Private Schools, Public Vice

Recently, Tristram Hunt, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, announced that if elected, Labour will introduce a ‘School Partnership Standard’ which would require all private schools ‘to form genuine and accountable partnerships with state schools’. Hunt wants to see ‘more private schools running summer schools, sponsoring academies, assisting state boarding schools and assisting professional exchange.’ But if the Labour Party was really truly interested in improving education and social mobility–—which has been on a downwards spiral for decades now–—they’d be abolishing private schools.

The argument to abolish private education is often met with a peculiar outrage. The most common rebuttal that I have encountered is that this would merely stunt the achievement of the most ‘talented’ students, that it would simply bring all students down to the same level of mediocrity. This is not only snobbish, but entirely wrong.

Families who can afford the average annual private school tuition fees of £12,000 (with some upwards of £30,000 per annum) are already ahead of the game. Even if they opted to save their money and send their child to a bog-standard comprehensive, they could easily afford extra resources and tuition to help their children to thrive. Meanwhile, the poorest students who cannot afford this extra tuition would be the ones to most benefit from the vast resources that private schools offer. This idea that private schools are necessary to provide for the ‘brightest’ or ‘most talented’ students is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the ones with access to more support will, of course, be more likely to thrive; yet we will so rarely see the realised potential of a student deprived of that support.

But when it comes down to it, private schools are not about education. They’re about the wealthy’s pathological aversion to their children mixing with working-class children. They’re about young elites mixing with the right ‘type’ of people and fostering self-conviction and authoritativeness to create future leaders. And it works: according the the 2012 Stutton Trust report, 71 per cent of the UK’s ‘leading people’ attended either an independent school or grammar school. Meanwhile, only 7 percent of the population attend these schools.

And if we want an image of what the abolition of private schools could do for our education system, look no further than Finland. The Finnish education system is entirely state-funded, ran by ‘education experts’ as opposed to businesses or politicians. Teachers are well-paid, well-qualified, and well-regarded. And crucially, children of all aptitudes are taught in classes together, rather than segregated. Yet, Finnish students consistently rank amongst the top in maths, science, and literacy internationally. Furthermore, Finland is getting more for its money: public expenditure per pupil as a percentage of GDP per capita is 5 per cent less in Finland than in Britain.

Tristram Hunt’s proposed scheme simply reinforces the patronising ideology of the wealthy coming to ‘guide’ the poor from their supposed ignorance and inadequacy. Yet it is truly the privately-educated who live in ignorance, sheltered from lives of the masses, with a skewed perception of society. So, given that Hunt is himself privately-educated, its no surprise that he is so out-of-touch with what state school student need. But of course, no party has any interest in abolishing independent schools, since they are key in fostering their own political class.

We need to put an end to this belief that some are more entitled to better chances in life than others based entirely on the lucky-dip of birth. We should demand a high standard of education for all. The existence of private education is a bastion of our class-based society, and its abolition would be a positive step towards improved social mobility, and a more prosperous society in general.


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