"Is it that private institutions are wilfully ignorant of poverty? Or is this symptomatic of a wider problem?"Sarah Abbas

Private schools. Often presented as ivory towers, surrounded by rivers intent on warding off outsiders. Some love them. Most hate them. Increasingly, we are hearing the rallying cry for the abolition of private schools. Having attended a total of five schools (three state and two private), I’ve seen first hand that diversity exists between and within the state and private sectors. To hold the private sector liable for all forms of educational privilege, without considering other factors, only abruptly silences this complex debate. I would argue that parental income and input holds the greatest bearing on academic achievement, and is not directly correlated with private education.

To argue that the social segregation exhibited in society is predominantly a product of private education is unconvincing. Class is arguably the primary culprit. The abolition of the private sector would not eradicate this. Some 35% of students attending fee-paying schools are on a bursary. This figure was even higher at my sixth form, which actively went into the community and offered local girls means-tested scholarships worth up to 100% of the substantial termly fees. As such my school had students with Oxbridge legacy alongside those from single-parent families on full bursaries.

"The affluent will continue to live in fancy neighbourhoods and attend the same schools"

To denounce all public schools as a ‘self-enforcing echochamber’ is to view the private sector in a monolithic fashion, based on popular media stereotypes of a select group of old, socially isolated, high powered institutions. The reality is that state schools can create that very same echochamber. Before I made the decision to cross to the other side, my previous school was filled with people from the same four streets in Brighton. It was wholly middle class. These schools admit based on catchment areas. Those living in the same area often belong to the same demographic. So why do we act shocked when these schools have a carbon-copied student body?

Is it that private institutions are wilfully ignorant of poverty? Or is this symptomatic of a wider problem? I don’t believe abolishing private schools will extinguish this problem. The affluent will continue to live in fancy neighbourhoods and attend the same schools, finding ways to insulate themselves from the struggles of the working class. Abolishing private schools will only further encourage wealthier parents to monopolise state schools, moving to specific areas to ensure their children are entered into the leading schools. These children will likely have additional tuition outside of school, creating a culture of academia which will ultimately attract the best teachers and resources.

A degree of this is happening already and would only be exacerbated with the abolishing of private schools. High-achieving state schools would become inaccessible to the masses as the upper class move into these catchment areas to ensure their children’s admission. House prices in these areas will skyrocket, rendering them unaffordable for those with lower incomes and perpetuating the disconnect between the classes. 

Why are we deluding ourselves into thinking that school type is the only thing giving certain children a social and educational privilege? More important than the school you attend are your parents' attitudes to education and ability to fund it. The first five years of life are formative in the development of social and cognitive skills. What about cultural capital? Did your parents read to you? Did they take you to museums and exhibitions? Did they hire a piano teacher twice a week? These things are all provided at home. Going to a private school doesn’t guarantee these things and going to state school doesn’t rule them out. These are class issues, not school issues. 

"There is nothing to stop parents taking their children’s education into their own hands"

Those in favour of abolition are under the illusion that if the children of the wealthy can’t attend them, they will not be socially and educationally privileged. But they will. Their parents will continue to pay for private tuition, music lessons, dance classes and the oh-so-controversial Oxbridge preparation programs. If we were to abolish private schools in order to dismantle the ‘fundamental and deliberately constructed privilege of a select minority of children in the UK’, what else would we need to abolish? Would we deny parents the right to supply better housing and food for their children, with the argument that the same access isn’t afforded to the rest of the population?

What about Cambridge? With a 28% private school intake, the numbers are certainly skewed. However, this is often compared to the 6.5% attending private schools, conveniently omitting the fact that 18% of sixth form students are privately educated. Although there is a disparity, it is far less shocking than often proposed. The university is also making active efforts to reduce this gap. Grammar schools on the other hand have a much larger discrepancy, yet they evade criticism. 

The appalling classism experienced by Bella Cross at Cambridge may be the product of private schools giving a certain confidence and social capital to their attendees. But it is simplistic to suggest private schools are solely responsible for this - could it not as easily be the result of the geographic distribution of Cambridge students?


Mountain View

Why private schools should be abolished

The abolition of private schools is not a black and white issue. Considering regional differences, grammar schools and selective state schools, there is educational disparity in every sector. Abolishing private schools would run the risk of overwhelming the state sector. Does the state sector need to be reformed before we rethink private education? Would abolishing private schools precede the abolition of grammar and religious schools? 

Ultimately, there is nothing to stop parents taking their children’s education into their own hands, regardless of the options available. We must look elsewhere to address our nation’s profound class divide. With no realistic prospect of abolition anytime soon, we should focus on pragmatic means of addressing social inequality. We could, for instance, use the amassed wealth of private schools to give back to the community, rather than pursue drastic, all-encompassing moves which find their basis in a straw man generalisation of the private sector.