Dear Jay Rayner
I am truly sorry that your favourite pub and toy shop in Dulwich and Herne Hill have closed down due to the actions of Dulwich Estates. You term them greedy for putting up the rents by 70%. That might well be the case and I’m not here to defend them. Shops rents do, however, go up by huge amounts at intervals all over there place, and not just in Dulwich. I agree that it’s sad that another independent business has lost its livelihood and that this reflects the homogenisation and conformity of High Streets all over the country.
However, because Dulwich Estate is part of the same Foundation that owns and runs the three major independent schools of Dulwich College, James Allen’s Girls’ School and Alleyn’s, you seem to want to direct most of your wrath at these schools and the high quality independent education they provide. Is your anger really directed at Dulwich Estates or at the educational Foundation and independent schools in general?
I know there is much debate about whether independent schools should maintain their charity status and arguably they should not, but the truth is that these three schools share a lot of their facilities – sports facilities, music, coaching, outreach, school twinning – and directly benefit their local communities. In addition parents pay their Council tax towards state school places which their children do not use, so they end up paying twice.
Having been educated in a similar institution yourself, you say that you cannot see the benefit. I would put it to you that you were lucky to have received such an education. Perhaps you might care to admit that you were at school some time ago, and that you probably have little knowledge of what the schools you are targeting offer to bright, creative, talented children of all faiths and none.
That you can even live in the Dulwich and Herne Hill area shows how much you have actually benefitted from that education without, perhaps, wishing to acknowledge it. As you might be aware, SE21, SE22 and SE24 property prices are way beyond the reach of Londoners with even good incomes and have become the preserve of either the very wealthy or poorer people who live in council or housing association dwellings.
To take out your wrath about the rent increase on the Foundation schools is unfair misdirection. As a proud parent of Alleyn’s children, I can tell you that the education that institution provides is fine indeed. You begrudge the bursaries awarded by the Foundation to enable local students to receive this education and you seem to think that all those who receive bursaries have parents wealthy enough to afford the fees. Well, my children have school friends who receive 100% bursaries, and I can tell you that they are awarded to bright, ambitious, sparky children with academic and leadership potential who live on some of the most disadvantaged housing estates in Peckham and the surrounding areas.
Undoubtedly privileged, my own children would only come into contact with the children of these poor families through the bursaries provided by school and they are the better and all the more grounded for being friends with them. I cannot speak for Dulwich College but, as I say, mine are Alleyn’s children, and many of their friends went to JAGS. There are sound reasons why for each child awarded a place by merit at these schools, eight or nine children are turned away.
In fact, it reflects the situation in Bromley, my own, neighbouring, borough, where the two super-selective, single-sex state grammar schools have a similar ratio of those who are granted admission to those who are turned away. Parents have their children tutored heavily from the age of four, yes FOUR, to try and pass the exams for these institutions and yet no-one criticises these schools for their exclusivity.
I am sorry you have directed your wrath at the heads of our schools Mr Rayner. Their job is to provide leadership, vision and excellence in education at schools that are hugely over-subscribed for many reasons. The last time I looked, the heads were not experts in estate management. I am sorry that you feel that you have not benefited much from your similarly exclusive education but it is a pity that you that you would deprive children who have not been born into privilege like you of similar chances.
I always find it amusing how so many of those who profess to be vehemently against private education quietly choose it for their own children. Indeed, my own progeny have been at school with the offspring of many illustrious lefties. There is a reason for that.
Yes, you have lost your toy shop but other independent shops in exclusive, chic Dulwich and Herne Hill seem to survive. Notably Village Books which, in its partnership with Alleyn’s, seems to be thriving. Yes, your piece makes for very interesting reading, but it seems to confirm your opinions of independent schools.