Dr Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College, has four solutions
for bridging the state/private divide. But they’re all based on one massive assumption: independent schools are better than state schools.
But when socio-economic factors are taken into account, UK state schools outperform these private schools (OECD)
So, what are these four solutions? Dr Seldon ranks them in order of likely impact:
1State schools emulate the best features of independent schools.
These include uniform, longer school days, house systems and boarding. But most English state schools have uniforms. Extended school days are found in many schools. Not all parents believe boarding is advantageous. For some parents it’s a necessity but others quite like the idea of seeing their children on a daily basis.
2 Independent schools bond with state schools.
Collaboration between schools breeds success, that’s true. But Seldon’s tone is patronizing. Independent school input in the academies programme hasn’t been a total success: Woodard Academies Trust, part of the Woodard group of independent schools, is troubled
; Dulwich College no longer sponsors
a Kent academy; and Wellington Academy, sponsored by Wellington College, made the news when the head (but not the sponsor) fell on his sword
after a poor set of GCSE results.
3Independent schools open their doors.
He wants a quarter of places in independent schools to be made available to “the least affluent quartile”. But many independent schools are highly selective. What Dr Seldon means is the doors will be only open for poor pupils who are “bright and willing”. These pupils, he says, “traditionally underperform in state schools”. Odd, then, that these so-called underperformers outperform
their equally-qualified peers from private schools when they reach university.
4Popular state schools should be means tested.
This is unacceptable. State education is a universal good beneficial to all in society. It should not be means tested. Parents pay taxes towards universal state education and should, therefore, have equal access. But it would bring money into the state system, Dr Seldon says. This is unlikely – it’s more likely to chase wealthy parents into the private sector (a cynic might say that’s the idea). Less popular schools could charge less, he suggests, thereby encouraging the well-off to choose these schools. This in turn would improve quality because the school would have more “articulate and demanding parents”.
This sums up the problem with Dr Seldon’s report. Not only does he take it as given that independent schools are automatically better than state ones but he’s deeply condescending to parents whose income is low. He implies it is only the wealthy who are “articulate”. He describes the bottom quarter of the population as the “most socially needy”.
In an attempt to deflect arguments against his idea of charging parents who aren’t poor for a service they’re entitled to because they pay taxes, Seldon tries to grab the intellectual high ground. He dismisses dissenters as being unable to offer “any intellectually respectable argument for claiming that state schools should not be charging fees to those who can genuinely afford to pay”.
But universal, free education is the right of every child regardless of parental income. That might not be “intellectually respectable” in Dr Seldon’s eyes but it is the moral one.
for head teacher Geoff Barton’s thoughts on Seldon’s “madcap” scheme.