‘Posh Boys, How the English Public Schools Ru(i)n Britain’ by Robert Verkaik:
I had started reading this book back in January 2019 after it was given to me as a Christmas present. However, once I started commuting back to work after the break I found myself reaching for it less, as I’m not a fan of carrying hardback books around – I know, what a first world problem. So instead it became a holiday book, and travelled to Croatia with me in June 2019.
Posh Boys is the last of my reviews from our Croatia holiday in 2019; I also read Under the Wig by William Clegg QC, and War Doctor by David Nott. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay also made its way into our holiday suitcase, and was the first book read by my partner last year. (Spoiler – they loved it!).
In part this review has taken so long to write, due to the changing nature of British politics over the last 12 months. It’s no secret that we’ve had a turbulent time recently, culminating in the election of Boris Johnson as our Prime Minister at the end of 2019. I so desperately wanted to tie in Robert Verkaik’s commentary on the Tory leadership contest, and general election into this review; but I guess you’ll have to settle for this clumsy aside! Originally published in 2018, Verkaik’s commentary on the class/power systems of British society feels evermore relevant and present. I would thoroughly recommend this book as a starting point for anyone trying to understand the nature of power in the Britain; especially how it is consolidated in the hands of the few, and the intersection with class systems.
The blurb reads as follows …
“Imagine a world where leaders are able to pass power directly to their children. These children are plucked from their nurseries and sent to beautiful compounds far away from all the other children. They are provided with all the teachers they need, the best facilities, doctors and food. Every day they are told this is because they are the brightest and most important children in the world … with Posh Boys, Robert Verkaik issues a searing indictment of the public school system and outlines how, through meaningful reform, we can finally make society fairer for all.”
Verkaik takes the reader through a logical narrative, starting with the history of private schools. He covers this is a somewhat academic fashion, but manages to keep it interesting for the reader, and it does provide some very useful context for the second-half of the book.
The second-half of the book is where things get really interesting, as Verkaik begins his commentary on modern-politics. This was one of the main reasons that I was interested in Posh Boys, having already read Reckless Opportunists I wanted to better understand the how Private Schools play into the British class system. Verkaik’s writing is accessible, and easy to understand. His language is clear, and argument well-structured. Verkaik methodically walks the reader through the implications of private education in modern-day society, and doesn’t shy away from the elephant in the room – Brexit.
What was striking to me as I was reading Posh Boys was how much had artificially changed between the 2018 publication date, and reading the book in 2019. Nevertheless, the turbulence of politics at the top, does not create real change at the bottom. In the current coronavirus crisis, there is already evidence of class-politics at play; a stark illustration of the growing social inequality in the UK.
If one thing is clear, it’s that we cannot continue with this growing social inequality, something has to change and it has to change now.
‘Posh Boys’ in Facts:
Author: Robert Verkaik
First Published: 2018
Publishing House: One World
Pages: 392 (344 bulk read)