I have been busy. And tired. It’s exhausting having five job interviews in two and a half weeks, especially when the net result of all those interviews is no job offers.*
Where was I? Oh, yes. Browne. (You remember. The tuition fees / university funding report, before all the comprehensive spending review stuff kicked off. That. I know it’s been a while.) Anyway, reading Browne I was struck that the threshold for students receiving maintenance grants was a family income of below £60k (and another example of unjoined-up thinking in government policy. One parent earns over whatever the 40% tax threshold will be in 2013 – less than the current £44kpa – and you don’t get child benefit. Both parents earn under the 40% tax threshold and you get child benefit. But the cut-off for support for kids over 18 and studying is £60k? Make your mind up). Isn’t £60k rather high? I don’t know what my parents earned combined, but I do know that I surpassed their top earning power when I was about 26 (and not, for the record, anywhere near the higher rate tax band). I got about one-third of the full maintenance grant. Did government generosity swell in line with rising fees, or has the definition of ‘being a bit poor’ changed?
Around the same time I caught a news segment about a new school building project somewhere in south London, a school that had been considered fairly deprived. One of the kids was saying it was great that they didn’t have to have lessons in outside classrooms any more – and this had been chosen as the one statement from a pupil to represent the level of deprivation they’d previously endured.
Hang on. I had lessons my whole life in portakabins. My form room during GCSEs was in one. Half my A Level History classes took place in the same building; it was freezing because the doors and windows didn’t close properly and some moron had kicked in part of the internal skin. But I don’t recall us thinking we were badly done to. I don’t think my ability to retain RE was better than that of History because the RE classrooms were in the warm(ish) new building. It was just normal. Just like nobody I knew earning anywhere near to £60k a year.
Were we deprived? Were we poor? We were working class, but that’s not the same thing. I never considered us deprived. I considered us normal. These days, of course, I am aware that there are/were schools with amazing facilities that didn’t have growths of chewed up paper on the ceilings (for I am now middle class, with middle class friends), but I’m willing to bet that for the majority of the school age population in the 90s, my experience was more common. Of course, aspirations were rock-bottom but I don’t think that had much to do with the surroundings…
I am not saying that improving school facilities is a bad thing. It is obviously a good thing. What am I saying – what I think I am saying – is that I see these numbers and these news reports, and I wonder about the people who make the news reports and write down the numbers, and what their experience was. I’m willing to bet, again, it wasn’t like mine. The majority experience in this country is working class – there are way more people earning less than the average wage than over it – it’s normal. It can be a bit shit, but I’m shocked to discover it means we were considered poor. And I’m somewhat bristly about it, as might you be if you started to see retrospective evidence of your early poverty – and the possibility of being retrospectively patronised.
Possibly this is just a symptom of advancing time – outside toilets were normal in the 1950s, but if you still had one in the 70s you were a scummer. Has the portakabin classroom become the outside bog of this century? It’s only been 15 years… or is it that the middle classes have no idea what’s normal for the masses? Given the choice, I would have preferred doing my IT GCSE on a PC rather than a BBC, or not having to share books, over getting rid of the portakabins. You can always wear a coat, what’s the matter with you?
*It’s even more exhausting when the feedback is ‘we liked you, there was nothing else you should have done differently, nothing we felt you were lacking. We just went with this guy over here’. How the hell am I supposed to work with that? I suppose, by the law of averages, one of these days I will be the guy over here; but at the moment I am perilously close to embarking on a war of attrition with the world. Actually, I think the world has already embarked on one with me. Only one of us can survive, dear reader…