An unfair advantage that damages our society—or a quality education that produces intelligent, well-rounded pupils? Our contributors debateby David Kynaston / March 7, 2019 / Leave a comment
Yes: David Kynaston
Most private schools are good, often excellent: places of not only a high standard of learning, but also a range of character-building extra-curricular activities. This is not something that everyone on the left finds easy to accept. Nor was it necessarily the case a generation or two ago. But now it is the undeniable truth.
So why are they a blight? In short, because of economic inefficiency, democratic deficit and social blockage.
On the economic aspect, two fundamental facts encapsulate the grotesquely distorted use of our national resources, both material and human: one in every 16 pupils goes to a private school; one in every seven teachers works at a private school. Those teachers would bring far more educational benefit to our country as a whole if they were spread evenly across our schools.
The ongoing Brexit disaster—a battle lost on the playing fields of Eton—has pointed up the democratic deficit. It is no longer possible, as perhaps it once was, to view our privately educated rulers as like Plato’s virtuous “guardians” of society. Instead, we see a caste of privileged and entitled men (occasionally women) with necessarily only limited understanding of, and empathy with, the realities of everyday life (including state education) as lived by most people.
Given their unrivalled ability at getting their pupils into top universities, in turn leading to the top, best-paid jobs, private schools act as a serious obstacle to social mobility. I mean this partly in the obvious sense of impeding upward mobility for the state-educated; but partly also in the less-publicised but equally important sense of blocking downward mobility, with many of their less able products being over-promoted to scarce places at leading universities.
No: Simon Heffer
Although just under 7 per cent of children go to a private school, 18 per cent of those aged over 16 are taught in them. No wonder, therefore, that so many of them get into good universities. In a free society the market will satisfy demand; and because of the shortcomings of state education after the age of 16, private schools do just that. Perhaps if the teachers from private schools were transferred to state ones they would raise the standards—though they might find they…