Forget going private — we should instead help to foster a more equal school system
A recent report found that almost 60 per cent of parents would send their children to a private school if they could afford to. According to Mori research for the Independent Schools Council (which clearly has an interest in such findings), the reasons include a fear of knife crime, the perception of a lack of discipline in state schools, and recent changes in state education and exams.
It is generally understood that a larger proportion of Jewish children attend private schools than children in the wider population. Leslie Wagner, chair of the Commission on Jewish Schools, estimated that around 20 per cent of Jewish children in London aged 11 to 18 attend a private secondary school. Although the statistic may not be entirely accurate, and relates only to the capital, it is indicative of the trend. In comparison, only seven per cent of children nationally attend private schools.
But although all parents want their children to have the best possible education, sending children to private schools is not the right way to go; if anything, private education should be abolished.
Why should wealth be such a major determinant when it comes to the education of future generations? Surely every child, regardless of their parents’ means, should have exactly the same opportunities and the same access to a good education.
Nor are private schools oases of serenity. Drug use is reportedly often prevalent; some parents recently told The Independent that they fear drug-dealers are increasingly targeting private-school pupils, whom they believe have more disposable income. Weapons are not unknown. Recall the case of William Jaggs, sentenced earlier this year for the manslaughter of his former Harrow School-mate Lucy Braham. He developed a drug habit while at the independent boarding school, and Miss Braham’s parents said that their daughter had been let down by the school’s failure to deal with Jaggs’s drug problems.
What is more, the stereotype that state schools provide a lower quality of education than independent schools is just that — a stereotype. There are huge numbers of excellent comprehensive schools. Last year, state schools across the country, including Manchester High School for Girls, James Allen Girls’ School, Southwark and Sutton’s Wilson School, achieved 100 per cent GCSE pass rates.
If an ever-increasing number of parents choose the fee-paying route, then we move ever further towards a divisive society, split between the haves and the have-nots. It is imperative that we do not allow this to happen — particularly as Jews, who have always had a strong sense of community responsibility. Now is the time to extend this to the wider society and fulfil our societal responsibility.
Imagine that no one sent their children to private schools. Geography aside, all parents would then have roughly the same educational options for their children.
There is no doubt that this would serve radically to improve state education. Firstly, good teachers would all work in state schools. Currently many are attracted to private schools, typically claiming the students there are more motivated and engaged — although some admit that the attraction lies in the better pay and longer holidays. A poll Manchester Grammar School conducted of its staff found that over 60 per cent of them only went into and stayed in teaching because of private schools.
Without private schools, parents seeking the best for their children would push to ensure that optimal standards prevailed at state schools which are currently behind.
Similarly, many parents who currently struggle to pay for their children’s private-school fees would need not do so, and those who cannot afford private education need not feel that their children are deprived. Research by Halifax last year found that the average annual cost of sending a child to a private school was £9,627, and that fees had risen 41 per cent since 2002.
Without private education, children would learn equality at a young age. Now is the time for Jewish parents to do their bit for society, and for their children, by creating a fairer, less classist education system in which all children have the same opportunities to thrive. By not sending their children to private schools, and by allowing them to grow up in such a society, parents would really be doing the best for their children.
Dana Gloger is a JC reporter and a former teaching assistant at a state school in London