Stowe School head under fire after controversial defence of private schools

Anthony Wallersteiner
Anthony Wallersteiner

The head teacher of Stowe School is facing a backlash after appearing to compare criticism of private schools with some of Adolf Hitler's prejudices toward Jewish people in Germany in the 1930s.

The head teacher of Stowe School is facing a backlash after appearing to compare criticism of private schools with some of Adolf Hitler's prejudices toward Jewish people in Germany in the 1930s.

Stowe School

Stowe School

Anthony Wallersteiner, himself of Jewish descent, made the comments during an interview with The Times newspaper.

The head of the £39,000-a-year school is quoted in The Times as saying:

“The rise of populists and polemicists has created a micro-industry in bashing private schools. 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.”

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, now known to be a forgery originating from Russia, is a text that was distributed widely in the early 20th century claiming to document a Jewish conspiracy for world domination.

Lawyer and political commentator, Peter Stefanovic

Lawyer and political commentator, Peter Stefanovic

Mr Wallersteiner was initially commenting on the fall in admissions to Oxford and Cambridge from independent schools. In recent years both instituitions have marginally increased their uptake of state school students, and Mr Wallersteiner said that some parents have complained that this is “social engineering and positive discrimination.”

Oxford now take 58.2% of its students from state schools, up 1.4% from 2013, and Cambridge currently accepts 64.1% admissions from state schools, up 2.7%.

This means that approximately 40% of Oxbridge students come from independent schools. Independent schools account for 7% of all UK students.

Peter Stefanovic, a lawyer, campaigner and political commentator originally from Buckingham, who briefly used Stowe School's facilities during his own studies, said:

“I think most people read this with a mixture of outrage and utter disbelief. It’s just another classic example of those fearing their wealth and privilege being taken away from them claiming to be victims. No one is buying it, particularly at a time when this Government's austerity policies have left 14 million people living in poverty, sent millions to food banks, reduced our life expectancy and even seen the return of Victorian diseases!”

A spokesperson from Stowe said to this paper that Mr Wallersteiner's comments had been taken out of context by The Times newspaper. He sent us the original article written by the head teacher.

The essay, entitled 'The 7% Problem' and running to more than 2,000 words, is essentially a push-back on what Mr Wallersteiner clearly sees as unfair treatment of private schools. The piece contains the comparison to the Elders of Zion and its flavour could be summarised by the following section:

“We need to rediscover the optimism of the Enlightenment and not allow the private sector to be browbeaten and bludgeoned into accepting the tyranny of usurped authority...”

The spokesperson for Stowe also supplied a statement by Anthony Wallersteiner that reads:

“I firmly believe in equality in education and at Stowe I am driving a number of initiatives to ensure less privileged children can benefit from private school education. This comes at a time when private schools are being heavily criticised for elitism; my comments in The Times were taken out of context of a wider piece I have written on this subject.”