British Quakers and private schools

British Quakers and private schools

Much has been written today about Kweku Adoboli, the “rogue trader” who lost £1.3 billion of other people’s money. One fact that has received little attention is that he went to a Quaker school.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Adoboli attended Ackworth School in West Yorkshire. The Telegraph doesn’t mention that it’s a Quaker institution, but it does mention that it charges £19,635 per year (only slightly below the average annual income in the UK).

If Wikipedia is to be believed, Adoboli was not only a student at the school, but was “Head Boy” from 1997-98.

The UK’s “Quaker schools” are nearly all privately owned, fee-paying institutions and the vast majority of their students are not Quakers. They provoke bitter debate amongst British Quakers, many of whom object to the name of their religion being associated with anything as elitist and divisive as a private school.

I understand that some of them offer bursaries for students with Quaker parents, meaning that at least a few of their students are not from wealthy backgrounds. But this only adds an element of religious discrimination on top of the socio-economic discrimination inherent in their nature.

I respect the fact that some Quaker parents struggle with the ethical issues involved before deciding to send their children to Quaker schools. What I find alarming is how many Quakers are prepared to robustly defend Quaker private schools while otherwise being apparently committed to principles of equality which lie at the root of Quakerism.

I am not of course suggesting that Ackworth School should be held responsible for Adoboli’s dealings. Far more blame must attach to the financial industry and the politicians who won’t stand up to it. It is not really accurate to describe Adoboli as a “rogue trader”, when the whole investment banking sector is effectively a rogue trade.

Nonetheless, I hope this incident will trigger renewed debate about the realities of Quaker schools and give British Quakers a wake-up call about education.

I have been involved with Quakers, to varying degrees, for thirteen years. I now attend both a Baptist Church and a Quaker Meeting, as well as worshipping in other contexts. Quakerism is a significant part of the way I understand my Christian faith.

Since becoming involved in Quakers, I have been encouraged and inspired by the number of Quakers, and Quaker bodies, taking a radical stand on issues of peace and justice. And I have been enormously frustrated by the lack of radicalism that is apparent whenever it comes to questioning Quaker institutions themselves. For a movement founded on convictions about the free workings of the Holy Spirit, Quaker institutions can be unbelievably hard to change.

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