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Opinion: Unfair that Gresham's gets to hoover up Sir James Dyson's cash bonanza

PUBLISHED: 13:46 24 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:49 24 June 2019

Sir James Dyson, left, with Gresham’s School's former headmaster Logie Bruce-Lockhart. Mr Bruce-Lockhart gave Sir James financial support to continue his education following the untimely death of his father, Alec, who taught
classics at the school. Picture: Gresham's

Sir James Dyson, left, with Gresham's School's former headmaster Logie Bruce-Lockhart. Mr Bruce-Lockhart gave Sir James financial support to continue his education following the untimely death of his father, Alec, who taught classics at the school. Picture: Gresham's

OLIVER BLAIR

Steven Downes is a Cromer boy with a Gresham's grudge - and the latest news regarding vacuum visionary James Dyson gives him few crumbs of comfort

When I was a teenager, I'd have hated Sir James Dyson.

He's posh, you see, and went to Gresham's School in Holt - enemy territory for an inverted snob from Cromer High School.

I loathed Gresham's - partly because of an evolving understanding that life isn't fair, and partly because of jealousy.

The Cromer science labs were shabby, the school's walls needed painting, the cricket pitch was part of the hockey pitch - everything smacked of education for the unwashed masses.

At Gresham's, education for the few with rich parents was so different.

I envied the perfect cricket pitches and manicured outfield - not to mention the clubhouse. We had the PE changing rooms, with missing pegs, and showers that didn't work.

Everything worked - and 
didn't the supercilious ******** at the school know it. How I longed to launch a class war and wipe smug grins off some chinless faces.

The only fun we had was when, at Paston Sixth Form College, we massacred them at football, leaving behind a trail of casualties - then proceeded to beat their fourth, third and second XIs at cricket (they wouldn't let us play the "ones" in case we humiliated them, too).

Sir James Dyson was at Gresham's, and it helped him to become one of the UK's greatest engineers and inventors.

Now, as a thank you to the school that supported him and funded his education after his father died, he has donated £18.75m for a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics centre at the school.

Yet again, it's the posh looking after the posh, isn't it?

Just in case the class divide was narrowing, there are always big wedges of cash to crowbar it a little bit wider.

Some (including teenage me) would ask why Sir James didn't give the money to the state system in Norfolk, which is desperate for investment (as it isn't propped up by the spare change of the super-rich).

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But it isn't that simple.

Sadly, I think the money would go to waste in the state system.

Despite having a Conservative government dominated by privately-educated members of the old-school-tie brigade, 
we have an education system that works against enterprise and creativity.

From infant school until the end of A-levels, school is driven from the top down by targets and judged purely on results.

There's very little space for gifted potential engineers to explore their ideas and develop their passion.

Instead, they are in a curriculum straitjacket with all the other pupils, being taught to the test and judged purely on the blunt instruments of level four, level five, or five A*-C including English, maths and science.

For so many children, school therefore becomes a place to go to and to get through - when it should be exciting, creative, stimulating.

My children are intelligent, thoughtful and hard-working young adults, but school did not stretch or stimulate any of them.

They couldn't wait to leave education. So much for the hogwash of "the best years of our lives".

If any of them was an engineer of the future, they never had a chance to find out. The system threw a damp cloth over the embers of their enterprise.

The Dyson Building will be yet another way for the lucky children of north Norfolk and beyond to get on in life.

But I can't knock it, despite the injustice.

The UK needs engineers, but has a state education system that is embarrassingly incapable of providing them.

It's left to the independent sector to make into a niche something that should be widespread.

So - even though he's posh and went to Gresham's - thank goodness for people like Sir James Dyson.

Maybe one day he'll feel confident enough to hand big money to state schools - but don't hold your breath.

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