Flattening out the playing fields

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.


  1. 4 Dec ’12 at 2:09 pm

    Meritocracy innit

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m no great fan of public school boys.

    The arrogance, flourescent chinos and over enunciation of vowels are all things that grind my gears. But it seems unfair that you would deny the rich the spoils of their efforts, simply because state education is sub par.

    Would it not be better to bring the state system up, rather than bringing the private sector down?


    “Yeah but what about the ones who don’t pass the 11plus. DAT IZ WELL UNFAIR”

    I agree. As an academic rapture saves but 20 per cent of pupils, it seems a great injustice to cast the remainder off to the erratic performance and low expectations of the comps; which is why we should embrace the ideology set out by vocational and technology schools, that allow a child’s practical talents to be nurtured in tandem with – and notably not instead of – the national curriculum.

    By appropriating the learning process, we see the academics and practitioners not divided by some elitist apartheid, but simply encouraged to actualise their respective talents in a fitting environment.

    The grammar school presents a ladder of opportunity, the perks of a private education (a culture of excellence, networking and high standard of learning) for those who could not otherwise afford it, and if reintroduced on a national scale, I’m sure we would see a new breed of politician and professional alike; one not so shamelessly distanced from the plight of the working man.

    There’s no need to get rid of private schools, but there is a dire one to return to a meritocratic state system. Besides, if you got rid of private schools, what would you have to write about?

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  3. 4 Dec ’12 at 5:48 pm

    Professor Nyang Lee

    Improve education by closing schools. Nonsensical. Whilst students from private schools are inevitably more likely to fill top jobs etc, to advocate the abolition of private schools when the state system is in dire need of change is, well, a bit ‘6th form’ politics really. It is not the fault of the private sector that the state system has not maintained pace.

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  4. 7 Dec ’12 at 12:33 pm

    Lord Levy's son

    That first sentence is a bit of a mouthful.

    Never use more words than you need to.

    Also, abolish private schools? It’s an idea that’s beyond unrealistic. It’s obviously something you’re passionate about, consider the practicalities though.

    A final question for you. If you have children you will, presumably, always want the best for them. If you’re lucky enough to have the financial clout to make the following choice, what would you do?

    Send your child to the underperforming local school or send them to the independent school that offers smaller classes and better facilities?

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