Should private schools be abolished or do we actually need more of them?


Should private schools be abolished or do we actually need more of them?It seems that even in times of economic recession some parents will go to great lengths to prise their children into a private school whether they can really afford it or not. It begs the question: If parents can’t afford the fees then why don’t they just send their children to a state school where they will still get a decent education and if they have the intelligence and work ethic they will get similar qualifications?

Granted, when you compare an average private school to an average state school then the state school will likely come out as sadly lacking in terms of provision of facilities, equipment, afterschool activities as well as teacher pupil ratios. The private schools also offer higher teaching salaries and so attract most of the cream of the teaching profession. So it stands to reason that all this will amount to more exam success and university entries for private school pupils. However, let’s face it nothing will change low to high intelligence. And intelligent children will do well in all but the worst schools providing they are not hijacked by their disruptive peers. The pupils who gain the most from private schools are apparently those of average intelligence who with more individual attention, more encouragement, better equipment and learning aids plus an ingrained will to excel, can achieve the grades that gain them entry into the top universities.

It seems that despite political pressure from previous Labour Governments, private school pupils have continued to dominate entry to the leading universities. According to the Sutton Trust, out of the top 30 schools that get their pupils into Oxford and Cambridge as well as other leading universities, 28 of these are private schools. And from the top 100 schools 83 are private, 16 are grammar schools and 1 a comprehensive. A major factor in the success of private school pupils is the small class sizes with the average teacher pupil ratio being 11:1 compared with 17:1 in state schools. According to a recent school inspection report of a leading private school it was claimed that pupils there were achieving exceptional levels of achievement in relation to their abilities. This was attributed by the teaching staff to their small teaching groups in which learning could be personalised to the needs of each and every child.

So the advantages of a private education are clear but just how much does it cost and what’s been the effect of the economic recession on demand for places? Well, a private boarding school will set you back on average £24,000 per annum with top boarding school Malvern College costing over £30,000 which, to put it in perspective, is more that the average annual salary in the UK which is £26,000. For day schools the costs average around £10,000 per annum. And with fees increasing well beyond the rate of inflation it would be expected that demand for private education would decrease in favour of state schools, just as major players in the retail food industry have lost consumers to cheaper supermarkets. However it seems that conversely the demand for private education and particularly for those schools with the best records of academic success is on the up.

Some private school Head teachers have noticed a loss of boarders but to private day schools rather than state schools and more so in children below the age of 11. There has also been a rise in parents requesting extra time to pay term fee instalments as well as seeing more competition for bursaries. But the demand for private education remains strong. Education commentators have speculated that the reason for the huge demand for private school places in the grim days of recession is that tightened circumstances have focused parents’ minds on what is most important to them and that is their children’s education and their future success in the competitive jobs market.

So why do parents prefer a private education for their children? Basically it must be said that all parents want the best possible education for their children. It seems, however, that to a certain element of parents the prestige of a private education outweighs the stress of mounting debt or working themselves into the ground to pay the school fees. The financial implications have gone further than this for some parents who have found themselves taking on levels of debt that have pushed them into financial difficulties. This has resulted in instances of the need for formal debt solutions such as a trust deed in Scotland or an iva in England and occasions where parents need to restructure their finances to repay their debt over extended periods of time. On the other hand we have the parents who can afford the fees many times over and would never contemplate state education as there is a family tradition of private schools or they simply prefer their children to mix with children of parents like themselves or at least with the same values. But many of the parents who send their children to private schools are ordinary working parents who can afford the fees but have to make small sacrifices elsewhere such as fewer holidays or less expensive cars.

On the other side of the education divide are the parents who send their kids to state schools. Some of these parents could easily afford to send their kids to private schools but the state school in their area is so good that they don’t need to. There is, generally, however, a premium to pay when buying a house in the catchment area of an excellent state school. Other parents who send their children to state schools either do so because of their socialist beliefs or because they would or could never even consider a private school because of the financial or social-class implications.

There are apparently many state schools performing just as well as their private counterparts and the goal of the government must be that all state schools should achieve this position. The simple requirement is extra cash for more and better quality teachers plus improved equipment and facilities. Unfortunately, however, one of the main problems of state schools is the pupils themselves. While the majority of pupils are there to learn and gain qualifications there will always be a number of disruptive pupils who don’t want to be there and take up a disproportionate amount of the school and teacher’s time in lengthy disciplinary action. This is easily solved in private schools as they have the ultimate sanction of expulsion or removal to another school. Meanwhile they have so many potential replacements on their waiting lists that the place will be filled quickly. Their rejects then find their way to their local state school where, unfortunately, they can disrupt the education of the pupils there.

Private school parents have made a significant financial investment in their children’s education and expect significant returns from their schools. Thus they themselves are motivated to expect and promote discipline, effort and success from their children in return for their costly and privileged education. This often results in aspirational, well-motivated pupils who are taught in small classes by high-quality teachers with the added support of ambitious parents. And this goes a long way to explain the success of private education.

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