The taxpayer is spending more than £15m a year to send the children of British diplomats and military officers to private schools such as Fettes, Winchester, Roedean and Marlborough.
The subsidies – costing as much as £30,000 a year in school fees – are being paid by the Foreign Office even when the diplomats have returned to the UK and then stay on for years.
The extraordinary hidden privilege has been unearthed by Gloria de Piero, a new Labour MP, in written questions. In a co-ordinated response, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development said the perk was necessary to “recruit, motivate and retain staff who are skilled and equipped to meet the department’s objectives”.
It is understood the same privilege is provided to senior members of the military, but no figures have been divulged by the Ministry of Defence.
It’s extended to all officers, not just senior ones. And it’s hardly hidden, everyone part of the system knows about it. And it certainly has its problems….promotion to Major/ Lieutenant Commander is pretty much a matter of time served, after that on merit. But if you’ve not managed promotion from those ranks by 45 ish, you’re never going to (absent a bloody war or a plague) but the forces won’t throw you out until you’re 55. There’s quite a number serving out that decade as lame ducks on account of the school fees subsidy…..
The reasoning for the perk is simple. Diplomats and military peeps can be and are posted overseas: that’s part of what the job entails. Sometimes children are not allowed….but that’s not the only part of it.
I don’t know what the situation is now but way back when, Pater was posted to Naples. There was a school run by the RAF which took children up to the age of 11 (wouldn’t pass muster now, two years in one class and all that but it was actually pretty good). My brother and I went to it, being under that age. My sisters were over that age: that meant that they, if they were to be educated in Naples, would have to step outside the English education system. O and A levels would not be possible, they would need to go to either an Italian school (teaching in the Italian language of course, so they’d have to become fluent in a couple of months) or an American high school.
The posting was for 2 and a half years. At the end of which everyone back to England and so try and get back into the English education system…..
A decade later, Pater was posted back to Naples again. By this time I was 17, with 8 or 9 months to go before taking A levels. Little brother was on the cusp of CSE’s (as I think they were called at the time). There was still no over age 11 provision of the English education system in Naples.
Under the current system I stayed at the boarding school I’d been at, the boarding school the MoD paid 75% (not 100% like the diplomats get) of the fees for over the entire time I was there. In the absence of which I could perhaps have moved in with a grandmother or aunt, moved school and town etc. Or lived on my own and attended a sixth form college, gone to an Italian school, or an American high school or…..well, it’s not entirely obvious that the current system is worse than any of those.
OK, this might be an expensive system, it might not even be the right system (I can see how people might, well, certain rather grumpy people might, say that sending the children of officers to private boarding schools simply perpetuates class divisions….whatever) but some sort of system is obviously needed.
It might be that we should just tell the kiddies of people posted overseas that, well, your education’s fucked then mate. You’ll just have to bounce around between different systems and see what you pick up. Or we might need to have English style schools everywhere. There aren’t that many English kids in Naples at any one time, wouldn’t cost all that much to educate what, 30 or 40 of them out there, hire a few teachers and get on with it. Or perhaps, given the growth in “English schools” around the world since then some form of subsidy to attend private day schools where people are posted to would be appropriate?
For example, there’s a base at Carcavellos just outside Lisbon (listening centre for radio traffic over the Atlantic I think) and that strip of coast has a couple of English language day schools. Sure, they cost money, but all those military personnel are paying the same taxes as they would in the UK and so are paying for the State to educate their children. If said State has both insisted that they must go there and also is not providing a school, perhaps slipping them into the local private sector is the right thing to do?
Or maybe there should be an expansion of the State boarding sector (yes, it does exist) and military and diplomatic kids get sent off to that? Although I could imagine the social stratification getting even worse with that solution as I think you’d find that certain schools would pretty quickly get colonised by particular groups: an FCO place. A posh regiments place (Hussars might be willing to let their daughters mix with those of the Guards but perhaps not REME), the Navy might have one specialising in rum, buggery and the lash (the great failure of the Catholic boarding schools is of course the lack of rum) and so on.
My point is, and I do speak from personal experience, that some system needs to be devised so that the children of those posted abroad by the State get to continue their education. Their parents are paying the State for this education after all. Slipping the kids into already extant private boarding schools might not be the most appealing solution to a certain mindset: but for those who want to change it it is incumbent upon them to come up with some other functional system to perform the same task.
How are you going to allow children to continue through the English education system? State boarding schools. farm them out to relatives, build schools everywhere troops go with families, subsidise private educations abroad? Or just chuck them into whatever local education system there is, with all of the attendant language, curriculum and examination difficulties?
Update: As I’m corrected in the comments, the education thing extends to all ranks, not just officers. My mistake.