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Posted by on Jun 19, 2007 in private education | 4 comments

Ban private schools?

Two things. First, I said I would give some reasons why we might expect some general improvement in education in non-private schools if we ban private schools. Here are a few:

(i) Ideally, I would tax the top 7% more – the equivalent, over their lifetime, of what they would spend on privately educating their kids. And I would spend it on schools. Now I believe state school kids get about £5k per head. Private school fees average £8k I think. So there would be some additional money. However, it would be spread very thinly. So not a major increase in funding for state schools.
(ii) However, several of you have said that funding is not the issue. It’s other things, like peer group, etc. that matter. In the system I suggested, there would be much greater mixing of social classes in schools. True, 7% of kids will now lose out on the concentrated peer-effect of private schools, but then the increased social mixing might well benefit other kids, for there will no longer be any entirely working-class “ghetto” schools. It’s hard to predict how much of an effect this social mixing would have.
(iii) One very broad educational benefit would just be the greater mixing, with children coming into contact with a much wider range of other kids. I do consider that an important benefit. In the long term, it creates much more of a sense of community, of being in society together, rather than a hermetically sealed off “us and them”. But you may consider this unimportant.
(iv) Those who are privately educated and privately educate their kids have a vested interest in making sure state provision is not too good. In fact, it is in their interest that it not provide anything more than the bare minimum required to get the pleb jobs filled Yet this small group wield very considerable power in the media and in government. By removing private schools, this vested interest of a small minority actually to stunt state education is removed. As I say, once the “elite” are forced to send their kids to the same schools as the rest of us, I think we’ll see them battling very hard to get standards improved.

I admit, however, that the effect of banning private schools may not be to bring state schools up to the current private standard (it certainly won’t bring them up to the standard of the most expensive private schools). However, I don’t see that matters much, for the reasons I have given in earlier postings. As I said, if you want the very best native talent working on a cure for cancer, ban private schools.

Second, many of you suggest, like Gordon Brown et al, that the cure for the current situation (especially the shameful waste of native talent) is to bring state schools up to the private level. That will never work. Here’s why:

(i) Several of you have said it is not funding that’s the issue, rather it’s things like peer group. And it’s impossible for everyone to go to a school populated by the upper middle classes. So you have already provided me with one very good reason why state schools can never be as good as private schools, no matter how well-funded they may be.
(ii) Second, even if state school funding is increased, those that can afford to do so will simply spend more in order to maintain the differential.
(iii) It is not possible to fund every state school to the level of Eton. The taxation required would cripple the country. So, while private schools exist, there will always exist a small minority who have a very significant educational advantage bought for them.


  1. Pretty well ALL the points you make have NOTHING to do with the existence of private schools. I’ve really, really tried to get this point across to you, Stephen. I’ll try again.Let’s confine ourselves to observations on what’s happening to the 93% of children currently educated in the state sector. It’s between different groups of this 93% that the biggest social divisions are occurring. You have to address the inequalities and social separation WITHIN the 93% – inequalities which the private schools cannot be blamed for. There is no logical reason to suppose that forcing the 7% to merge with the 93% will cause the inequalities currently within the 93% to disappear.There is plenty of evidence that social mobility within the 93% is actually regressing. Why? For one thing, selection by catchment area rather than by ability has led to a massive distortion in the housing market. Houses in the catchment areas of state schools with good OFSTED reports are around 30% more expensive than they would be otherwise. Families are changing address to determine who their children will mingle with. Middle class parents are moving to places where they know their children will be educated alongside other middle class children. White working class families are also moving to the suburbs to avoid sending their children to schools with large Muslim intakes. Sectarian faith schools are also dividing kids – something I know you oppose.One argument of yours which I find especially silly is that people who’ve been educated in private school are in some Masonic conspiracy to see that state schools are as crap as possible. Most of the parents at my kids’ private school that I talk to have a “Plan B”. It’s basically, “if we fall on hard times and can no longer afford the school fees, what are the best state schools we could send our kids to?”. These plans often involve relocating to quite remote rural areas of the UK, if that’s where the good state schools are.

