A frequent argument between my friends who attended private schools and I (I’m ‘state-educated’, as I love to remind them) is the highly contentious state versus private school debate.
How much difference does going to independent schools make? Should anything be done to sort out the divide? I’m very much on the side of the reformers; the current state of affairs is unfair and exacerbates Britain’s extremely ‘classist society’.
Understandably, the privately educated detest the generic allegations about fairness thrown upon the private school system; their schooling was primarily down to their parents’ choices. However, it is definitely time for Britain’s school system to be reformed.
A recent report commissioned by the Sutton Trust and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills showed that privately-educated students are more likely to apply to the top universities compared to their state school counterparts, leading to calls for increased and better directed outreach programmes. But these changes would have little effect on the underlying issues.
The suggestion that some well-angled outreach programmes will solve the current discrepancy is laughable. Even if this absurdity results in more of the top state school students applying for the more prestigious institutions, it doesn’t do enough to address the statistics – the proportion of privately-educated students applying to the top universities is far higher than the national proportion, as around 16 per cent go to private sixth form colleges.
The fact that many state school students are disillusioned about their further education prospects, exemplifies the vast amount of work that needs to be put into flattening out the playing fields for future generations. In Britain fate smiles very kindly on those lucky enough to have parents financially able to send their children to independent schools. The challenge of competing with students better trained for applying to university is almost too heavy a price to pay.
The number of private schools, or indeed the existence of private schools at all, is all too often overlooked. They’re a widely accepted part of society, but only really because this has been the status quo for decades. These are schools that provide a higher standard of education, from better sports facilities to help in university interviews, and the main discriminating factor is financial; children from privileged backgrounds sent to these schools will receive a better education than those who can’t afford it.
The main counter-argument to my complaints is that private schools are a part of a free society; it would be unfair to prevent parents from spending their money on a good education for their children.
But I believe that when it comes to education, fairness should always trump concerns about choice and personal freedoms. Surely, the freedom gained in social mobility, from private schools resources of good teachers and facilities being spread over the whole population would make more of a difference. The practicalities of completely banning private schools would be incredibly challenging and wouldn’t happen overnight, or ‘over-decade’ for that matter. But this change does need to happen; at the moment we’re very much living up the stereotype of our classist society.