Should private schools be abolished?

KEHS

Thursday 25th September

[Courtesy of L. Henderson, KEHS Student]

Two icons of rock and blues lyrics are sitting on the edge of the stage after a pretty frenetic dress rehearsal for their next concert. The discussion is equally fraught and tense, because one of them was privately educated, the other was state school educated…

Sweet Georgia Brown: Statistics prove time and time again that those individuals with a private education background have more education, job and social opportunities than those who were educated by the state. The ratio of private school pupils entering the most prestigious universities is substantially high considering the fraction of children who are educated privately to the extent where these universities have been accused of discrimination. It isn’t fair that just because some parents cannot afford to pay for their children’s education that those children should be disadvantaged on account of that alone. Education is supposed to open doors, not shut them. Furthermore, private school creates segregation between children and young adults in society, which can result in bullying in some cases. If we want our children to treat everyone in society as an equal, we must all start on an equal footing. Private schools foster social inequality and stereotypes in the education system.  If we abolished the independent educational sector entirely, this would allow funds (from fees and private investments) to be redistributed into the public sector to raise the standards of education for the majority of students.  In short, abolishing the private sector promotes inclusion, especially of bright young students whose families can’t afford the often high fees.

Maggie May: Doesn’t the need for equality and inclusion clash with the value of freedom of choice.  If parents are willing to make sacrifices to be able to afford a private education for their children, surely they should have the choice to do so. And as for students who are bright and can’t afford private education, the answer’s surely to make available more state assisted places; build more grammar schools.

Sweet Georgia Brown: Firstly, it’s a myth to think that all private schools are high flying, academically inspiring factories for churning out A* grade students.  They’re not. Sometimes children are sent to them because parents don’t have the time to parent or because it’s a way of keeping up appearances in high society – a luxury good to indulge in as you would a Bentley. At the same time it fosters the ‘old boys’ network’ which leads to nepotism in the work place. If we abolished private schools and redistributed funds parents would adapt to the idea that the standards of state schools are as high as, if not higher than, the abolished private schools. And as for more grammar schools, why waste resources building new grammar schools when we have existing schools who just need some focused investment to make them challenging educational institutions.

Maggie May: So you’re breaking one myth only to create another!  Would you go on to argue that we should abolish the private sector in health? In the economy?  Are you advocating that we should re-nationalise the transport industry, the gas, electric and water companies as well as the Post Office?  Why is it only education you think deserves this special treatment of nationalisation?

Sweet Georgia Brown: Hold on! You’re on a bit of a slippery slope there aren’t you? All I’m saying is that redesigning the state system by taking what’s great in both private and public education will benefit the majority of students who go through five or seven years of study.  And that takes money; money which would be channelled away from the private to public sector.

Maggie May: How?  Recent figures show that secondary schools spend anywhere in the region of £3-6000 per pupil per academic year.  This can be more in Academies, which have larger budgets and can reach a figure of £33000 per pupil.  Now the average cost of a Private school education is in the region of £9-14000 per pupil per academic year.  Is it really the money gap that reflects the success gap between public and private education sectors? If so then yes, by all means increase the level of spending on public education. But are you are you suggesting that parents who pay thousands of pounds for their child’s private schooling willingly give that money to the government to raise standards of a state school?  The only other way of doing it would be to tax them more.  And who’s to say how much of that extra tax would actually end up where it’s needed? Also, could it simply be that enough money is going into public education, but this needs more efficient allocation: ie. on the students themselves, not on, for example, extra senior and middle management salaries? Thinking along these lines, isn’t it true that in state institutions, like the NHS, millions of pounds are ‘lost’ in non-medical expenditures in very much this way?

Sweet Georgia Brown: I don’t know about that and it seems that we’re digressing from the question here.  The point I’m trying to make is simply that private education fosters unfairness.  Every child should have access to the same educational values, resources and opportunities.  It’s morally wrong that there are so many children out there who are failed by the system simply because their parents are underprivileged or the school they go to is under resourced.

Maggie May: There’s something going on here that I’m only just getting to grips with.  Why is it that we can accept the fact that we are all physically different and unique – you know, you go into a shop and there’s a diversity of choice of clothes, food and so on to help you emphasise your uniqueness in the world.  We don’t all dress the same; look the same and eat the same foods. But when it comes to intellectual differences, we’re less tolerant.  We can’t accept that there are going to be some children who excel academically and in other respects and other students who don’t.  Why do we want everybody to be the same academically? Diversity in culture and politics is celebrated; diversity in education and intelligence should also be celebrated.  We can have BOTH private and state schools; they can coexist and they can interconnect and share resources.  Perhaps that’s another ideal towards which we could strive…

Sweet Georgia Brown: The point isn’t so much that all children get an education that makes them all brilliant A* students.  It’s that all children are given equal access to the best education.  And in the present divided system, this just doesn’t happen.  Look, even in the most highly achieving private schools, children don’t come out at the other end with the same brilliant academic grades.  Yes we are all different, but the point of my argument is what happens to the child whose fullest potential isn’t fulfilled only because she didn’t have an equal chance to live through the same wonderful learning environment as a private educated girl? Inequality is the greatest issue in Britain at the moment, and one which is exacerbated by the presence of private schools, which segregate children from a very young age. Although some bursaries do exist, whether or not a child is able to attend private school is ultimately based on the affluence of their parents. I don’t think that it is right to base a child’s opportunity in life on the financial achievements of their parents, and therefore prevent children from less well-off families benefiting from the incomparable individual attention and extra-curricular activities offered by the private education system. In this way, private schools perpetuate an elite and don’t support the creation of properly integrated societies. One third of MPs were privately schooled, and how can these politicians make decisions that will lead to a fairer Britain when they were only educated alongside their own, well-off, socioeconomic group? Financially speaking, independent grammar schools, for example, are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, who therefore contributes to an education that they themselves may not be able to afford. The charitable status of such schools means that they do not have to pay tax, but I would argue that these institutions do not have a charitable mission…

Sweet Georgia Brown makes a compelling speech which seems to have stumped Maggie May from responding. How do you think Maggie would counter this point?

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