Sunday, 17 March 2013

What is a privileged education?

Around 93% of English children are educated by the Government from the age of five until adulthood, with the remainder being educated at the expense of their parents in private schools (often confusingly known as public schools or independent schools). Pupils who are educated privately are seven times more likely to be accepted at Oxford University.

For many years, children in state schools had a higher drop-out rate at 16 years of age than their contemporaries in the private sector, which led to an increase in the proportion of university applicants from independent schools. However, even if we look only at 18-year-old school leavers, then the privately educated pupils are still over three times more likely to be accepted by Oxford.

More anecdotally, a recent survey of the educational background of 8000 individuals whose names are noted in the the birthday lists of nationals newspapers found that 80% received an education at private schools. These individuals include the leading English figures in business, acting, law, journalism, music and public service.

This phenomenon, of academic achievement based on parental wealth, is a symptom of what has been called a "privileged" education in England, and is unusual in the developed world. Although other countries have private schools, they don't seem to offer any great advantage over state education.

Since the 1960s, there have been those who have argued that the private education must be banned by the Government to make a fairer society. Most recently, the playwright Alan Bennett said: "I do believe that if private education was abolished, and we only had one system of education, the whole atmosphere of this country would alter.... A lot of the class divisions and silly stuff about old Etonians in the cabinet, all that would go. I just feel that we would be much more a nation."

However, there is no mainstream political will to abolish the private schools, and this is unlikely to change as the Labour party has based its recent election campaigns around centrist policies and the abandonment of class-division rhetoric. Certainly, the Labour governments between 1997 and 2010 did nothing to discourage the private sector, and instead focused on improving access for state pupils into higher education.

From my standpoint, it would seem economic suicide for any country to close its best schools to promote social cohesion. Education is a social good in its own right, and it would seem overly oppressive to prevent parents from choosing how to raise their own children. The state has a very poor record of making the best decisions for children in its care, and it is inevitable that efforts to prevent good parenting would fail without the state surveillance apparatus of Soviet East Germany.

Perhaps, we should compare the private and state schools and try to understand why one is more successful than the other. In this blog, I aim to do just that. There are many parents who can't afford a private education for their children, but who still want their children to reach the pinnacle of success. It is my view that through discipline, routine, parental focus, and supplementary tuition, state pupils can level the playing field with their privileged contemporaries.


  1. Found this blog by accident. Wow! I must say, I do find your views very interesting about the English education system. What experience have you had in the education system to lead to this conclusion aboat the education of British children?

    1. Hello banx's

      I've got two kids of school age, who have been schooled in the Middle East, Singapore and in the UK. Obviously, I've had the opportunity to compare the different systems, and make choices about my children's education based on that perspective.

      A few years ago, there were very few people who were saying British state education was failing the brightest students, but it has recently become a mainstream view, with Ofsted and The Sutton Trust publishing their own reports on the issue.

      It seems that the topic is now being depoliticised (I hope), with some notable figures on the left of politics saying that the poor have the most to gain by the return of highly academic state education.