Devils Advocate: Should we Abolish Private Schools?

Should we abolish private school's? Are they an aspect of an unequal society? Or, is it a civil liberty? The Saint debates this here.


Devil’s Advocate

YES Sasha Gisborne Archie Batra NO Should we Abolish Private Schools?

Being born into a family where your parents could afford private education should not entitle you to a better life Moves to abolish private education are a blatant attack on personal liberty[…]I’m sure many former soviet citizens will be very happy to tell you, is not exactly an ideal situation“ 2 November 2017 • VIEWPOINT 9

The views expressed in Viewpoint do not represent the views of The Saint but are individual opinions.

The views expressed in Viewpoint do not represent the views of The Saint but are individual opinions.

“I disapprove of what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Evelyn Hall wrote this in 1906 to try and surmise Voltaire’s beliefs: that every individual should have freedom of thought, action, and speech. The United Kingdom has gone arguably further than any other country in pursuit of this ideal. England is, after all, the “mother of all parliaments,” and the UK consistently leads the world in resisting tyranny and spreading the principles of democracy, freedom, and rule of law. And yet, despite our nation’s rich civic heritage, there remain calls to attack one of the most sacred of all freedoms: the freedom to raise your own children as you see fit.

Let us be clear: I don’t like private education. I think its existence poses a lot of problems in British society, and when the time comes, Archie Jr. will not be attending an independent school. (Sorry, son.) However, this is a personal choice that I am making in a free society and if someone else makes a different choice, they should not be prohibited from making that choice because I (or anyone else, for that matter) disagree with it. Moves to abolish private education are a blatant attack on personal liberty: the alternative is to give the state a complete monopoly on education, which, as I’m sure many former Soviet citizens will be very happy to tell you, is not exactly an ideal situation.

However, I do understand the reasoning behind wanting to abolish private schools; they are incredibly exclusive, and those (un)fortunate enough to have attended one tend to dominate politics, journalism, and business. A private education confers many advantages that are simply unavailable to the majority of state school children, and this is rightly thought of as unfair.

But, at least to my mind, the way to solve this incredible disparity in British education is not to abolish private schools, but to endeavour to make our state schools better. The 93 per cent of children who are educated by the state want their schools to improve; they don’t want to just abolish the kinds of school that the other 7 percent attend. Of course, this is easier said than done. But, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Teachers, politicians, and parents alike are crying out for educational reform, and we should direct our energy and resources to reforming British state education, and improving the lot of the majority of our nation’s young people, not spitefully punishing those we consider the “other.”

As I have argued previously in Viewpoint, the large-scale reintroduction of grammar schools in the UK could do wonders for British state education. (And, might I add, could be done without greatly burdening the taxpayer.)

I honestly believe that reintroducing selection in our nation’s schools would drive up standards very quickly and bring state schools in contention with their independent counterparts. Surely we should work to bestow the benefits of a private education to students educated by the state, not try to eradicate those benefits altogether. Not only this, but I think we have to consider what would actually happen if all of our private schools closed, because I’m not sure we’d like it. Firstly, there would be about 600,000 more children for the state to educate almost overnight, and that wouldn’t come cheaply. Our current education system is bloated and beset with difficulties; adding hundreds of thousands of more children at once would only exacerbate these problems.

Further, I am not convinced that abolishing private education would prevent the extreme consolidation of power and wealth by the few. If moneyed parents can’t send their child to a private school they will quite happily spend vast amounts of money on private tutors instead, which, again, are only available to those with money. It is also a well-known phenomenon for wealthy families to congregate around a good (but nominally free) state school, and price lower-income families out of the catchment area.

Finally, it would be remiss of me to omit the fact that not all privately educated students are the progeny of a privileged, wealthy upbringing. There are plenty of children in the private school system with full scholarships to their schools, and don’t pay the fees which they can’t afford.

It’s simply unfair and inaccurate to paint all those who attend private schools as part of Britain’s exclusive elite. Abolishing private education wouldn’t automatically improve state education, and nor would it necessarily loosen the grip the wealthy have on the upper echelons of society. I don’t agree with private education, and I certainly won’t engage with it personally, but I respect the opinions of those who do, and others should too.

Private schools should be banned. They go against the idea of social mobility and meritocracy. They disproportionately favour the children of rich parents to get the best jobs, places in the best university and undue influence on our political system.

Only seven percent of the population went to private school, but the entire top strata of society is filled to the brim with those whose parents could afford to pay for a better education.

Now this isn’t to criticise those who went to private school – they had no choice in the matter. However, private schools do represent the consolidation of money and power to the few. What they do is give people an education that is more future proofing. One that prepares people more for university and teaches people how to pass exams more successfully. But knowing how to pass exams is not the same as being smarter than someone who didn’t have your advantages in life.

This is sort of were the fundamental problem of private school lies – it is unmeritocratic. Being born into a family where your parents could afford private education should not entitle you to a better life. Meritocracy means that people should have equality of opportunity, not some having a better life just because they are rich.

There are also some counter arguments I would quickly like to attack. The fact that more people from private schools do end up going to the top universities and getting the top jobs does not mean that they are smarter than other people. To be very crude, anyone can teach a monkey to dance. Which is to say that people who go to private schools are trained up in exam performance. In fact I almost feel a little sorry for people who went to private school, as they almost have a harder time proving that they are where they based on personal skill and intellect as opposed to some kind of pot luck, where they happened to be born to a wealthy family.

Another argument in favour of private schools, is that if parents are hardworking and have made a lot of money why shouldn’t they be allowed to give their children a good life? Well, because being rich is not the same thing as being a hard worker.

Lots of people work forty or over forty-hour weeks for their living and do not have enough money to pay for private school. When the people in Eton are children of kitchen porters, then people can start talking about hard work making people rich.

On top of this, private schools, particularly boarding schools, aren’t that good for the child going there. Kids spend most of their lives interacting with people who are of a very similar social background. They’re aware that this is because their parents are richer and this inevitably brings out some type of entitlement.

Now, I would like to reiterate my point that I’m not talking about all people who went to private school. This is not some manifesto against the rich, and why they’re awful. But I do believe that private schools, especially more elite ones, will by their very nature give some students feelings of elitism.

To reiterate a point (I feel it’s my strongest), seven percent of the population just should not have an easier time in life because of their wealth. It is not fair on the other ninety three percent, and it also is simply against principles which this country supposedly believes in.

We should have an education system in which everyone has an equal chance of being successful in life. So, what would the advantages be? If we were to ban private schools, what would happen? Well, the truth is we don’t know.

It would make society more equal, but not completely. Richer people live in areas where housing is more expensive, and the catchment area and local state schools in said catchment areas reflect that fact. The richest could always send their children to international schools, although of course that would bring about a slight change, as RP became replaced with something more American.

So, why bother? The reason is simply because it would make a difference. More middle-class people would go to state schools. State schools would receive more funding. Middle-class students would experience a wider range of people from different social backgrounds from a younger age – which would increase understanding among richer people of the unpleasant circumstances a lot of poorer families live in.

Private schools are a thing of the past, a relic of a time when people believed in aristocracy and being a lord meant something. By abolishing them, we would be moving Britain into an age of more social equality which can only be considered a good thing.


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