The cost of schooling

You can tell we are approaching the start of the new school year when education stories start to dominate the front pages of our newspapers once again. Yesterday, The Times; today The Daily Telegraph. The news that DfE data suggests some state schools outperform private fee-paying schools raises the issue of why do so many parents still pay for their children’s education?

There are, of course, some concerns with how the data was used in the comparison. Selective state schools based on choosing their pupils by academic ability should, by their very nature, do better than other schools, especially those where parents have to find around £18,000 per year for tuition alone, as they do in London. Nevertheless, the data does show how well some state school are beginning to preform, albeit in some cases perhaps because of a judicious entry policy for examinations that excludes those not likely to achieve good grades – compare either physics or further mathematics and media studies ‘A’ level outcomes to see what I mean – from taking the examination.

I wonder what Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to the story would be. Is he in favour of closing down all private schools or letting parents use their income to continue to pay for them? No doubt someone will ask him at some point? After all, he want to give these parents and their offspring free university education. Closing all private schools would probably cost the tax payer several billions of pounds in educating the children not currently funded by the State. It would poses questions of whether the State would pay for specialist schools for foreign nationals and in areas such as sports, music, drama and the rest of the arts.
Private schools, especially boarding schools and some 16-19 colleges are now important export earners, both bringing in money to the country through the fees of overseas students and by exporting their brands overseas.

I am sure That the Daily Telegraph didn’t want to demolish this source of national wealth, but parents will no doubt start to question whether using the local state school plus topping up with private tutorial support and revision classes where that school is perhaps weaker than it could be might be a cheaper alternative to outright school fees. This might especially become the case if universities were school-blind in reviewing applications and looked just at the pupil and their profile.

No doubt there are those that use the private school sector to avoid mixing their offspring with children that attend state schools or because they think the non-academic facilities and outcomes are better at such schools. Those are the parents that also move house to find the best state school that suits their tastes.

Although the effectiveness of private education is an interesting issue for Daily Telegraph readers, the main concern for most of us in education must be to continue reducing the gap between the worst achieving and their peers in schools. Those under-achieving are frequently from the least well off sections of society. Living in poor housing or even bed and breakfast accommodation doesn’t aid learning and often leads to fractured schooling patterns. As we know this frequently means starting school at a disadvantage. The Pupil Premium has started to help close that gap in society. The present government needs to continue with that work. I am sure it can leave the value for money arguments about private schooling to the parents to decide what to do with their cash.

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