Words: Faye Kirwan
I don’t know the exact moment I became aware that my experience in school was different to the people whose parents had more money, or more connections. Don’t get me wrong, I loved going to school growing up and wouldn’t change my education experience. However, coming from a working-class family and living in an area of particularly low school performance, I knew I had to work harder than those better off just to achieve the same things.
So, I did just that, and with my As and A*s I made my way to one of the top universities in the UK in the same manner as the students from higher performing schools down south did. Yet, I was seen as ‘breaking the mould’ and congratulated for achieving the unheard of – but why? Why should I be ‘grateful for these opportunities’ as though I succeeded out of luck, rather than performing at the same standard as more affluent private school kids? And whilst I was – and still am – extremely grateful that my situation allowed for me to uproot my life and move across the UK to better my education, I guess I just wondered: what’s the big deal?
Spoiler alert: the ‘big deal’ is the education gap.
It really is no secret that for the most part, access to private education is accessible only to those of wealthier households, or for families living in well-funded areas. I found myself falling into neither of those categories and my access to opportunities definitely represented that. Before delving into the world of educational inequality, and what that truly means for young people in the North, I would like to say that I genuinely enjoyed my experience within the education system and I am thankful I am able to say that. Some of the teachers I have had the honour of knowing throughout my life have truly helped shape me into who I am today, but the point of the matter is, I’m one of the luckier ones.
It goes without saying that thousands upon thousands of children from less economically sustainable backgrounds suffer within their school life, through no fault of their own. There is an obvious lack of access to and knowledge shared about opportunities for their educational growth, and this is before the issue of school funding is even mentioned. Linking nicely into the fact that none of these issues should produce blame aimed at families, teachers, or the children themselves. Government mishandling of resources is the real enemy.
Now I’m not one to dismiss somebody just because of their educational background, some of the loveliest people I have met at university thus far have had some form of experience in private education. But ultimately private education is not fair. And the reality for children in state schools – particularly in the North – is less about experiencing education and more about figuring out how to work the system when the system doesn’t work for them. Education is not a material asset, it should not be something that some are just able to afford whilst others can find a knock-off replacement; it is something that is fundamental in creating who we are, and I don’t believe that there should be a hierarchy of deservingness when it comes to shaping lives.
My experience is one of privilege, because whilst it was definitely not the easiest, I still managed to utilise the things I could, to get myself to where I am today. But truthfully? I didn’t even know that the University of St Andrews even so much as existed until the year that I applied. And, upon showing my interest, I was met with the responses of “that’s too posh for you,” and “your accent will really stand out there.” So that’s exactly why I decided to apply. I figured that if my entire 15 years of education up until that point had worked against me, it was time for me to work against it. So I made it to a fancy school but was cut from a different cloth.
It’s one thing to break the mould and ‘succeed’, but it’s another thing to have a mould that produces success. My point being, we need to make it a common occurrence that children from all socio-economic backgrounds have equal access to all forms of opportunities. Not only do I just think this is fair and right, but how people from different economic backgrounds supposed to empathise with each other if their only opportunity to mix is by knowing or by being the token scholarship kid?
I’m so lucky to have the experiences that I do, but I wish it wasn’t a case of luck.
Faye is a 19-year-old student from Liverpool studying English at the University of St Andrews, who also writes freelance in her spare time. she particularly enjoys writing personal essays and opinion pieces on topics involving feminism and LGBTQ+ equality, whilst also drawing from her own experiences as a young, working-class woman.