It is one of the biggest education conundrums of our time and one of the most hotly debated topics at university, in government and in the community. What are the advantages and disadvantages of private schools and state schools, and is the UK education system inherently unfair?
Prejudice and Advantage
Private school pupils make up only around 7% of UK students (rising to 18% at sixth form level). Yet almost 45% of successful applicants to our top Oxbridge universities are privately educated. As private schools are a hugely expensive luxury available only to the most affluent, many believe that these statistics are proof of an unfair bias towards the upper classes of UK society. In the current cabinet, Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Chancellor George Osborne (among others) all attended extremely elite private schools including Eton and St. Paul’s. Yet the Ipsos Mori poll for the Independent Schools Council showed that only 57% of state school parents would choose to switch to the private system if they were able to afford to. So what are the arguments that steer parents to send their child to a state or private school?
Reasons For Private School
Class sizes tend to be much smaller at private school, with a much better teacher to student ratio. Pupils get much more one-to-one time with teachers and much greater personal attention may be given to an individual student’s particular academic needs and weaknesses. There is also often a greater amount of support for specific educational needs such as dyslexia and reading difficulties.
Alongside smaller class sizes discipline also improves accordingly. At a state school, where class sizes are much larger, it is often harder for teachers to maintain control of a large group of youngsters, whilst private schools, with fewer students in one class, tend to have much better records for discipline. This in turn translates to more quality teaching time and greater time for personal academic attention to be given to individual students.
With top private schools like Eton, Winchester and Harrow topping the academic league tables for A level and GCSE results year after year and sending vast numbers of pupils to Oxbridge, the results of academic exams speak clearly in favour of private schools. But there is much debate about the relative merits of this academic elitism, with many parents believing that a gifted and intellectual child will thrive and be successful in any school, whilst a weaker child may benefit from the extra academic attention at a private school.
Some religious parents choose a private school because it belongs to a particular denomination and their children will regularly attend services. But whilst most private schools hold regular chapel services, it is now fairly unusual for pupils to attend for religious reasons.
Extra – Curricular Activities
Many private schools offer an excellent range of sporting, musical and dramatic extra-curricular activities, with trips abroad to practise modern languages and frequent visits to museums and the theatre. Although the price tag that accompanies these treats is eye-watering, many parents are willing to pay to provide their children with these broadening cultural experiences.
Reasons For State School
There is a strong general feeling that private schools are elitist and ‘posh’, with many denouncing those who attend them as ‘toffs’, a charge often levelled at David Cameron. Those who attend private schools often face accusations of snobbery and arrogance, and there is a well-documented problem of private school pupils being bullied on their way home as they are identified by their obligatory school uniforms. Some parents feel that this is too high a price to pay for academic advantage, particularly if it will influence others against their children in later life.
Many modern parents are concerned with the breadth and complexity of their children’s social experiences, and feel it is important for them to mix and socialise with others from all cultural backgrounds from a young age. They feel strongly that meeting and befriending young people from all cultures, religions and economic backgrounds is essential to creating a fair, unprejudiced outlook on life.
Due to the inherent bias against state school pupils in an education system which favours those who can pay for better teaching, many parents feel strongly that the UK system is unfair and should be changed. It is common for these parents to send their own children to state schools as a matter of principle even if they are financially able to choose private schools if they wanted to.
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