It’s time to abolish private schools. This may seem like leftist idealism that will never happen – but support for the issue is substantially growing in momentum. With big names and commentators such as Alan Bennett and Medhi Hasan writing in favour of abolishing fee-paying institutions.
As Bennett brilliantly put it. “to educate not according to ability, but according to the social situation of the parents, is both wrong and a waste”. Former Education Secretary Micheal described the “sheer scale, the breadth and the depth of private school dominance of our society” as a “deep problem in our country”. Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world has spoken out against the unfairness of private schools. And I’m with Buffett.
I’m not writing this to offend anyone who went to private school. Nor do I hold anything against those that did, or to parents who send their children to private schools. It’s the system that is flawed, and giving privately educated individuals an unfair advantage. In the interest of full disclosure, I went to an average comprehensive until my GCSEs and a very good state grammar for my a-levels – a sixth-form that was better than the private schools in the area. I got into due to my grades – nothing to do with my parents’ income, my postcode, or my ‘connections’.
This is an issue surrounding equality of opportunity – not everyone is born with equal talents, or equal academic abilities. People should be accepted into Universities, and into jobs based on merit. Not on how big a cheque Mummy and Daddy can write.
According to the House of Commons Library, 7% of the British public went to private schools. Look into any respected area of the public sector and the number of professionals who went to private school is nauseatingly higher than 7%. A recent report from Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission states that 71% of our top judges were privately educated, and 14% went to one of just five public schools (Eton, Westminster, St Paul’s Boys, Radley and Charterhouse). It’s not just the judiciary that is dominated by the 7%. Look at the armed forces, the media, or even sports people, and it’s the same story. Over 50% of British Olympians that won medals at London 2012 went to private school. 37% of BBC Question Time guests in a year were privately educated, more than 5 times the national average. 50% of Lords, 44% of the Sunday Times Rich List, and 26% of BBC Executives went to Private Schools.
Abolishing private schools could completely change the whole atmosphere of the country. Look at Finland, who abolished all private schools in the 1970s, and since are widely viewed to have one of the best education systems in the world. They have a 100% literacy rate, no school league tables, no exams until 16 – and one of the most equal societies in the entire world.
I’m not suggesting that if private schools are abolished the next day bankers won’t have bonuses, there won’t be people on the street, and inequality won’t be rife – but over time, the class divisions, and elitism would fade. We would be a better nation. We’re lucky enough to live in a county were education is a right, not a privilege. So why should the best education be left to the minority that can afford it? Sending one child to a British private school can cost up to £33,000 a year – that’s a startling 20% more than the average wage for a full time worker in the UK.
In reality, the UK is a society dominated by upper class, privately-educated white men. This is nothing new, since Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne, 11 men and 1 women have been Prime Minster, and only 6 of these people attended state schools. Half the current coalition cabinet were privately educated. David Cameron, George Osbourne, Nick Clegg and Boris Johnson, arguably the four most powerful men in the country went to public school.
I could bore you with more statistics, but I imagine you’ve got the idea by now. Individuals educated in private institutions have better access to education, more job opportunities, and better connections than those who were state-educated. This also occurs for students entering prestigious universities – at Southampton about 14% of our students were privately educated, twice the number in wider society.
Of course, there will never be a perfect system – it’s pretty likely if private schools were abolished, a postcode lottery would occur. It’s pretty likely that house prices around the best schools would increase, such that only the richest parents can afford them – but this is a solvable problem. Bringing back the 11 plus, and opportunities to go to state grammar schools for all would be one way around this issue. Countries with excellent education systems – such as those in Scandinavia – still use something similar to the grammar school system, and it works wonderfully.
Of course, there is a downside to abolishing private schools, and I’m not denying that. The cost to the tax-payer being the most apparent. According to the Department of Education, the average cost to educate a primary school child is just short of £4,000. There’s around 278,700 children of primary school age in private education, an additional 349,700 are in secondary education (up to the age of 19). The cost of this would be around £3.38 billion a year. This sounds like a mammoth amount of funding the state would have to take back in tax, but in reality it is tiny. £3.38 billion would be less than 0.47% of the UK’s 2013 expenditure. No new schools would have to be built – hundreds of private schools exist, with great teachers and great facilities, knocking them down would be ludicrous.
Our schools should be the face of promoting equality, and social responsibility – not a two-tier education system leads to two-tier society. It won’t be until we abolish private schools that we abolish the huge social divides between the 7% and the rest.
This post also appeared in Wessex Scene.