  2. These peoples’ “Plan B” may also involve relocating to another country, sometimes in the EU, sometimes further afield.Around 200,000 UK nationals are emigrating from the UK each year. Although some of these are retirees moving to sunnier climes in Spain, many are high-earning, high-taxpaying creative types in their 30s and 40s. The government is starting to get worried by this new brain drain. Why these people move is complex, and some of the factors are beyond its control. The weather in England is never going to be as sunny as in southern California, for instance. But if you check out any of the executive relocation websites you’ll see that “good schools” often feature. I suspect Gordon Brown is painfully aware of the harm it could do to the UK economy if more of these people move elsewhere.I don’t know if you are familiar with the studies of Richard Florida into the “Creative Class”. He’s examined the rise of the new, highly mobile, global elite. These people can and do relocate anywhere. If you’re from Bangalore, and are a wizz-kid at coding HTML, you can relocate to San Jose tomorrow – no problem. Florida thinks local and national governments will find themselves having no choice but to compete to make their cities and countries attractive to these new elites.

  3. “once the “elite” are forced to send their kids to the same schools as the rest of us, I think we’ll see them battling very hard to get standards improved.”I notice you are merely repeating a claim I have already questioned in a previous post. The better off people who currently use the state system are not acting so as to raise the general quality of state education for everyone. Quite the reverse. So why should adding to their number change this?

  4. I don’t quite understand what you mean by “standards.” As far as I’m concerned, you go to school to learn about the world, you read, you write, you count. Teachers all do degrees now and do postgraduate courses to train- all teachers should therefore be capable of teaching children what they know, and be comitted to this. Teachers can osciallate betweeen grammars, independent, and comprehensive schools, even in the most poverty stricken areas. A teacher is a teacher as far as I’m concerned, if they can’t teach, they should not be in education. You go to school to get information, it’s the teacher that gives it to you. You process it. If all teachers “can teach” what’s the difference? Peer groups and parents of course. If a child in a bad area with parents who don’t stress the importance of education meets other kids with parents of the same attitude- how will he get the right attitude to work? And yes, he may be talented, what he really wants to do maybe is to be an MP, but will he ever a. know his talent, or b.even consider being an MP, probably not. Put him in a middle-class area with parents who want their children to be academics and he may well just be that MP. A few children who were brought up in bad areas like this, may have parents who want them to be academic. If they are clever, and don’t care about what their peers may say, listen to their teachers and parents- what’s stopping them from achieving their best? Yes the class may be disruptive and have the wrong attitude to learning- this needs to change.And what, I ask is “native wit?” I ask does it really REALLY exist? Children who’ve been brought up with loving stable parents, in a postive working environment foster their “talent capacity” or “native wit” to its highest capacity- how is this “second rate?” It’s what is called “making the best of what you have.” If someone is a lawyer, they’ve got there because they are a good lawyer, their education, parents and up-bringing allowed them to be this lawyer they “always were meant to be.” Now, middle-class children can not study and do badly and not “foster potential.” It’s just that, they’ve been fortunate enough to have had access to an environment that GIVES THEM THE ATTITUDE to foster potential.And yes, all schools should be like this. All teachers should tell children to reach their potential. All parents should tell their children this, all children should then do this. Imagine if all “lower-class” children had the attitude “I want to learn and will listen intently every class” and the parents badger them to “do their homework.” Children get taught,no distruption, bang we don’t need grammars or independents. Independent schools especially, I agree, SIMPLY SHOULD NOT BE THERE. The most important thing for the government should be for each child to have chance to forster their potential to max. How can you talk of parents paying “extra tax” etc. for wanting their child to foster their potential? You talk very bitterly about “horray henrys” and getting a “leg-up”- richer children go on holidays, have more things etc. they didn’t earn them either did they? What about private medical care? Didn’t earn that either? Then you say, adults work hard to earn their money…but weren’t they, according to what you say, just little horaay henry’s themselves? Where do we draw the line? They have money; they have more options. THAT is the problem. Blame the SYSTEM, it breeds the “class system.” Ending private education will do nothing much, there’s always home schooling, educated parents to teach, extra tutors, affluent areas, educated friends, peers with educated parents. And even if these problems are solved, there will still be loads of people in the new system who get low paid jobs, and don’t really value education- wouldn’t this just make new “poor areas”? Even if they go to a good school, if their parents don’t have the same attitude or “expectations” as middle-class parents, wouldn’t this mean they still wouldn’t achieve the best? They’d still have less money, so have fewer options…and back we start…see where I’m going here?

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