In the UK, an Italian family believes, education is a privilege

‘Social mobility is almost impossible,’ Caterina Soffici concluded after considering state, church and private schools for her sons

Caterina Soffici is a journalist and author. She moved to Hammersmith, west London, in 2010 with her husband, who works in the City, and sons, Jacopo and Lorenzo, who were in the fourth and fifth grade in Milan. “The first problem we had was registering them at a school,” she says. “That was the moment when I realised that England, the oldest democracy on earth, had an uncivilised education system.”

Classist? “Like no other.”

To find a school for Jacopo and Lorenzo, Soffici looked around the area and consulted friends. “They told me to look to state schools, but warned they were almost useless. I did it anyway.”

She was offered the opportunity to register her sons at two schools an hour-and-a-half from her home. In the centre, all the schools had been booked up for years. “There are people who register their children on the day they are born. There’s no alternative,” says Soffici. “So we had to look in the outskirts – in areas which I wouldn’t define as welcoming for an Italian child – where, as I discovered after consulting the statistics, those leaving primary school are often not even able to read. So I turned to Catholic schools.”

In London, Catholic schools are run by the state but often, to get a place you must be baptised, have had your first communion and, ideally, have a letter of recommendation from a priest. “Rejected,” says Soffici, “because we didn’t baptise our children the week they were born. We left them in limbo.”

There were still private schools. The ones in London cost about £16,000 a year. Boarding schools, those wonderful oases with Harry Potter-style buildings and grounds for playing cricket, football and tennis, can cost up to £40,000. “You faint. But, if you get in, you have access to the best universities. If not, goodbye. The selection criteria is ruthless. Social mobility is almost impossible.”

Once again, there was nothing to be done. So enrolling her children at an international school became her choice by default. “They opened their doors to us. The educational level was good. And the children are happy. They help you to think there and they don’t suffocate you with superficial lessons; they give you tools and opportunities.

“But, in order to have those, you have to enter the private system. In England, education is a privilege, not a right. “ © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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