Surely we should be encouraging pupils to have high aspirations - whether it to be a pop idol, a top person in business or even head of state. They should aim for the stars and to have the heir to the throne saying different is indefensible.

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