Eton vs Windsor

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The Independent Online
Oh for the heady days of school rebellion, when young Malcolm McDowell took to the rooftops in the film If, and gunned down the forces of privilege and tradition. Alas, the new face of school student protest was revealed this week as belonging to Charlie Morrell (a 17-year-old Hugh Grant flopalike from Rugby School) and his chums. Condemning political correctness, their gripe was with the headmaster's appointment of a girl, Louise Woolcock, as joint head pupil. It wasn't fair, they complained, she hadn't waited her turn.

And you can see their problem. Adolescent boys intuit that girls of their own age have reached an emotional and intellectual maturity that they themselves will not achieve for another 20 years. Today's intelligent boys accept this, planning their revenge for later, when pregnancy and motherhood will allow the tortoise to overtake the hare. Rugby, it seems, has too many stupid boys.

Not so Eton. Third in the independent schools' exam league table, the "exclusive Berkshire college" has been chosen to receive our future head of state. Prince William sat his common entrance exams and was accepted into the school. "A considerable achievement", gushed the Daily Telegraph, quoting the head of some anonymous prep school saying that the exam was tough ("not diluted like the O level") and uncrammable. This is rubbish; a quick glance at the classifieds in many newspapers reveals an entire cottage industry in cramming for the common entrance exam. We are witnessing a new myth being created: to follow the artistic prince, welcome the brainy prince.

I am trusting enough to believe that Wills did really pass. He ought to have done: the whole history section was about what his relatives and ancestors had been up to. But suppose he hadn't. Can you imagine the following letter turning up on the silver salver at Kensington Palace? "Dear parent, I am sorry to inform you that your son's application has not been successful. Perhaps a school placing less emphasis on academic achievement might be more appropriate? To help you I append a list of other establishments in the Windsor area. I am releasing a copy of this letter to the national press. Yours sincerely, etc." Impossible.

Congratulations, then. Except that Eton is just about the last school that Wills should be attending (the absolute last is Gordonstoun, the five-year outward-bound course which Prince Philip suffered and which he later inflicted upon his sons). Thirty-five per cent of its pupils have followed their fathers through its doors. It is the place where the seriously rich - the landowners, pop stars and interior designers - send their sons. There is not much of a social mix. And, unlike at Rugby, there are no girls - no super-competent Louises to long for and learn from. Worst of all, Eton is for boarders. When the underclass neglect their kids, we call it "home alone" and prosecute. If the upper and middle classes do it, we call it boarding. If you love your children you will want to see them as much as possible - and they know it.

The last thing that the monarchy needs is another polo-playing, emotionally retarded and isolated prince. The disastrous cycle of boarding school- Cambridge-armed forces-It's a Knockout must be broken. It is not too late for the Waleses to change their minds and send William to a different school - one which provides excellent education, but where he can be a day-boy and meet pupils of different backgrounds - girls, even. Diana could move palaces and send him to somewhere like Alleyns, in south London.

After that, the great provincial universities of Manchester, Nottingham and Edinburgh beckon. Then he could become the first royal for a thousand years to have a real profession - one that people could look up to. Why on earth cannot the Windsors produce a primary school head, a vet or an engineer? These days a single-sex public school/Oxbridge/ public service trajectory is no good for anyone, unless of course you are leader of the Labour Party.

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