Questions about private education.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Criticism of state education schools and praise for independent schools is of course commonplace amongst most of the English national media and Conservative politicians. What I do find surprising is the lack of curiosity amongst both journalists and M.P.s about aspects of private (or privatised) education provision. For example, I have posted before on this site about the effects on families, and obviously the children in particular, of the sudden, unexpected closure of private schools which can leave pupils in their GCSE and A level years in desperate straits.

In my own city two private nurseries have shut without notice in the past few weeks . In the most recent case parents had sums of up to £600 taken in direct debits, only a couple of days before the announcement of closure. Not as bad perhaps, but potentially traumatic for those involved, has been the late announcement that the new free school in Bradford was not going to open, leaving thirty children without a school to go to just a couple of days before the start of term.

Over the next few years some free schools may well fail and one can only hope that one of the private sector ‘benefits’ free schools bring to parents won't be these unexpected closures, as opposed to those usually planned over time by local authorities.

Another aspect of private education any truly curious media might well look at is that of numbers. The Guardian earlier this year carried a story that private schools had bucked the recession with a rise in pupil numbers. In fact all the increase (0.1%) appeared to have been accounted for by more pupils coming from overseas, many from Russia. Domestic numbers had fallen. Furthermore, an increase in London and the south east (all those Russians again) masked a fall in the rest of the country.

The reason I raise this is that I was looking at the GCSE results for our region and noted how extraordinarily small the numbers were in some reasonably prestigious (not Eton but not Dotheboys Hall either ) local independent schools.
Three schools had, amongst them, barely 90 (!) pupils in year 11 – the smallest just over 20. And although the Guardian stated that, whilst on the increase, foreign pupils still represented less than 6% of the total, in the results lists of these three schools over a quarter of the pupils had Chinese names (some might be British citizens or residents of course).

Of course, attracting overseas students is great news for both the schools concerned and the economy. But dependence on foreign students – and I know of some independent schools which would close without them although hopefully with more than two days notice - is not how the story is being told.

For the press and politicians continue to present the most successful independent schools and the least successful state schools as typical of all in their sectors.
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