Child at private schoolPA


Recently we ran an article entitled Why private schooling isn't worth the money. The response was huge, heated - and divided. Here, we present the other side of the debate on private schools v state schools by a parent, who's also a teacher.
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Would I send my children to an independent school? You bet I would. Would I feel guilty about such a decision? Absolutely not.

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Sadly, I could not afford the school fees for two children. Annual fees for day pupils at independent schools range from £12,000 - £20,000. But had I been able to afford this, their names would have been down at birth.

Why am I so convinced that private is better? Is it the beautiful buildings, steeped in history, the acres of immaculate grounds, the committed teachers, the exam results, the range of extra-curricula activities, or the fact that at 4 O'Clock it's not a mad dash for the gates - and I mean the staff, not the pupils. Or maybe I'd simply prefer my children to mix with other children and parents whose speech is not punctuated with 'innit'.

Why do I feel so strongly? Because I've taught in independent and state schools.

Look at the teachers. Not all teachers in state schools are work-shy; some are brilliant. But there are too many teachers who are not. Thousands of children's GCSE and A level results are lower than they ought to be as a consequence, and their futures are blighted. All the staff know who these teachers are, the parents know, but nothing changes.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, says: "Too many poor teachers remain in their jobs year after year after year."

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In the last 10 years, only 17 out of 400,000 teachers in state schools were dismissed due to incompetence.

During my three years in one school, four teachers were asked to leave; they had problems controlling the children. Once, I stormed into an adjoining classroom: the noise was drowning out my own voice and disturbing my lesson. "Sit down and be quiet!" I shouted" adding, "Where is your teacher?"

I don't know who looked the more embarrassed - me or him. He was sitting at his desk, surrounded by mayhem. At the end of term the head suggested he might be happier in another profession.

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Autonomy and accountability, that's what makes the independent system successful. Bad teachers just go.

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Parents thought nothing of looking me right in the eye at parents' evenings and reminding me that they were paying a lot of money for their child's education, so they expected results. I felt personally accountable.

Do parents dare to tell a teacher in a state school that their taxes are paying their salaries, so shape up?

Then there is class size. I've taught classes with 15 pupils and classes with 35. Children in smaller classes feel more confident about contributing, and I had more time for them. I knew the name of every pupil in the school; I felt part of a close knit community and so did they.

Independent schools can't allow any child to slip through the net. At the weekly staff meeting we discussed each year group, flagging up any pupil who was struggling and an action-plan was devised. My department also had a weekly meeting where pupils were discussed.

In the state school, once-a-term staff meetings were something to get through as quickly as possible. More time was spent on deciding when to timetable the occasional day's holiday - near Christmas please, so we can shop - than pupils.

Do independent schools simply hot-house children to get them through exams? Yes, and why not? But extra-curricular activities in independent schools are there to help children flourish, whether they are academically gifted or not.

Take Emily: she'd always had a real interest in sailing, so her parents chose a school which offered this; she is now applying for a commission in the navy. Would she have got that in a state school - even the excellent grammar school on her doorstep?

Everyone connected with independent education expects success - the teachers, parents and children. There is no embarrassment about applying to Oxbridge or any Top Ten university, it's the norm. I accept that not all state schools have low expectations, but too many have an 'us and them' attitude towards top universities.

Why do parents choose private education? Rosie says: "I was not impressed with the local state schools. I wanted small classes, did not want my son getting 'lost' in the system and I wanted my son to have a good, happy and productive school experience at a school that I would want to have close ties with, and be involved in."

And having ties is something other parents want too. Carolyn says: "As an only child, I wanted my son to start in the prep system and carry on making friends for life."

So if I could have afforded almost £40,000 a year for my children's education then yes, I'd have spent it. Why? Because it gives parents power to provide the best for their children; you are the customer.

Until the state system is run on those lines, giving parents power, attracting the very best teachers with salaries and working conditions to match, then money will always buy better education and no one should feel guilty if they choose to buy it.

What do you think? Does private schooling simply increase the divide between haves and have-nots?