Should the "top" public schools become free schools?

Francis Gilbert's picture
David Cameron's conference with the "top" private school headteachers at Downing Street this week led to him declaring that his former school, Eton, should be running state schools. This is already happening to a certain extent with Wellington College sponsoring an academy.

What's fascinating about this situation is the obvious difference in the "in-takes" of the state schools and the private schools. Clearly, the children from the state schools will be from poorer homes -- on the whole -- than the children at the private school.

As the free school programme develops, it's becoming clear that in the mind of parents free schools are finding a place in the hierarchy of schools, with the private schools being at the top, then the free schools, then the academies, then local authority schools at the bottom of the pile. Thus the private schools, by sponsoring state schools, are neatly positioning their fee-paying institutions at the top of the pile, and their state-run counter-parts below them. It could be any other way because the parents who are actually paying fees might get jolly cross if the state run counter-part was doing better than the private school. Yet this could theoretically happen; anyone who knows the private schools system well knows that it isn't that great; that it cherry-picks the best students, boots out the ones that are failing and is full of unqualified teachers who believe lecturing to silent classes is teaching.

In a sense, from the point of the parents who are paying fees, the fairest thing would be for Eton et al to become free schools. Of course, this would mean changing the admissions' procedure and these schools losing their "exclusivity"; something quite unpalatable, no doubt, for these institutions.

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Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 11/09/2011 - 14:21

Mr Cameron is seriously out-of-touch. The idea that public schools can set up state schools for the whole ability range when they have had no experience of dealing with the disadvantaged (except for the occasional brilliant scholarship pupil), the low ability, the middling, the statemented, the challenging, the disaffected is a slap in the face to state school teachers. The notion that they can help and advise state schools when, again, their only experience has been in educating high-ability, advantaged pupil, is delusional.

It would be laughable if it wasn't so insulting.

And the fear of being the county school "at the bottom of the pile" is what's fuelling the great academy conversion rush. That, and the promise of a crock of gold - a promise that the DfE has said is unsustainable.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 11/09/2011 - 14:37

According to the Independent in February last year, many of the links which then existed between state schools and public schools were sporting, Combined Cadet Force, enrichment classes for gifted state school pupils and coaching for Oxbridge. The paper reported a “spin-off” whereby unqualified teachers at Winchester (!!!) went to Midhurst to work with state pupils thereby gaining qualified teacher status which all teachers in state schools had to have had the time. Well, not anymore, because Mr Gove says free schools don’t have to have qualified teacher and, no doubt, in the mind of the Prime Minister, an unqualified teacher from the public school is better than a qualified state school one.

There’s nothing wrong with this sort of co-operation. However, that doesn’t mean that public schools are able to take over an entire state school or open their own free schools or academies. Co-operation – good; take-over – you’ve got to be joking.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 11/09/2011 - 17:08

I'm also reflecting that the policy is inherently contradictory; if the state-run counterpart is just as good as the private schools -- which surely must be the "ambition" -- then won't the fee-paying parents demand places at the "free" school? Or is this gesture at parity just a sham? I suspect that the parents at the fee-paying schools are being tipped the wink that the state-run counterpart are just "pale" imitations.

JimC's picture
Mon, 12/09/2011 - 05:22

The first thing Melissa Benn complains about in 'School Wars' is the mistreatment of state schools at the hands of politicians and the media. This article seems like mudslinging to me - aside from deviously ripping off rich parents can private schools do nothing right?

botzarelli's picture
Mon, 12/09/2011 - 09:20

Perhaps there is such a hierarchy, even if it is an unpalatable one. It doesn't seem too outlandish to visualise a private school running state schools particularly as it is already starting to happen. It is rather harder to imagine many state schools being able to run private ones (and not because they probably wouldn't want to).

"then won’t the fee-paying parents demand places at the “free” school?"

It depends on the extent to which they are competing. If the private school is a boarding school it will have relatively few local pupils and they and their parents may not see a day school as an alternative, regardless of quality. If the Free School is established in a different catchment area there will be no competition between the two. There's always the possibility that the parent private school could convert to becoming a Free School itself (cf Batley Grammar). Would it be so terrible if all the ex-grammars that went fee paying returned to the state sector and became non-selective?

Davis Lewis's picture
Tue, 13/09/2011 - 12:11

They should become state schools and have a more inclusive admissions policy.

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