Private education: public harm?

Saturday 19 October, 3.30pm until 5.00pm, Frobisher 1-3 School Fights

The place of independent schools in Britain’s education landscape has never been so intensely debated. According to Martin Stephen, former high master of St Paul’s School, two of the three main political parties hate independent schools ‘to the core of their being’, while the Conservatives are run by so many public schoolboys that they cannot afford to extend ‘the merest hand of friendship’ to such schools without being caricatured by the media. But do private schools protest too much about ‘posh prejudice’? The 7% of pupils who attend fee-paying schools go on to dominate Oxbridge places and elite professions such as law, the media and science. Are those who defend private schools prepared to defend the perpetuation of such inequality on the grounds of individual freedom?

Or is it not true that independent schools are full of ‘toffs’ when a third of pupils in schools in the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (of independent schools) have bursary support? Might the growing popularity of private schools be an indictment of failing comprehensive schools? Is it right that parents who make sacrifices for their children’s education are made to feel such an outlay is morally questionable? Is it necessarily wrong to pay for education? And when so many politicians across the political divide have enjoyed the benefits of a private education, from Eton boys David Cameron, Oliver Letwin and Boris Johnson to supposed class warriors Ed Balls, Harriett Harman and Chuka Umunna, it is hypocritical of them to distance themselves from the independent sector and seek to undermine it? Is opposition to private schools motivated as much by a stale left-wing prejudice against aspiration as a real commitment to public provision?

What if one values both equality and choice? Are these ideals hopelessly incompatible when it comes to the debate about private education? And where do new models of schooling that combine private and public provisions, such as Free Schools and Academies, fit into the debate? Is opposition to private schools just part of a more general hostility to private institutions? Or is it essential to forging a fair education system that benefits all pupils?

Professor James Conroy
Dean for European Engagement and professor of philosophical and religious education, University of Glasgow

Fiona Millar
columnist, Guardian, co-founder, Local Schools Network

David Perks
founder and principal, East London Science School; director, the Physics Factory

Dr Martin Stephen
director of education, GEMS UK; former high Master, St Paul's School

Kevin Rooney
politics teacher and head of social science, Queen's School, Bushey; co-author, Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?

Produced by
Kevin Rooney politics teacher and head of social science, Queen's School, Bushey; co-author, Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?
Recommended readings
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Jason Cowley, New Statesman, 9 May 2013

Leading headmasters defend values of independent schools

As the debate about “posh prejudice” rages, the men who will lead the independent schools sector over the next two years enter the fray and launch a robust defence of the values of private schooling.

Julie Henry, Telegraph, 17 February 2013

Lessons on School Choice from Sweden

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What's up, you posh boys, can't you take a joke?

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Barbara Ellen, Guardian, 19 August 2012

Rich pickings

Bad state education means more fee-paying schools in poor countries

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