Should politicians lead by example?

This blog starts with not one but two ethical issues. Firstly, should we discuss politician’s children and specifically their education and secondly, should politicians send their children to state funded schools? These questions arise after media speculation that the Prime Minister is to send his son to a private school, thus saving the State several thousands of pounds a year on his education.

I would normally regard this as a private matter and fully support the right of parents to educate their children as they see fit. However, the Prime Minister has form in this regard since the discussions as to where his daughter would go to secondary school were all over the media in 2014. Indeed, according to the Daily Mail on line, in October 2014 he was in favour of the state sector. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2796964/cameron-set-tory-pm-send-children-state-secondary-viewing-three-four-schools-wife-samantha.html Part of the headline read: No one should need to go to a private school, says Eton-educated PM.

The article went on to say

In an interview with Good Housekeeping magazine, the Prime Minister suggested the Government’s education reforms were designed to make private education redundant.

‘If you pay your taxes you shouldn’t have to pay all over again. There is no reason why our state schools can’t be among the best in the world, and some of them are,’ he said.

‘What is exciting is there this change not only in practice but also in culture which is all about excellence and wanting to be the best and wanting to get the best out of every child, and you are now seeing that in more and more schools.
Well that seemed pretty clear. So perhaps he can tell us why he has changed his mind? It cannot be as a result of the social mobility index the government published yesterday, as that rates London very highly for social mobility compared with say many seaside resorts. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/496103/Social_Mobility_Index.pdf

If the Prime Minister does opt out of state education for his son, what does this say about the government’s own academy programme?

Is it a slap in the face for hardworking teachers and other staff in our state schools that the person leading our public services doesn’t want to use them for his own family? Of course, London state schools might lose out under the funding review coming up shortly and their performance, which has improved dramatically over the last few years, might deteriorate over the next few years, especially if they have difficulty recruiting staff due to the pay cap in the public sector. We these the factors that help change Mr Cameron’s mind from eighteen months ago? We don’t know and, as I said, at the beginning, all parents have the right to decide how to educate their children. The State is the default position if you don’t, won’t or cannot take a decision yourself. But one cannot help but feel that leading by example is good for the morale of those that work in the public sector.

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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.