Thursday, September 04, 2008

Education education education

There's a not terribly helpful article about private schools and state education in the Guardian by Arabella Weir (why are you still here Arabella?  Why haven't you gone on hunger strike and thrown yourself under a horse?  Get with it for God's sake, we're all waiting).  It is essentially arguing that state schools provide a better environment for education than private schools.  In fact, Arabella dislikes private schools tout court, and for a variety of reasons:
Neither of us was educated privately and most of the least socially and emotionally capable people I know went to posh schools.

I'm a naturally nasty person, so I naturally thought immediately of a post by Guido about Weir's Guardian colleagues:
Editor Alan Rusbridger (Cranleigh); political editor Patrick Wintour (Westminster); leader writer Madeleine Bunting (Queen Mary's, Yorkshire); policy editor Jonathan Freedland (University College School); columnist Polly Toynbee (Badminton); executive editor Ian Katz (University College School); security affairs editor Richard Norton Taylor (King's School, Canterbury); arts editor-in-chief Clare Margetson (Marlborough College); literary editor Clare Armitstead (Bedales); public services editor David Brindle (Bablake); city editor Julia Finch (King's High, Warwick).; environment editor John Vidal (St Bees); fashion editor Jess Cartner-Morley (City of london School for Girls); G3 editor Janine Gibson (Walthamstow Hall); northern editor Martin Wainwright (Shreswbury); and industrial editor David Gow (St Peter's, York).

I'm sure she didn't have those people in mind.  Regardless, there's more in the article than mindless prejudice (though admittedly not much).  
Quite aside from formal education, surely today, as never before, education should be as much about social integration, awareness of, ease with and respect for different cultures.

I have some sympathy for this view, but only some.  The primary purpose of education really ought to be education.  Social interaction is certainly a part of that, but only a part.  But this is just plain wrong:
I will be honest - it is more cosy knowing that all your fellow parents have access to, and funds for, three foreign holidays a year, organic food, and Mini Boden clothes. But, really, what has cosy got to do with the price of eggs? Sending your child to a state school does not mean you have to give up your lifestyle.

One thing that can be said about sending your children to private school - it is punishingly expensive.  Unless you are a merchant banker, or partner in a law firm, taking £20k or so each year, per child, out of taxed income is going to put a hell of a crimp in the family finances.  So in fact sending your children to state school enables you to have a much more lavish lifestyle - I knew a lot of kids whose parents had given up foreign holidays and new cars, equally, some of the most extravagant living was done by people who had sent their kids to state school - often making up for it with private tutors (like the Blairs did).
Of course, there are advantages to private schools, but they are the kind you can acquire whenever you want - it's only information. At state school, in tandem with an education, you will also acquire the huge advantages of social ease and a sense of community which, if you haven't learned at school, you never, ever will.

This is nonsense.  You will never again have the opportunity to acquire the breadth of knowledge that you can achieve at a good school. To describe education as 'only information' is fatuous.  And on a sniffy point, 'social ease' is not something most public school boys and girls really have a problem with.  Rather the reverse.  Then there are the 'myths' she addresses:

Myth: Private schools must respond to what parents want, otherwise they'd go out of business. State schools can afford to ignore parents.

Fact: It's the other way round. In state schools (unless they are academies), parents and local people have a direct say in the running of the school through the governing body. Private schools are not directly accountable to parents, and often answer to a far-away corporate headquarters that controls them far more tightly than any state school. If state schools fail to deliver what parents want, parents vote by staying away, which leads to trouble for the school.

This is rather bizarre.  Rather the point of state schools is that parents have limited choice about where to send their children.  There is a much more liquid market in private education, meaning that voting with the feet is a more potent issue for private schools.  Which, incidentally, are overwhelmingly charitable institutions  and thus not run by a 'corporate headquarters' in the slightest.  They tend to be run by the governing body in conjunction with the headmaster - like state schools, only without the constant interference of the LEA.

Myth: The teaching is better at private schools.

Fact: There is good and bad teaching in both sectors. But in state schools there are several early warning signs - Ofsted reports, parents moving their children, the local authority stepping in. Private schools are self-regulating, inspected by their own Independent Schools Inspectorate, and children come from further away, so their market is less sensitive and reacts more slowly.

Well, this 'fact' is true enough, but doesn't address the 'myth'.  It is easier to hire and fire in the private sector, salaries are higher and there is a much better ratio of relevant qualifications. Class sizes are also smaller and facilities better.  There is also usually more time to teach, as the teaching day is longer.  Ofsted reports and the LEA's intervention don't really cut it.
Look, there are lots of very good state schools (though Weir's article makes a virtue of avoiding them), but it's not simply the disproportionate spending on independent schools that makes the difference - it's the educational ethos and atmosphere.  By all means promote the state sector, it's by far the larger sector after all, but there's no point denigrating the independent sector - if you have to stretch the truth, or resort to fatuous social stereotypes to do so.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is she the first person called Arabella not to have been to Benenden?

9:45 am  
Blogger Letters From A Tory said...

My god, another spiteful attack on private schools - and based on nothing but prejudice.

9:59 am  

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