The headteacher of one of the country’s most prestigious public schools has been blasted for making an ‘insulting and outrageous’ comparison between criticism of private schools and anti-Semitism.
Anthony Wallersteiner, of the £12,697-a-term Stowe school in Buckinghamshire, made the comments in an interview published yesterday.
Dr Wallersteiner, who is of Jewish descent, said the rise of ‘populists and polemicists’ created a micro-industry in ‘bashing private schools’.
He told the Times: ‘Some of the criticisms echo the conspiratorial language of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
‘It was relatively easy for Hitler and his henchmen to suggest that the Jewish minority was over-represented in key professions: medicine, law, teaching and the creative industries.’
He added: ‘Privately educated pupils in the UK are also being accused of dominating the top jobs and stifling social mobility … it is all too facile to stereotype groups and ignore the fact that lawyers, doctors, writers and politicians are individuals.’
But the academic faced a backlash, with Dame Margaret Hodge branding his comments ‘insulting and outrageous’.
The Labour MP said: ‘It’s insulting to all the young people who have secured places at Oxford and Cambridge on the basis of hard work and potential.
‘And it’s insulting to the victims of anti-Semitism to compare the two.’
A spokesman for the Campaign Against Antisemitism added: ‘Tasteless Holocaust analogies do not belong in the debate about education in this country.
‘Nazi propaganda against Jews was used to generate public support not only for exclusion from education but also for brutal beatings, boycotts, degradation and eventually the mass murder of six million Jewish men, women and children.’
The comments also caused uproar on social media, with editor of the Jewish Chronicle Stephen Pollard tweeting: ‘Clearly the headmaster of Stowe is not an idiot.
‘But he is doing his best to convince people that he is. And his words are so appalling that I doubt he can stay.’
Andrew Adonis, a Labour peer, added: ‘If the headmaster of Stowe believes his students are treated by university admission in the way Hitler treated the Jews, why does he think their parents pay £39,000 a year for the privilege?’
Boarding fees at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire cost around £12,697-a-term, with its website describing the school as ‘unique’ and in ‘the most sublime setting’.
Dr Wallersteiner also said private school parents fear their children are being edged out of places at Oxford and Cambridge by ‘social engineering’ – as the universities drive to take on more state pupils.
The headmaster said the plans to improve opportunities for underrepresented groups had caused a fall in Oxbridge places for private school pupils.
He said these children’s parents are arguing it is social engineering and positive discrimination.
‘There’s a much more concerted effort by admissions tutors to drive down the number of places given to independent schools and redress the balance and to put in contextual details,’ he claimed.
Barnaby Lenon, who was the headteacher at Harrow, north London, until 2011, and is currently chairman of the Independent Schools Council, added: ‘Independent schools report that their marginal candidates no longer tend to get in to Cambridge but their good candidates are as successful as ever.’
He said it should not be assumed a child is from a wealthy background based on what school they went to.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds weighed into the debate this morning, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘Well I don’t think that’s [social engineering] an appropriate phrase and I do celebrate more state school children having the opportunity to go to top universities like Oxford and Cambridge.
‘I think that’s a great thing, it’s the heart of my philosophy.’
He said private schools in Britain are world famous and ‘do a great job’ but said he wants the opportunities to be widely spread.
He added: ‘I don’t want the fact someone hasn’t had a private education, which of course is the overwhelming majority of children in this country, 93 per cent have not, they need to have an absolutely fair crack of the whip and I’m really pleased that they do.’
Dr Wallersteiner’s comments marked the first time a leading headteacher has revealed parents’ concerns.
When assessing candidates, universities look into a person’s background – including what school they went to, their gender and ethnicity.
Oxford and Cambridge have accepted fewer privately educated British pupils over the past few years following a drive by the government to promote state education.
Cambridge saw a rise in British state-educated pupils between 2013 and 2017, up from 61.4 per cent to 64.1 per cent, with Oxford seeing numbers rise from 56.8 per cent to 58.2 per cent.
Analysis by social mobility charity The Sutton Trust published in December showed eight private schools sent 1,310 pupils to Oxbridge over three years, while over the same period, 2,894 other schools sent just 1,220 students between them.
A Cambridge University spokesman said the university was ‘committed to playing its part in facilitating social mobility’.
An Oxford University spokesman added: ‘We are committed to broadening participation in higher education and building an inclusive, vibrant Oxford.’
And Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: ‘A 1.4 per cent rise in five years in state school kids getting into Oxbridge and the parents of private school kids fear social engineering! Is the Times having a laugh? That’s 40 kids per one college.’