Podcast Editor Samuel Pennifold on why he believes private schools should be kept in the UK, but with their charitable status removed.
Private schools are often viewed upon as bastions of social inequality, churning out middle-class students with undeserved grades who go on gap years and say rah before taking a job at mummy or daddy’s insurance company after.
In reality, they are not this.
They are, in reality, a national asset that offers a choice to parents and students. Private schools, in the majority of cases, focus on doing one thing better than a state school does. There are hundreds set up to deal with students with special educational needs or with extremely high ability. There are schools for dance and music and boarding schools that serve pupils from much further afield than Britain.
Boarding schools such as Harrow have partner schools set up around the world that represent Britain as a global power and give Britain global reach, and thousands of students from around the world travel to the likes of Charterhouse or Eton to have a first-class education that no school in their country provides them.
“Abolish private schools” is a simple three-word policy that people can rally behind. The reality though is much more complex. Banning private schools would leave thousands of students looking for school places that in many parts of the country aren’t there. This is not to mention that a majority of the parents who pay for private schools do still pay taxes that contribute towards state schools.
People often cite countries such as Finland that have made a success in banning private education. They undoubtedly have and boast one of the best education systems in the world. Well done Finland. There is just a small caveat that Finland’s total population is only just over 5 million, less than London, making the education system exponentially easier to manage.
Social inequality and lack of social mobility in this country is not the fault of private schools existing, it is the fault of an economy with a lack of high-income white-collar jobs. Social mobility would increase if there was a surplus of these jobs for people to go into, but the issue is that these jobs are lacking. Economics is the answer to social mobility, education fuels this but the solution is not getting rid of private schools.
A better solution for fixing the education system and social inequality in this country would be to invest more heavily into building new schools and redeveloping old ones. Create schemes to encourage top teaching graduates to work for state schools at a wage that reflects teachers’ importance, and ultimately rethink the entire curriculum to create a more vibrant and engaging education system that can support and develop disenfranchised children.
To fund such moves, private schools should have their charitable status removed. They should have to pay full business rates like state schools and there should be VAT placed on private schools’ fees. This would give billions to the government to support state schools.
The charitable status of private schools is a relic of their foundation and should have been removed a long time ago. But to ban them would be like a doctor recommending amputating an entire foot because of an infected toe.
Abolishing private schools would be to take away the right for parents to choose. Private schools give an advantage to children who attend them. That is why you pay. But we should ask ourselves if it is easier to shrink the gap between private and state education by moving the mountain to Muhammad or by Muhammad going to the mountain.