Private vs state schools again?

Katherine Laweson's picture
Our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, may choose to send his children to private secondary schools. On his weekly phone-in on LBC he said "It's not about whether it's private or public – in that sense you're right, it can be either. I just want the best for my child, and that's exactly what I think most people listening to this programme want for their children as well."

MPs' decisions not to send their children to local state schools are always controversial, but Clegg's move will be under particular scrutiny because he has in the past talked about the huge social division caused by private education, and he has put social mobility at the heart of his deputy premiership.

In a speech to the Sutton Trust last year, Clegg, who went to the elite Westminster school in London, said: "Right now there is a great rift in our education system between our best schools, most of which are private, and the schools ordinary families rely on. That is corrosive for our society and damaging to our economy."

I have two arguments with this.

Firstly, if we are all in this together, why does Mr Clegg feel its ok to opt out of the system most of us deal with every day?

Secondly, who says private education is "better"? There may be better facilities (although the Portakabin is not entirely unknown); there may be smaller class sizes (but not always, as my friend sending her children to private schools was surprised to find out when we were discussing our children's groups); exam results are better.

Hang on- results are better? Oh yes, that's because (most, not all) interview 3 year olds to see if they can spell their name and count to 20; they may have policies that include "under-achieving" pupils to find a more suitable school for their needs...they may claim to be mixed but in practice a school charging upwards of £12,000 a year and offering small, non-means-tested bursaries is not going to have many children who qualify for free school meals on its books.

So Mr Clegg, let's stop the talk of wanting what's best for my children and think about what's best for everyone's children and for society- because I think you'll find that in the end they are the same thing. If we separate our children at a young age and bring them up to think they or better or not than others, how can we hope that they will feel any sense of responsibility towards each other? Let’s stop pretending private schools are inherently better than state and look at the reasons why they are perceived to be better and instead of criticising state schools let’s see how we can support the under-performing ones to do better so all our children can have a fair chance.
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