Private school fees priced us out of London — so we’re moving to Birmingham
London types can’t afford private school so are moving to Brum’s creaking education system. Jeyklan Hyde, follows the hot new clickbait genre of the middle class woe story but it was deemed too fucking infantile even for The Telegraph so we’ve picked it up for our new Weekend Magazine section. We are paying the author in exposure, which apparently can be spent on a lunch at Giraffe in Grand Central.
The squeezed upper middle classes of London are finding it increasingly hard to deal with the current economic climate. The first signs of this growing social problem was the news that some of BMW 5-series Britain were struggling with the grim reality of moving to the countryside. Drawn as far as Buckinghamshire by glossy television shows, they sold up in the capital to upsize to a mini-mansion with good access to the M1 only to find that even on a six-figure salary they couldn’t actually afford to furnish all of the rooms in this year’s essential colours and fabrics. Then we learned of couples within John Lewis’s Farrow and Ball Alarm Clock Britain who were being forced to downscale their buy to let portfolios just to afford the fees for a minor preparatory school, and even some people who would have to leave the country altogether to secure white privilege for their children. Now in a fresh low for aspiration, we have learned that some hard working families and wealth creators are taking even more desperate measures — by moving to BIRMINGHAM.
Desperate to secure an affordable education for their kids, canny Londoners have realised that the buying power of the London pound could be worth as much as five times as much beyond Watford.
David Chiclook, who earns £175,000 a year as a bank security expert, recently moved to Moseley with wife Shabbi, a freelance fashion writer, and their three children. “We cashed in £1.5m flat in Ealing and with the proceeds we were able to buy a detached home in a lovely suburb and still afford to buy three terraced houses in Balsall Heath, he told me. “One of the things that attracted us to the city is that it’s so multicultural” Shabbi added “that means that we could afford to reject any Africans who applied to let the houses, and hold on for some white people. We’ve just let one of them to some Estonians, I think, it’s hard to tell with East Europeans but I think they’re probably hard working. And clean.”
More so than property, an even bigger draw to the West Midlands is surely the schools. These new generation Brummies aren’t secreting themselves into the second city inside a large wooden animal. They’re just walking in the front door, helping themselves to an education. And that’s causing problems.
There are already areas of the city which are underserved when it comes to schools. Cash-strapped Birmingham City Council are working hard to open up more spaces, but with budgets shrinking and demand rising, it’s a difficult job, and established local families are worried. “Who will train our kids for the high-tech jobs of the future: like changing the exterior lights on a library that won’t be able to afford to open?” one concerned parent asked me.
As the noose of austerity tightens, it’s not just the future capacity of the system that’s at stake. The council can barely afford to run what schools they have — and Andy Street of the LEP so far hasn’t told anybody what to do about it.
At Moor Hall School, in Sutton Coldfield, they’ve been forced to sub-contract out their headteacher to another school to bring in some cash and they have warned that parents will need to make voluntary contributions to keep the school running through 2016. Admittedly it will probably only cost parents a few hundred quid a year, but the principle of free education is disappearing before our eyes.
Whilst Birmingham parents might struggle to meet this cost, Londoners are pleased by how cheap this “private schooling” is. “Just a few hundred pounds a year — we used to drop that on a lunch in London, and even here in Birmingham it would pay for a half dozen street food suppers” Shabbi says. “It’s cheap as chips served in their own little frying basket”.
Birmingham City Council are worried that these bargain hunting newcomers are just adding to the acute pressure on the education system. “We need these nice new people to go into a proper private school as there’s no way we can afford to place them in our state run schools” Albert Boring, Director of the Birmingham Education System, told us “their sense of how much things cost is badly skewed from living in London, and they think they’re buying into an elite education system when in fact they’re just buying two h’appenies for an overworked Headteacher to try to rub together. We hope that if they rub them enough, it might make a spark that will light an unmaintained bolier that blew out last year and which we can’t afford to fix.”
The local public schools, too, are aware of the issue and working hard to update their offer for the new arrivals. “It’s not a level playing field” Marie Wylde-Green of the Birmingham Independent Schools Federation told me. “Local authority schools are heavily subsidised by the public purse, and have an unfair competitive advantage in the marketplace. Despite this we see a large number of them are actually failing. A much higher percentage of subsidised schools in poor areas are rated as only satisfactory than those that are independently funded. Competition is good for everyone.”
She’s overseeing a PR strategy to help educate newcomers to the city of the advantages of a “proper” private education. “It’s not like you can pay a few hundred pounds to a Birmingham school so that it can make up its wage bill and then expect that your child will be easily able to access the sort of connections that will land him a junior position at Grant Thornton and a regular table at the Hotel du Vin. For that you’ll need to invest considerably more. It’s worth planning your own finances as efficiently as possible, to minimise what you pay in tax so that you can secure your child’s future.”
The message is starting to get through. “I think at the end of the day we will send the children to somewhere a little bit more upmarket for their secondary school” David tells me. “Although Birmingham’s unique public/private school option is really cost effective we’d like to make sure that the children are not held back at all. We’d like them to be able to work in London for a few years, because it’s such a smashing place. Then when it’s time for them to have kids of their own they can come back here to run an email newsletter or a small bakery. They’re not going to be able to get the right sort of internships to do this if everybody knows they went to Great Barr Comp.”
Birmingham’s failing local authority schools are looking to the future with a modern ‘freemium’ model; “it’s free, but we also charge a premium” said Don Lucknow, Headteacher of St Freemarket’s in Small Heath. “We see it rather like a low cost airline. As standard the kids get a seat, unreserved of course, but if the parents care enough about them then they can pay for educational extras. We see ourselves as a sort of easyEton.”
Everything from food to sports can be improved by those willing to pay. Premium children can have more than chocolate concrete and turkey twizzlers for lunch by attending one of the regular street food markets. The school even has a pudding named after it already “It’s like Eton mess, but with bird’s custard powder. And creme eggs instead of fruit,” said Lucknow, “And KVE scratchings. You pay slap up fees you can have a slap up feed.”
“The school song is One in Ten by UB4O, but our paid-for students we be allowed to tell people in future rugby-club situations that it was by Elgar.”
English Language lessons have been outsourced to Trinity Mirror and the bulk of the pupils are made ready for work by recently-redundant Evening Mail journalists. Critics say that a GCSE in the shortcuts Ctrl-V and Ctrl-P isn’t sufficient. But, says Luckow, “if that isn’t enough parents can pay more and we’ll find an ex-Post staffer to show them how to add the words ‘mixed-use’ to press releases.”
The school also has an interesting take on the old public school tradition of fagging. Local Authority kids fag for the paying ones by taking the risk of getting caught buying the fags for the private scholars at the Select and Save.
What’s surprising perhaps is that so little attention has been paid to the issues at play in Birmingham’s education system up until now.
“It’s odd” Albert Boring tells me “When we had a few Polish people start coming to Birmingham in the 90s everyone was all up in arms about the pressure on local schools and jobs, and the impact of the incomers on local culture yet everyone seems delighted about these London middle class people coming in, despite the fact that a lot of them are awful cunts. No matter how many of them move here, we still keep standing on the left on the escalators.”