I was also taught by ‘unqualified teachers’.
I knew many of the same unqualified teachers Nick Clegg did in fact, like the late David Hepburne-Scott who taught me physics, Theo Zinn and Richard Stokes.
This is because I went to the same school as Nick Clegg MP. This is the same school as Tristram Hunt MP. That is Westminster School in the middle of London, SW1.
In my personal case, I think the biggest ‘education’ for me was waking up on the top floor of the Royal Free Hospital in London in the pitch dark. I had just been a six week coma. Thanks to the much maligned NHS, I had been wired up to a ventilator in ITU. I am lucky to be alive now, although I happen to live with physical disability since this coma.
I woke up to find that Tony Blair was no longer Prime Minister. There had also, separately, been an outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease.
The Royal College of St. Peter in Westminster, better known as Westminster School and standing just behind Westminster Abbey in London, is one of Britain’s leading independent schools, with the highest Oxford and Cambridge acceptance rates of any secondary school or college in Britain.
With a history going back to the 11th century, the school’s notable alumni include Ben Jonson, John Dryden, Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, Edward Gibbon, Henry Mayhew, A. A. Milne, Tony Benn and seven Prime Ministers.
In fact, I was a year below Dido Armstrong (who is ‘Dido’ the pop singer) and Martha Lane-Fox (social digital guru, who founded ‘lastminute.com’). Logically, therefore, they weren’t taught by qualified teachers either.
As I am nearing 40, with school having been left behind me like the latin ablative absolutes I was once able to translate, I am mildly amused about this war on unqualified teachers which has now erupted.
Like many at Westminster School, I went onto Cambridge. My ‘education’ at Westminster was great, and I achieved very good exam results.
Whilst I have bene unemployed from full salaried employment for the last seven consecutive years, I do owe my relative ‘social mobility’ to the fact I was awarded a Queen’s Scholarship there at the age of 13, in 1987. This meant, in my case, I didn’t have to pay any feees.
I took an exam otherwise known as the Westminster School “Challenge”. The last exam I ever took, in this complex entrance exam, was an Ancient Greek translation. I would of course not be able to do that exercise today, like all of my A level papers either.
It meant that I was in College, the same ‘house’ as Adam Boulton was in. My politics are not from the same stable as Adam Boulton. Nick Clegg’s parents were fee-paying though as he was ‘Up Liddell’s’, a different (inferior) house.
I dare say the lack of qualified teachers didn’t do any harm to my school friends, one of whom is a Consultant in Radiology at University College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust on Euston Road, London, as we speak. Our class sizes were small, so therefore discipline wasn’t any problem ever in my five years there.
I do remember my teachers being amazingly intelligent though, paradoxically more impressive than my supervisors at Cambridge. They marked my homework (called ‘preparation’) meticulously. I didn’t ever think to doubt their academic abilities for some reason. I didn’t ask to enquire about their certificates.
But as I reach 40, I also wonder about the banality of academic qualifications. I have now nearly ten academic degrees and diplomas in medicine, law, natural sciences and business management, and I would say that it’s not about the knowledge. What it is about is an ability to learn how to learn. This doesn’t come easy.
As I reach 40, I also see people who are CEOs of medical charities who’ve never set foot on a medical ward, and yet are highly influential in medical policy (such as diagnosis of conditions, or how patients could pay for their treatment). Like unelected MPs, they are people who’ve largely played the system, and gone from one CEO job to the next, and there is no end to their fortunes.
I dare say Alan Sugar doesn’t miss his MBA. I dare say also, very controversially, that César Milstein doesn’t miss, that much, not being awarded a Professorship by my University, Cambridge, several years ago. His invention of monoclonal antibodies made a profound impact on the world of medicine and therapeutics, such that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. A delightful man. I remember his low cholesterol diet – we were both on the ‘Top Table’ once for some reason.
I can’t help feeling that Nick Clegg is throwing his toys out of his pram for effect. I suppose he is making a stand. I just wish he’d made a stand on the Health and Social Care Act (2012).
The senior solicitor of a law centre I once did pro bono warned me to fight battles to the hilt, but she also advised me to choose my battles first correctly.
Nick Clegg has clearly not done that.