Monday, January 21, 2008

Independent idiocy

There was never going to be much chance that an article in the Independent about independent schools was going to be much cop, but even so I'm surprised by this one. The stall is set out with the title: The lesson is clear: get rid of private schools, which is hardly a surprise, but what is the reasoning behind the abolition of a market in education and its replacement with a monopoly state provider?
If anyone has ever taught in a state comprehensive school, they will appreciate that we treat somewhat glibly the needs of the non-academic "half" for an education that is in tune with their futures. Do we honestly treat the educational aspirations of the non-academic "half" with the same respect as the academic aspirations of the others?

It would make a very interesting study to draw up a list of some 20 or 30 criteria and compare the findings in a typical state comprehensive and a typical private day school. It would become obvious why people are so keen to get their children into private schools (assuming they can afford it) or into the best state school (as a second best) if all else fails.
So, state schools fail at providing education for the less academic students, and indeed are worse on every level than independent schools. The state has not proved capable of both providing a high quality academic education to the brighter children that would benefit from such, and a more technical education for those that are non-academic in inclination and talent. Worse it has proved incapable of providing either limb. Schools that are privately run and draw their funding from parents, rather than from the tax-payer have proved better at both - indeed the academic accomplishments of the independent sector are all that holds Britain's head above water in international league tables.
To move from this analysis to the conclusion that, in a sector with a competent and, in parts excellent, private sector, and an under performing and unaccomplished state sector, it is the independent sector that needs to be abolished is quite staggeringly counter-intuitive. So Bawtree had better have a compelling argument as to why this is the case.
These parents, by and large, are those in society who hold the best jobs, who are the most eloquent and who have the greatest political clout. So long as they can buy the best, they will rarely, if ever, speak out against the poorer standards that they have side-stepped with the help of their wallets. How long would paying parents tolerate a school designed for 900 pupils trying to educate 1,600?
Oh no! It's the 'eloquent middle classes' argument. With a truly beautiful non-sequitor at the end too. fee-paying parents would, of course, not tolerate such a situation - but then, as consumers they have both the power and the choice. In a monopolistic state provider such as Bawtree envisages parents have no such power. It is also flagrantly not the case that those selfish middle classes "rarely, if ever, speak out" against poor standards in state education - Polly Toynbee sent her children to independent schools - so did Diane Abbot and an awful lot more. It certainly hasn't stopped them speaking out.
Banning independent schools would be an appalling infringement of liberty. To do so for literally no other reason than that they provide a better standard of education than the state is capable of is astonishing. If there is a problem with state education, then fix it. The independent sector should be looked at as a source of inspiration - not as an enemy.

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