Middle-class parents are "chickening out" of state education

Clara Klat's picture
My eldest son is due to start primary school in Hammersmith and Fulham this September.
Before applying to schools, I tried to rally other parents in my neighbourhood to join us and support our local schools – one is Addison Primary. Alas many of them – as one local mum put it – 'chickened out' and headed off to the private sector or suddenly discovered religion over-night.
Now with the attempted arrival of Rivendale free school on our doorstep I feel dismayed. I just imagine what could be achieved if all this energy and money could be directed towards improving our existing schools.
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Tracy Hannigan's picture
Tue, 08/03/2011 - 15:28

Hello. I feel very much the same way - it is dismaying to see all the energy and money go into this new pet project. Especially when there is no need and when attitudes toward local schools don't seem to be based on actual current fact, or are based more generally on a 'state schools are XYZ' generalisation that simply doesn't apply.

I'm a parent with a child at Addison Primary and I'm extremely happy with the school's educational offer, the pm childcare and the extracurricular activities. And its not just me, the parent survey data is just in as well - parent satisfaction is extremely high and that is based upon a very large percentage of parents responding. Woo hoo!

I appreciate your effort to support our local schools, thank you!!!

Jenny Landreth's picture
Tue, 08/03/2011 - 15:55

You just wait til you get to secondary school. I lost count of the number of people who suddenly discovered that their children were too bright/too stupid/too sporty/too academic/too average to go to the state school up the road, which was always 'a terrible shame'. The assumption always is that you would never choose state if you could afford private. Even now, I'm sympathetically asked if he's STILL THERE? (Poor love.) My favourite excuse from one couple not to send their child to the school in their road, but bus him across London instead was 'if we send him there, we are depriving a poor child from having a place'. And yes, as you ask, I am sacrificing my child on the altar of my politics, and he's doing well, thanks, even though the school is 'full of terrorists'.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 08/03/2011 - 17:01

My favourite was the father who told me he had to withdraw his daughter from the reception class at our local primary school because 'she didn't have enough intellectual equals in the class.' She was four.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Tue, 08/03/2011 - 17:39

One of the interesting comments I heard from a parent supporter about why this particular FS would be good is because of 'all those EAL children in the other schools'. We certainly know what that really means. I guess they have not gotten into thinking it through enough to realise that though it may 'socially engineer' its first year vis parental support and marketing, any community school free or not will well and truly be a community school in all respects once part of the LA admissions process. Oh dear, then they will have to pull out and go to private school and cough up the bucks they are hoping to save.

Pascale Scheurer's picture
Tue, 08/03/2011 - 19:18

Hi - interesting debate. Those who know me / know of me, know I've put in an application for a Free School <> ... but why do middle clarss parents feel the need to chicken out in the first place? and who really cares about the pointy-elbowed/chicken-wing-flapping (note similarity of action) middle clarsses anyway? Who cares what I think and where I send my kids? ps I am still 'on the fence and happy to be persuaded' re setting up Hackney Free School, go on, give me a good reason not to. It'd bring a wad of cash into a needy neighbourhood, no?

Pascale Scheurer's picture
Tue, 08/03/2011 - 19:19

oh, a bit got lost there, where I wrote 'dodges rotten tomatoes'

Jenny Landreth's picture
Tue, 08/03/2011 - 21:40

You ask 'why do middle class parents feel the need to chicken out', and I think a variety of answers (excuses?) have been provided, but I think you missed the inherent irony in the phrase 'chicken out'. If people say they are 'chickening out' it implies that sending their children to a state school is a bravery test, that it's a massive challenge to go state. And as for who cares - well, we should all care because the most vociferous and pointy elbowed seem to have most control on where influence/money/energy in education goes. If we had a level playing field (or any playing field at all, ha ha) we wouldn't need to care.

Geoffrey's picture
Thu, 10/03/2011 - 13:29

Jenny hit the nail on the head. I certainly haven't the courage to condemn my children to spend their formative years (supposed to be the happiest of their lives) in an atmosphere of misery and underachievement. What if they were to find out later in life what they had missed? They'd wish me dead. And in all probability they'd know how to make that wish come true...

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 10/03/2011 - 13:50

Geoffrey, my son has been much, much happier at this state school than he was when he was at a private school. In my experience, private schools are miserable places to go to school; there's a hyper-competitive atmosphere and an obsession with passing the next test. It's a myth that state schools have an "atmosphere" of misery and underachievement.

Geoffrey's picture
Thu, 10/03/2011 - 16:02

Francis, thank you for your reply. I'm sorry to hear about your experience, but please don't assume all private schools are as bad as your son's. They certainly have the ability to be miserable, especially at the age your son attended. They are definitely not (as some people assume) a "fire and forget" solution to education - parents need to be vigilant. I moved my son away from a prep school, which turned out to be segregated into two buildings (an old house and a portakabin) along a strict U/non-U boundary by a rather snobby headmaster. Needless to say, bullying was rife. It also turned out that the portakabiners had been effectively paying the fees of the county set as well as their own and the school nearly went bust!

I was no longer in London when my children reached school age, having moved to a provincial market town in which education is a low priority for many, who, unlike Londoners, still adhere (I suspect) somewhat affectionately to the class system. The local schools are not appalling by any means, but there remain two principal problems:

1) Bad behaviour and the inability of staff to control it. A neighbour was told that her daughter's decline in maths from high achiever to mediocre was attributable entirely to a the need to stabilize a single disruptive student, a process which consumed 80% of the teaching period and prevented the rest of the class from learning anything. This was presented as a simple fact, with no suggestion that the problem was any more resolvable than a natural disaster.

2) Curriculum. The existence of a two tier GCSE system (I admit I was surprised when I discovered this) together with classroom problems lead to low expectations, which are then fulfilled. A girl who left the school my daughter attends (a now private ex grammar) and went to a state secondary reported a gap of about three years study. I know this makes the private school sound like the kind of barren, insensitive exam factory you describe, but this is quite untrue. Both my children enjoy both school and their many extra-curricular activities, and homework is usually polished off in about an hour. Both talk enthusiastically and at length about school. My conclusion is that the difference in attainment is largely to do with the enormously increased productivity made possible by an almost total absence of disruption.

The teachers are not all good. But, in my opinion, a teacher should not need to be some kind of super hero. Controlling a difficult class demands a capacity for leadership that would almost certainly be rewarded with a high six-figure salary if deployed elsewhere, and I think it's unreasonable to expect many thousands of teachers to meet such a high standard in a role which, although important, is in some ways peripheral their principal one.

Parents can be a problem. People with money obtain it in a wide variety of ways, and some are downright scary. We are lucky that both my son's and my daughter's schools are very well run and fair. This, admittedly, is not by any means always the case, particularly with the smaller prep schools, some of which are plain rubbish.

Sorry to ramble.

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