Are private schools better than state schools?
Whether to send children to private or state schools has been debated by parents for almost as long as compulsory education came into force, and some remain very much divided when it comes to the benefits of each type of establishment.
On the one hand, it has long been believed that private schools provide children with the kind of background that will add an extra dimension to any CV, while some claim that a state school offers a level of variety that is just not possible in private education, where class sizes are smaller and many pupils have had a similar upbringing.
The University of Life
Although it is a fictional construct, the University of Life has a tangible presence in society, with some believing that it is possible to learn just as much from social experiences as classroom studying.
While this is debatable, one key allure of state schooling for some parents is that it provides their children with the opportunity to interact with other youngsters from a variety of backgrounds.
This vital experience can then translate to the world of work when they eventually leave education, as being able to converse with people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds is a key requirement in many jobs.
Through having a state education, some would therefore argue that children are more likely to be able to empathise with people from a range of demographics and different parts of society.
One high-profile advocate of state schooling is Education Secretary Michael Gove, who last year revealed that his daughter Beatrice had won a place at Grey Coat Hospital School, a Church of England comprehensive in Westminster, making him the first Conservative Education Secretary to send his child to a state secondary..
Despite this, entry to Grey Coat is not as much of a formality as one would expect from a state school; it is a religious all-girls school with no catchment area, so pupils hail from a wide variety of locations. In 2011 alone, 1,104 families from across the UK applied for the 151 places at Grey Coat, which is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.
The reality, in fact, is that the best-performing state schools are generally selective with their entry requirements and follow many of the policies that private schools do when taking on new students.
In contrast to Michael Gove, Chancellor George Osborne removed his children from a state primary to send them to a prep school, while David Willets, the Universities and Science Minister, opted for private schools Godolphin and Latymer and St Paul’s.
This arguably illustrates that state schools are not necessarily for children whose parents cannot afford to send them elsewhere, while private schools are not limited to children with the wealthiest parents.
Many private schools run partial or full scholarship schemes for gifted pupils, who they would rather study fee-free and contribute to the success of the school, than go to a nearby state school that could ultimately outperform them in league tables, creating a question mark over parents’ decisions to pay for schooling.
James McCann, who received a partial scholarship for Hipperholme Grammar School in Calderdale, says the only private school in the local authority was not even the best performing one.
“Two other schools in Calderdale consistently ranked higher in league tables, but my parents were attracted to the intimacy at Hipperholme, where smaller class sizes enabled brighter children to flourish,” he explained.
This is a key allure for many parents who eventually decide to shell out on educating their child; regardless of the overall results posted by their school, they are satisfied that teaching time will not be compromised by over-sized classes, while the selective nature of the school means disruptive children are unlikely to be accepted.
One major challenge for James was transferring from a three-tier system to a two-tier structure in a different local authority, which meant some pupils had already studied together for two years and forged close friendships.
Although not necessarily a problem in 2015, where the vast majority of local authorities operate two-tier systems, a problem for some children is being fearful of being outcast and not fitting in; either due to their background or perceived social standing.
In the majority of cases, however, the child’s personality is the key factor, as well as their ability – something that James says represents the key allure of private education, and what makes him recommend it to this day.
He concludes: “Despite not being as wealthy as the other children, I went on to be head boy, and posted the highest A-level English mark in the UK in 2004. I fully believe that the size of the classes at Hipperholme [there were only two students studying History at A-level, for example] enabled me to excel and was something that could not have been achieved at a state school.”
Another major advantage of private schools is their independence from local or central government control, which makes them free to develop their own curriculum without being shackled.
By being able to appoint their own staff and develop bespoke policies, private schools can adapt to meet changing circumstances and respond to new initiatives, which is not always the case with state schools.
Ultimately, it is a parent’s decision where to send their child to school, but a number of key factors need to be taken into account, from location, cost and achievement level, to the preference of the child themselves, regardless of how young they are.
Private schools have the ability to predict performance better due to their ethos, and for this reason – perhaps as much as any other – parents wanting the best for their children lean towards these schools, though the debate over private vs state education will no doubt continue to wage on.