Many arguments can be put forward against the continued existence of Public Schools in the UK, especially their encouragement of a sense of entitlement. Having said that, the facilities that the top schools provide are often excellent and so is the standard of teaching. Many schools also select students for their academic ability and this results in classes where there is a strong sense of curiosity, contributing to a good atmosphere for learning.
I have given talks in Public Schools and among the most memorable was a visit to Winchester College. The Times had taken up an article that I had written about The Great Plagues of Egypt [1,2] and I was asked to give a lecture on the subject. Not only that, I was also entertained to dinner by the scholars (an elite, elite group) and conversation was wide-ranging and interesting. Earlier, I noticed that there was a display outside the lecture theatre and this consisted of a description of the platypus genome that had just been published in the journal Nature and there was also a stuffed platypus and much general information about the animal. All very impressive, given that the paper was so recent and one felt that the students of Biology were lucky to have this stimulating input.
The most impressive example of the good fortune that students in the major Public Schools receive comes from a school that I have not visited, but which has an excellent website. The web page for Biology at Sevenoaks School  gives a brief description of teaching in the subject and ends with this quote from Robert Preston:
In Biology, nothing is clear, everything is too complicated, everything is a mess, and just when you think you understand something, you peel off a layer and find deeper complications beneath. Nature is anything but simple.
It comes from Preston’s book The Hot Zone, The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus and his sentiments have a wide application in Biology. In my own research, I rapidly became aware that the more I found out about life in water the less I understood how aquatic ecosystems worked. I gave up practical research, as there were far too many questions and I ceased to have the energy, or ability, to pursue them. That was not depressing, but liberating, as I could then read widely and venture into other fields, while retaining a sense of wonder about Nature, something that all students of Biology develop. For some, this wonder finds an answer in religious beliefs; for others in a deep respect for the world around us and thus a sense that humans are just a small part of something much bigger.
I’m sure that Biology students at Sevenoaks School, in addition to achieving excellent results in examinations (that we all know are important), will leave with a much broader understanding than the content of a syllabus provides. Whether they become lawyers, bankers, politicians, etc., their sense of wonder when thinking about the natural world will be invaluable in the roles they play in planning for the future. Do all schools encourage this approach?