I remember an Old Boy (that’s the beautifully outmoded name still used for alumni of British
independent schools) of a well-known school at which I was teaching, recounting that when he left school he was told be a fellow Old Boy that, if ever he needed a job, he should just get in touch. Several years later, the younger Old Boy was feeling a bit luckless in London, so decided to take the older Old Boy up on his casual offer. And so he walked into the office of what is now Ernst & Young and asked to speak to the older Old Boy. He was greeted most cordially and the older Old Boy reaffirmed that anyone who had gone to their school was a ‘safe pair of hands’ and gave him a job on the spot. The younger Old Boy went on to have a stellar career in the now multi-national giant. This ‘Old School Tie’ network was the established and accepted way of furthering your interests and career. But does it still exist today?
A few years ago I asked the Secretary of another famous school’s alumni organisation how far the Old School Tie extends. He was swift to point out that there is no such thing and that the school is now at pains to stress to Leavers that they cannot expect to have does opened for them as they clearly were at Ernst & Young all those years ago: genuine meritocracy, competition and crystal clear HR processes mean that there is no place for the Old School Tie in the 21st Century. His swift rebuttal is indeed borne out of realism – the workplace has changed and Western countries now expect equal opportunities for all members of society; it’s all about giving the right person the job, isn’t it?
This might partially satisfy critics – especially those with left leanings in politics – but it cannot be denied that the Old School Tie still plays a part in British society, even if it’s considerably reduced. Indeed, it is probably the case that it is still a considerable driver but it’s simply more muted now – things are now unspoken or done unofficially and unobtrusively. You’re probably not going to get a job at a large firm anymore just because you were at the same school as one of the powers that be, but people who went to the same school tend to be ‘birds of a feather’ and they will still introduce you to people or organisations who might be able to help you in some way – joining a club, meeting a new client, playing sport, referrals – the list is endless. Schools are no different than any other network – they can sometimes be incredibly useful.
Is your child going to benefit by going to an independent school where they’ll meet people who are likely to be very successful in their future lives? I know it’s not politically correct to say so, but yes.